In the White House, a white man in arguably the most powerful position in the world crosses out the word “corona” and writes, in bold black letters, “Chinese.” In a rail station bathroom, a man is spit on and told he should die because he has the “Chinese virus.”
These are just a fraction of examples from the US. But we live in a global world. One where just a click or tap can tell us about how a man in London was beaten so badly he was sent to the hospital with a broken bone. Or how a student in Australia was assaulted even when he did wear a mask.
Racism and xenophobia related to coronavirus has spiked so rapidly that you can visit a Wikipedia page that organizes these incidents by country. For many, these incidents confirm what we already knew – that racism is not dead – but even so, this spike in blatantly racist behavior is chilling.
Scholars on Race
Today, researchers who study race tend to focus on the subtle. We talk about “Racism without Racists” and colorblind racism. We consider how structures in our societies perpetuate race-based inequalities, all without any individual racist intent. We locate racism in policies and ideologies, not people.
Yet today, the stories are my screen are not subtle, nor have they been for years. From white supremacists in my local farmers’ market, to relentless police brutality against Black Americans, to racially-motivated shootings in churches and clubs.
Although claiming to be “colorblind” was once popular, we may be finally leaving this delusion in the past. A 2019 Pew report finds that 58% of American adults believe race relations are “generally bad.” Americans also appear to be more interested in learning about race, if the increase in books about race and race reading lists are any indication. Race-related documentaries and series abound too, from Ava DuVernay’s 13th to Justin Simien’s Dear White People.
We know we have a racism problem. The response to COVID-19 is just a symptom.
Many writers call on us to be kind during this time. Unfortunately, kindness has little impact on racism. Others attempt to offer clean-cut solutions or easy tips. Again, for racism: n/a.
Instead, here are three steps that act as a starting point. They’re brief, difficult, and follow no particular order.
1.) Identify your prejudices and biases.
This step is about self-work. It’s about swallowing your pride and recognizing that no matter how great an ally you are, you have or currently are hurting someone with your actions. Privilege obscures vision. Operate under this assumption. Return to this step as you learn more.
2.) Assume you always have more to learn.
Check your mindset. In line with the step above, assume that there are times when you will be wrong. Rather than thinking of these moments as embarrassing mistakes, realize that they’re inevitable. For everyone. Once you’ve cleared that mental hurdle, it’s easier to assume you can always learn and grow. No matter how long you’ve lived, how much of an expert you are in your field, or how much you’ve tweeted, there will always be something you don’t know. Humanity is vast like that.
3.) Read, watch, and listen.
This is the step where you learn about racism, how it’s taking place around you (because it is), and what you can do to stop it. Maybe there are actions you can take (or stop) right now. Maybe you have the power to revise your company’s hiring practices. Maybe, because you’ve read up on it, you can recognize when a colleague has committed a racial microaggression and decide to have a conversation about it. The possibilities are endless.
So how do you know which possibilities are the most effective to address racism?
You don’t. I don’t. None of us do.
But it’s your job to figure it out. Not the allies who seem more woke than you. Not the people with more melanin than you.
Figuring out how to address racism is part of the work. So read, watch, and listen to the folks who’ve been doing this work, generation after generation, and join us, recognizing that sometimes you’ll be wrong, but that the cost for not trying is how we got in this mess today.
First published on the IU Sociology Quarantine Project.