Stress, fear, and anxiety are normal reactions to public health crises, such as the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These feelings can fuel stigma and discrimination, such as xenophobia and racism, toward a particular group of people, whether done consciously or not. Individuals of Asian descent, both international and domestic, as well as those perceived to be a part of these communities are being associated with the coronavirus. As a result, they are being stigmatized and subjected to racism and xenophobia in our country and communities. Sometimes this xenophobia presents as a concern for hygiene, health, and wellness that nevertheless targets these communities and has a negative mental health impact on them that compounds the physical, emotional, and psychological stress already experienced as a result of the public health crisis.
We all can fall prey to our fear and anxieties and act on prejudice and bias. In order to prevent xenophobia and racism and instead promote inclusion during this time of uncertainty and crisis, we all need to:
- Assess whether our views and reactions to the coronavirus come from a place of prejudice.
- Challenge any biases in ourselves and in our social networks to reduce the stereotyping and stigmatizing of individuals and communities of Asian descent. Do not:
- assume that people of Asian descent have the coronavirus
- blame an entire group of people for the pandemic
- make jokes or comments that promote this stereotype/misinformation
- Educate ourselves about social norms and practices in other countries:
- it is a social norm in many countries to wear a facemask during cold and flu season
- Consider the impact of our actions on others:
- people who are scapegoated and stigmatized can be more reluctant to seek out medical care when symptomatic
- this stigmatization can affect not only their mental health but also their physical health, and indirectly, the health and recovery of our entire community
- Call out and interrupt racism and xenophobia
It is important that we not allow fear and panic to guide our actions. No amount of fear or anxiety can excuse racism or xenophobia. Instead, we should have compassion, understanding, and empathy for one another, especially during such a challenging time.