COVID-19, Racism, and Bias

hands with gloves

“Chinese virus”

Do you have the Corona?

Go back to China.

I’m going to stop eating Chinese food, so I don’t get sick.

A repair man refused to come into my home.

I was let go of my babysitting job due to their worries about COVID-19.

…I approached her and said, without introducing my name, “Hi, I’m going to see your child now.” The mother looked at me and her eyes widened – as someone who is not a stranger to racism and bias, I immediately knew what she was thinking. I said, “I do not have coronavirus, I’m wearing this mask to
protect myself and my patients.” The mother gripped the tech’s shoulder, acted as though she was going to faint, and said, “Oh thank god, ‘cause you know, you see in the news about that virus…”

People just stare at me.

The majority of the media covers the effects of COVID-19 in relation to physical health, but it often fails to bring attention to COVID-19 related racism and bias perpetuated against those who identify as Asian, Pacific Islander, or Desi (APIDA). Fear of disease and xenophobia often go together. Certain diseases become attached to immigrant groups that are perceived as a threat at the time, such as SARS being associated with Chinese people or Ebola with Africans. COVID-19 is no exception to this. Trump recently described COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” The forms of COVID-19 related racism and bias may range from microaggressions, such as being stared at, to more overt attacks, such as being spat on and told to go back to China.

Anti-Asian Racism in America

A seeming paradox is that on one hand Chinese people, as well as other Asians in which this may generalize to, are stereotyped as the “model minority,” while at the same time are viewed as diseased or dirty. However, the “model minority” label otherizes those who are not viewed as white and provides a deceptive level of inclusion. There is in fact a long history of anti-Asian racism. Chinese people have long been racialized as eater of dogs or other strange animals. There is a history of exclusionary US policy such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In 1946 Japanese Americans were ordered into internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Furthermore, the model minority myth has often been weaponized and used to undermine the activism of Black and other people of color.

It is normal to have increased fear, anger, feelings of being overwhelmed, and even hopelessness when faced with such a long history of and ongoing racism on top of having to cope with a pandemic. Here are some things you can do to combat and cope racial bias.

First and foremost, take care of yourself

Be curious about your emotions and thoughts and seek to understand them, rather than judging them. Learn to validate your own experiences as well as seek validation and support from others that you trust.

Get connected to professional support

  • You have already made the first step by visiting the Bridges Mental Health website – now search for and find a therapist that fits you best.
  • If there are barriers to becoming connected with a therapist
    • Review the NYS OMH COVID-19 resources and call the Emotional Support Helpline at 1-844-863-9314 which is staffed 8:000AM-7:00PM, 7 days a week 
    • Text, call, or chat with NYC Well

Responding to racism

Whether you are a person of color, part of other vulnerable groups, or an ally you can learn how to respond to racism and bias as a bystander

Report racism

  • Report Coronavirus Hate Crimes and Xenophobic racism by reporting to the NYS Attorney General hotline. Call the Ongoing Hotline at 1-800-771-7755 or email Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice Report Tool (AAAJ) is a national affiliation of five leading organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all.
  • The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) is a coalition of community-based organizations that advocates for the rights and needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) Community in the greater Los Angeles area, with a particular focus on low income, immigrant, refugee and other disadvantaged sectors of the population.

Become more knowledgeable

Donate

  • Donate to Dumplings Against Hate and support NYC Chinatown businesses, who bear a greater burden during this economic crisis because of the associated racism. 
  • Coalition for Asian American Children+Families (CACF) has started a fund called RICE (Responding Immediately to the COVID-19 Emergency) which is helping member organizations to offer money directly to families in poverty that have been devastated by the crisis. Click on “Donate Now.” In the “Designation” drop-down, please select “Rice Fund”.  

Support local businesses

  • Next time you are ordering a meal for delivery or going grocery shopping, consider supporting your local Asian-owned small businesses!

William Kuo, LCSW is a first generation Chinese American Psychotherapist who specializes in DBT and CBT to help people live more fulfilling and meaningful lives. William is passionate about mental health and social justice issues, especially the intersections among culture, racism, and bias. William offers therapeutic services including comprehensive DBT through NYCBT, works as a Social Worker at Mount Sinai Morningside in the Psychiatry Department, and is a Guiding Coalition Change Leader in the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where he works on addressing racism and bias in the medical school and broader health system.

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