Stopping Racism Fueled by COVID-19 Fear

Written by Amy Pak, Julia Yen, Wan-Lin Tsou and Jeane Robles

Many of us have read and seen the stories of Asian Americans being harassed and berated on the streets, in parks, and on public transit. Unfortunately, our Asian- American community is now a major target in the reawakening of anti-Chinese rhetoric, affecting the elderly and the young.

Public Health staff gathered during Asian American & Pacific Islander month (May 2018) in Hing Hay park in Seattle Chinatown – International District.

Misinformation and bias results in anti-Asian racism and violent backlash that creates many implications for our Asian Pacific Islander community’s safety, prosperity, and wellness. Our very own Seattle Chinatown – International District’s small mom and pop shops—including many that are intergenerational family-run businesses that have operated for many decades–are experiencing the devastating economic loss locally and globally. Chinese and Asian American children experienced racialized bullying in school and with school now out in our region, it unfortunately continues in other spaces, which has a lasting impact on positive identity development and sense of safety.

Looking throughout history, we know various religious and or ethnic communities were wrongly targeted due to political propaganda and policy misinterpretations. Fear and stigma arose in previous outbreaks. As our Asian American communities and children are experiencing a repeat of history, it is important to consider the dangerous impacts this can have on our whole communities’ well-being and what we can do about it.

Local leaders speak up

Local leaders in the Asian Pacific Islander community are speaking out against racialized violence and discrimination due to COVID-19. When elders and children were targeted locally, Asian Counseling and Referral Services released a public statement on discrimination and coronavirus epidemic in a press conference with King County Public Health officials:

“…Immigrant and refugee community leaders and organizations urge everyone to know the facts about the coronavirus, not to stigmatize individuals and families from particular groups, and to speak out against bias and harassment…We encourage everyone to promote correct information about the coronavirus, its risk and transmission, and the importance of not stigmatizing a group based on background or country of origin.”

Anti-stigma resources and posters are available here.

The King County Executive Office of Equity & Social Justice opened a Community Response Fund where community based organizations can apply for funding to shape community centered public messaging and support the impacted communities by countering the fear-based culture that is growing. Applications are currently open on a rolling basis.

When you see something, say something

The number one way to combat stigma is to say something when you see something. Report the incident to this community lead form, managed by the COVID mutual aid network. In stressful times, it is important to understand that the words you use matter. The World Health Organization discourages the naming of viruses based on people and location because this inflicts and encourages insult and stigma. COVID-19 and Coronavirus is the correct, scientific name so everyone should avoid using the term “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan virus,” or “Kung Flu.”

We can also express care and support for those who are affected by COVID-19 in the Asian Pacific Islander community. We recommend Community Care during COVID-19: A Message To and From AAPI for excellent resources and practical ways to support our Asian Pacific Islander community members.

Education is foundational to anti-racist work

This is the time to lean in on conversations with your colleagues, friends, and especially family.

As parents and community process the current landscape of stigma, fear and negative political narratives affecting all communities, we struggle knowing how best to explain this all to our children. COVID-19 does not discriminate based on race or ethnicity. How can we be examples to our children on ways to show up in our full humanity and act as solution-makers to support others most impacted?  

Teach your children we are all in this together and practice talking about anti-oppressive values. Talk to your children how everyone is of equal value and uplift all marginalized communities including LGBTQ+, people of color, women, Black, indigenous, disabilities and neurodiversity, and immigrants. Model that we value a society where all are represented and thriving. 

Resources for parents to counter stigma

Here are some great practices and resources for parents during our staying-home time that also increases positive family learning time:

Take care of each other and practice self-care. Stand up and interrupt bias and harassment around COVID-19 because stopping racism starts in the home!

Learn more about impacts of the backlash with NAACP’s equity implications for COVID-19.