Xenophobia and COVID-19
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Xenophobia and COVID-19

Maysa Akbar, Ph.D., CPA, Diversity Representative

CPA strongly condemns discrimination towards Asian Americans due to misinformation circulating about the Corona virus.  As psychologists, we must speak up when we hear stories like these and share the facts and science.New York State Psychology Association Colleagues Drs. Daniel Kaplin, Amina Mahmood and Jean Lau Chin graciously shared the following information with CPA. 

On March 11th, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic. As such, the World Health Organization has recognized that the virus has spread globally. Yet, some individuals continue to refer to it as the “Chinese Virus,” the “Wuhan Virus,” or a “Foreign Virus.” This has resulted in xenophobia towards members of Asian communities. Viruses do not claim a nationality or ethnicity.

Terminology such as the “Chinese flu,” has contributed to Chinese and Asian Americans becoming targets of physical and verbal attacks, xenophobia, and microaggressions. Some recent incidents that we are aware of include:

  1. A woman wearing a face mask was punched and kicked by a man who called her “diseased.” Excerpted from NBC News (February 5, 2020).
  2. Amy Wong Mok, the president of the Asian American Cultural Center, reported that an Asian American “just coughed a little bit because she was coming in from the cold air and then people left.” Mok noted that, “Just a small cough and the people just left, left her like the plague…At least they left. They didn’t attack her”… Excerpted from CBS News Austin (February 7, 2020).
  3. “A 16-year-old boy in California’s San Fernando Valley was physically attacked this week by bullies in his high school who accused him of having the coronavirus — simply because he is Asian American”… Excerpted from CBS News (February 14, 2020).
  4. A Facebook message encouraged people not to patron Asian businesses stating “We urge citizens to stay away from Chinese supermarkets, shops, fast food outlets, Restaurant and Business”… Excerpted from the Brooklyn Eagle (March 5, 2020)
  5. Emily Park, an animation fellow at Business Insider who’s Korean-American, was on the subway in Manhattan on Monday when she cleared her throat. A woman stared at her for several moments and then promptly got up and moved seats farther away. Excerpted from Business Insider (March 7, 2020).
  6. A woman was confronted on the subway by somebody yelling “Where is your corona mask you Asian b—h,” before punching the woman dislocating her jaw…Excerpted from the New York Post (March 10, 2020).

It is troubling that these incidents are occurring in 2020. Asians have been scapegoated and presented as a threat to the Western (White) world for centuries. The United States past has been guilty of xenophobia and violence against Asian Americans: the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), and Executive Order 9066 (1942) that resulted in the mass incarceration and torture of Japanese individuals. More recently Executive Order 13769 (2017) banned the entry into the United States from several Muslim majority countries in West Asian, Central Asian and Northern African regions.

Below is a list of some landmark theories around stereotyping and prejudicial thoughts or behaviors that we may unintentionally be guilty of. Let’s become better informed about our own cognitions and responses, in order to interrupt xenophobic responses by those around us.

Cognitive Sources of Stereotyping and Prejudice:

  • Categorization (Ostrum & Sedikides, 1992) – placing people into groups based on superficial characteristics, aids stereotyping.
  • Vivid Cases (Hamilton & Rose, 1980)  over-generalizing because of strong memories.
  • Just-World Phenomena (Carli et al., 1990) – belief that the world is just and therefore people get what they deserve and deserve what they get.
  • Social and Emotional Sources of Stereotyping and Prejudice:
  • Victim-Blaming (Januff-Bulman et al., 1985) – holding victims of crimes and other misfortunes responsible for what happened to them.
  • Outgroup Bias (Tajfel, 1970, 1981; Tajfel & Billig, 1974) – negatively treating those perceived as different from one’s in-group.
  • Scapegoating Bias (Miller & Bugelski, 1948) – finding “the other” to blame as an outlet for one’s anger or fear,

Some Resources to address those targeted as a function of COVID-19:

  • New York University Center for the Study of Asian American Health. Resources including hospitals and social service agencies for Asian Americans. Retrieved here.
  • Southern Poverty Law Center. Resource Document– Responding to Hate and Bias at School. This could be valuable for school psychologists and professors to increase dialogue around hate and bias. Retrieved here.

Media related to Coronavirus related anxiety, and Xenophobia: