Viruses don’t discriminate. People do. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rapid rise in racism and xenophobia against Chinese and other Asians around the world.
In Canada and the US, we have witnessed increasing incidents of anti-Asian discrimination in many forms, ranging from verbal attacks to boycotting Asian businesses to physical violence and public displays of racist comments from government leaders.
- Anti-Asian racism on the rise in Canada’s biggest cities amid COVID-19 crisis: poll CTV News (2020.04.27)
- Vancouver police hunt ‘despicable’ racist attacker who threw down a lost 92-year-old Asian man and shouted Covid-19 slurs
- We should expect better from our members of Parliament than racist attacks
For more up-to-date news coverage on COVID-19 in the Chinese Media:
- Radio Canada International Chinese Services Coronavirus Series
- Radio AM 1430 (Chinese) News coverage on Coronavirus
‘Labelling’ is a powerful process used to segregate and stigmatize people. Throughout history, infectious diseases have been used as labels to justify discrimination against specific groups in society (e.g., leprosy as a disease of the unclean; HIV/AIDS as a gay disease; European Jews were blamed for the Bubonic Plague; and Ebola as a Black disease). By naming pandemics after the countries or places of ‘origin’ (e.g., Spanish Flu, Hong Kong Flu), punitive policies against the stigmatized groups were enforced in the name of disease control and public safety. In the context of the Canadian and other White settler societies, stigmatization of pandemics continues to fuel anti-immigrant sentiments and perpetuate social exclusion of racialized groups.
Racism and discrimination towards the Chinese Canadian and other racialized communities has existed throughout Canadian history (Chinese head tax and Racial Segregation of Asian Canadians). Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 just expose and intensify them. Stigma creates more irritational fear and divides people, fueling xenophobia, social exclusion and hate, as we witnessed with the SARS epidemic in Canada.
Racism, stigma and discrimination hurt everyone. Besides causing direct physical and emotional harm to the affected individual, it also creates barriers to accessing care and support, services, and employment. On a societal level, stigma’s harmful impact (CDC & NCCDH) can include increasing social exclusion, legitimizing discriminatory policies, inciting hate, as well as perpetuating misinformation and undermining public health messages to prevent the spread of disease.
We need to confront and challenge racism, stigma and discrimination. There are many things we can do as individuals, as a community, and in coalition with other groups who share our values and experiences. (For practical tips, resources and community action, see next section: Addressing Racism, Stigma and Discrimination.)