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"Seven Reasons to Care About Racism and COVID-19 and Seven Things to Do to Stop It"

Gilbert Geeprofessor of community health sciences, Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology and director of the FSPH Center for Global and Immigrant Health and Marguerite J. Ro, Chief, Assessment, Policy Development and Evaluation Section, for Public Health Seattle-King County (PHSKC), published a commentary in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) on racism in the context of COVID-19 and what actions can be taken to stop it.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Much is still unknown, but as the virus causing this disease has spread, so has misinformation and xenophobia. Unfortunately, this has followed a predictable pattern of connecting people to diseases. 

The pandemic has reinvigorated old stereotypes of Chinese people and fears of Chinese food, including the notions that they consume pets. Recently, a US senator stated that the “Chinese virus” originated from a “culture where people eat bats and snakes and dogs” (e.g., His statement reflects an old belief system linking race and disease.

For example, Prince A. Morrow noted in 1898, “China . . . has been the breeding-place and nursery of pestilential diseases, cholera, plague, as well as leprosy, from time immemorial.” (p946) According to this belief, races are biologically distinct and, therefore, prone to specific diseases or apt to manifest them in unique ways. Such logic was used to justify the infamous Tuskegee syphilis studies and the belief in diseases such as “drapetomania” (the “illness” of slaves escaping their masters).