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Racism in the Wake of COVID-19 and How to Combat It

Three children facing away from camera with colorful backpacks
The identification and global spread of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has necessitated an immediate and unprecedented change in everyday practices, routines, and ways of life.

Benefits & Consequences of News & Social Media
The 24/7 news cycle, and perhaps heightened social media engagement, have led to the continuous and rapid dissemination of COVID-19 information. While this can be helpful in educating and directing citizens with the latest updates and procedures to follow, it can also have unintended consequences, including:
  • Spreading of misinformation about political, scientific, and medical interventions
  • Fueling panic among the public, leading to panic-buying and hoarding of essential items
  • Increasing incidents of both physical and virtual racism targeting Asian Americans


Exact Number of Racist Incidents Unknown But Estimated to be High

While no firm numbers exist at this time, Asian American advocacy groups and researchers assure that a very dangerous surge in racist incidents exists. For example, research conducted by San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department has identified a 50% rise in the number of news articles related to the coronavirus and anti-Asian discrimination between
February 9–March 7.  

The lead researcher believes these figures to be “just the tip of the iceberg,” as only the most egregious cases are likely to have been reported. Furthermore, the university participated in the creation of a website to collect public data related to incidents of discrimination in several languages that continues to prove an overall increase in incidents of discrimination.

Words Matter, Especially When Discussing COVID-19

Many partially attribute anti-Asian sentiments to the language that’s been used in the media to discuss COVID-19. For example, the virus has recently been referred to as the “Chinese virus” and “Kung-flu” by top leaders and officials due its origins in Wuhan, China. It is the general recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) that illnesses not be named after geographic locations to discourage xenophobia. 

How You Can Counter COVID-19 Racism

Wondering what you can do to combat anti-Asian discrimination? Here are a few tips:

  • Watch Your Words: Do not use highly contested/discriminatory terms such as “the Chinese Virus” and “kung flu.” Encourage your students, family and friends to do the same.
  • Stay In Touch: Check on your students, friends, colleagues, and others in your network who may be on the receiving end of verbal, and even physical, discriminatory acts. Provide support and establish yourself as an ally. To report such incidents, visit the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council website and submit a Coronavirus Anti-AAPI Racism Incident Report.
  • Dig Deeper: Do your own research about the contributions of those of Asian descent as National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month approaches in May. 


1“Spit On, Yelled At, Attacked: Chinese Americans Fear for Their Safety” by Tavernise and Oppel, 2020, The New York Times

Dr. Sierra Austin is a graduate of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at The Ohio State University, with a focus on race and social justice. Sierra's research (done in our member district Columbus City Schools), activism, work focused on education equity and prioritizes operationalizing intersectional approaches to social change. She offers professional development through the ESC focused on equity, consultation, and community workshops.

Email Sierra to see how she can help support your school or district!