Sadly, the COVID-19 outbreak has been accompanied by an increase in racism and xenophobia toward Asian and Asian American individuals and communities. These responses are not based on facts, nor are they acceptable responses to fear. In times of uncertainty, it can be easy to look inward and disconnect from community, but times like these are when it’s most important to dig deeply into our values, stand up for what is right, and commit to making the world a better place. As a trusted adult in your Girl Scout’s life, you can help her navigate discrimination she experiences or witnesses, be someone whom she can go to for support, and help her be a force for good in challenging times.
What You Should Know
Throughout history, we’ve seen that in times of high anxiety and uncertainty, existing stereotypes and prejudices are amplified, and racism and xenophobia—the dislike or prejudice of people from other countries—become more apparent, frequent, and violent. In the United States, this has been especially true of Asian Americans (and Chinese Americans in particular) who have been subjected to racist policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882–1943), the forced quarantine of all of San Francisco’s Chinatown because of unfounded fears about the Bubonic plague, the Japanese concentration camps established by the United States Government during WWII, and many others.
This historical context helps us understand that racism and xenophobia related to COVID-19 are an echo of racist policies and ideas of the past. We see the continuation of this harm in current events in the assumption that all Asian and Asian American communities have the virus and are spreading it to everyone else. These ideas are perpetuated through news outlets specifically using photos of Asian people wearing masks for many COVID-19 related stories; even as the virus currently peaks in Europe, people referring to the virus as the “Chinese virus” or otherwise linking the virus itself to Chinese or Asian people; and by playing into stereotypes and prejudices already held about Asian people.
The result is an avoidance of Asian-owned businesses, an increase of hate crimes and other discriminatory acts toward Asian and Asian American people, and the reinforcing of racist ideas for another generation. For Asian and Asian American people, this compounds the fear and distress in an already difficult time.
What You Can Do
Just as we are tasked with keeping our communities safe by washing our hands and staying home as much as possible, we also need to combat the anti-Asian bigotry and racism that has real implications for many.
With your troop, family, and friends:
- Focus on the facts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) and call the disease by its medical name. Dispel misinformation that you hear and intervene if you hear a harmful “joke” or comment.
- Combat the “infodemic” (the overabundance of information—some accurate and some not) which leads to the spread of misinformation and panic. Check your sources before you share and share only when it is helpful and necessary.
- Check in on your Asian and Asian American friends and/or family members. Acknowledge that this is happening, discuss your experiences together, or let them know how you can support them.
- Connect (Virtually!) with your troop in an age-appropriate way about the impacts of xenophobia and racism, and specifically how it is showing up in connection with COVID-19. Check out this post about talking to kids about race to help you start the conversation.
In your community:
- Share information with others on xenophobia and racism and COVID-19.
- Support Asian and Asian American communities by sending words of encouragement and by supporting Asian and Asian American owned businesses, who are already taking a harder hit than other businesses.
- Focus on news outlets that are not perpetuating stereotypes.
- Get involved with the anti-racism efforts going on in your community and see what your community is doing to combat xenophobia and racism.
- If you feel safe to do so, intervene when witnessing a xenophobic and/or racist interaction.
Check out these additional resources:
- Voices of Youth: COVID-19: Your Voices against Stigma and Discrimination
- Vox: How a Chinese immigrant neighborhood is struggling amid coronavirus-related xenophobia
- The Atlantic: The Other Problematic Outbreak
- Code Switch podcast: When Xenophobia Spreads Like A Virus
It is up to all of us to band together as a Girl Scout community (and beyond) to fight the rise of xenophobia and racism to ensure that the next generation of leaders are equipped to dismantle the policies and practices that continue to cause it.
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a Program Manager – GSLE at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.