A new study outlines how COVID-19 has allowed the spread of racism in the U.S. and created national insecurity, fear of foreigners, and general xenophobia.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice.

Previous research has shown that when viral outbreaks are deadly, fear often drives those at risk to place blame on external groups, such as minorities. In fact, throughout history, many individuals have associated particular diseases with groups of people; for example, Irish Catholics have been blamed for “Irish disease” (cholera), Jewish immigrants for “consumption” (tuberculosis), Irish and German immigrants for yellow fever, and Italians for polio.

As for Asian-Americans, in 1900, when the bubonic plague began in San Francisco, public health officials quarantined Chinese residents in Chinatown but allowed white merchants to leave the area.

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China. Since the spread of the virus to the rest of the world, especially in the U.S., the virus has become labeled by some — including the U.S. president — as the “Chinese virus.”

“Once again, we are seeing a pattern of scapegoating,” said study co-author Angela Gover, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. “It is important to learn lessons from the past and not repeat history by blaming those of Asian descent for the current pandemic.”

Gover teamed up with colleagues from Iowa State University and RTI International, an independent, nonprofit institute in the Research Triangle of North Carolina that provides research, development, and technical services around the world. The researchers looked at hate crime data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which provide national estimates of hate crime as defined above. The statistics used were from two collections for the 16-year period from 2003 to 2018.

Among their findings:

  • UCR data revealed that during the two 5-year periods from 2003 to 2007, and 2014-2018, hate crimes against Asian-Americans dropped 30.8%;
  • NCVS data showed that during the two 5-year periods from 2003 to 2007, and 2014-2018, hate crimes against Asian-Americans dropped 7%.

The large percentage discrepancies between the two institutions cited above suggest vast underreporting of hate crime to police and magnify the hidden nature of hate crime against Asian-Americans in the U.S. today. Importantly, the NCVS data also shows that less than half of Asian hate crime victimizations are reported to police, only 47.6%.

“As of July 1, the Stop AAPI Hate self-reporting tool had recorded over 800 discrimination and harassment incidents against Asian-Americans in California in the span of three months, including 81 assaults and 64 potential civil rights violations,” said Gover. “These occurrences are likely a small fraction of what is actually transpiring as most of these types of incidents go unreported.”

Since the use of the term “Chinese virus” has been widely used by elected officials and the media, anti-Asian sentiments are on the rise. According to reports from late March, the FBI anticipated that there would be a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic and even alerted local authorities to be ready for these occurrences.

Since as early as February, racist acts against Asian-Americans directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been recorded and shared on social media to raise awareness of the growing problem. These acts of violence include both physical and mental abuse of Asian-Americans of all ages and genders.

“Victims of hate crimes experience significant psychological trauma, often presenting as PTSD and/or debilitating anxiety and depression,” said Gover. “This isn’t surprising being that the cultural stigmatization and ‘othering’ of a particular group fosters an environment of normalizing instances of assault and harassment, creating a day-to-day atmosphere of fear for the safety and security of themselves and their loved ones.”

While use of the term “Chinese virus” has lessened, the damage has been done. According to the researchers, this narrative linking COVID-19 and anti-Asian sentiment has reignited racist stereotypes.

“The U.S. has seen a recurring history of socially entrenched racism towards Asian-Americans with spikes occurring during historical times of crisis, including during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Gover.

“Moreover, racist attitudes have been reinforced by institutional-level support, thus promoting a culture of ‘othering’ towards Asians in America, once again. COVID-19 is a public health crisis, not a racial matter. It does not discriminate along racial lines and nor should we.”

Source: University of Colorado Denver