The coronavirus can make kids and families anxious and may also prompt the former to blame others who are suspected to be the cause of the pandemic, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
Though the pandemic started in China, it is critical for kids to be informed in a “developmentally appropriate manner” that the disease is connected to a geographic location and not to a race or ethnicity. Children are looking to adults for guidance on how to manage stressful events. Adults can help kids understand the importance of treating individuals—regardless of their race, nationality, and ethnicity—with dignity and respect.
Surveys Shed Light On Racism During the Pandemic
Ipsos, the world’s third largest market research company, conducted a poll between April 16 to 17 on behalf of the Center for Public Integrity. 56% of Americans believed that the pandemic is a natural disaster. Republicans (60%), retirees (51%), and those without college education (48%) were more likely to believe that the pandemic is caused by specific people or organizations. Asians (79%) were most likely to say that the outbreak is a natural disaster rather than caused by specific people or organizations unlike African-Africans and Whites (55%) and Hispanics (51%).
Among those who said that a specific group or organization is responsible (44%), most of them blamed China or Chinese people. 66% blamed China, 45% mentioned China or Chinese people in general, 13% said the pandemic was caused by a lab in China, and 9% blamed the Chinese government. Meanwhile, 12% blamed the US government, the government in general, or the government of a country other than China for causing the COVID-19 outbreak. 7% blamed animal/wet markets and 7% blamed carelessness in general.
32% had witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the pandemic. More Asians (60%), Hispanics (48%), and African-Americans (43%) had witnessed someone blaming Asians unlike White respondents (27%). On the other hand, 91% said they would be concerned about having close contact with someone out in public who was coughing or sneezing while 81% would be concerned about coming in close contact with a person who looked sick or tired.
70% said they were concerned about coming in close contact with someone who is not using protective gear like gloves or face masks (70%). 24% of respondents said they would be concerned about coming in close contact with someone of Asian descent in public, however, they became more worried if that individual is not wearing protective fear (46%).
Community group Asian Australian Alliance reported that most racist incidents were committed against women (62%) and 86.5% of in-person racist incidents were done by strangers, cited Naaman Zhou of British newspaper The Guardian. 147 incidents were in-person, 18 took place online, and 13 were “other.” Just over 60% of the self-reported incidents consisted of racial slurs, 21% included verbal threats, and 15% included physical intimidation (ex: being punched or shoved).
Sadly, only 5.6% reported their incidents to the police. Of the respondents who reported a racist incident in the survey, 81% said they believed it was related to the pandemic while 3% said it wasn’t, with 7% answering maybe and 9% saying “other” or “don’t know.”
Helping Your Child Fight Back Against Racism During the Pandemic
1. Be Mindful of Your Words
Be careful when explaining the COVID-19 pandemic to kids, especially teens and college students, recommended Emily Liu of American news channel CNN. President Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it the “Wuhan virus,” which referred to Wuhan, China. In fact, their choice of words fueled hatred, putting the Asian community at risk of receiving racist remarks.
Many children and some adults do not seem to differentiate between the Chinese government and Asian-Americans (or Chinese). If your children are old enough to understand this distinction, then this is the right time to explain it. Further, you can also reach out to your neighbors and colleagues who might feel unsafe because of their religion, ethnicity, or other traits.
2. Be Careful of the Memes and Jokes You or Your Child Shares
There have been posts on social media saying that we are practicing social distancing because someone ate a bat in China. While this is only a joke, a child who hears or sees this may think it’s okay for them to tease their Asian classmates or peers for causing the outbreak.
3. Explore Your Child’s Fears
Your child may understand information about COVID-19, but they may be unable to express their fears, ask questions, or articulate assumptions of conclusions they have arrived. Hence, it is recommended to engage your child in activities such as role-playing to facilitate discussions about their fears about their outbreak, including their feelings about various groups from other cultures or lifestyles.
4. Avoid Generalizing A Group of People
Kids can easily generalize negative statements to students or peers in their classes and community. Focusing on the nationality, affiliation, ethnicity, or appearance of people who live where the virus originated can incite feelings of hate, anger, prejudice, and mistrust for these individuals. Avoid stereotyping a group of people and help your child correct their own prejudices.
It is also important for you to discuss how it would feel to be blamed unfairly by association. Ask your child if they have ever gotten in trouble for something their sibling or a peer did and how they felt about it. Further, consider asking your child how they would feel if they were criticized or harassed because of their appearance, their clothing choices, or for their group of friends.
Emphasize positive, familiar images of diverse groups to your child. You can also identify people of diverse ethnicities, religions, and lifestyles that your child knows and who have made a positive impact on their life. These individuals could be their friends, neighbors, school personnel, health professionals, members of their religious group, or local merchants. Talk about how their characteristics, experiences, and life values may be similar to those of your child’s.
Parents should avoid making prejudiced statements or stereotyping a group of people, as it can influence their kids to mock people who are of different ethnicities. Families should be mindful and critical of the jokes they share. Most importantly, encourage your child to stand up against racism and prejudice.