I remember far too often I sit in supervision hearing colleagues share about their victories of helping patients “cope” with social disparities. I can’t help questioning why we, as clinicians, ask our patients to change and adapt to the social ills, instead of empowering them to challenge and rectify the injustice?
Recently, Asians in many non-Asian countries are facing an additional layer of stress on top of the fear that most of us are feeling already. Headline after headline reports hate crimes against Asian Americans as the COVID-19 crisis continues to grow.
A recent news article, entitled “FBI Warns of Potential Surge in Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans Amid Coronavirus,” stated that some people are associating COVID-19 with China and Asians and the FBI is warning a likely increase in hate crime incidents against Asian Americans as a result.
The reality is that blaming Asians does nothing to help the current situation; it only inflicts further harm to the victims and others in the community.
Now is a critical moment for clinicians to take a self-inventory on how we might have unwittingly contributed to reinforcing the disruptive patterns of society, and to reflect on how we can take an active role to treat clients and challenge the status quo.
There are numerous reasons that people’s racist attitudes are triggered. The recent surge in COVID-19 related racism against Asians demonstrates a form of fear-based xenophobia.
Important to Know
The fact that a contagious and serious virus originated in China or was transported from China does not morally justify the expression of negative views towards Asian people; nor does it validate the support of racial profiling people of Asian descent; and it especially doesn’t justify any violent acts being committed against Asians.
Being of Asian descent does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19.
Fear of ‘the other’ is an international phenomenon and part of the human condition; it has existed as long as history. This reality, however, doesn’t make it okay to continue exhibiting behaviors based on these ‘otherring’ fears (e.g. Judeophobia before Holocaust, islamophobia after 911).
Studies have found that ‘hate crime’ perpetrators are often motivated by superficial prejudices (based on fallacious beliefs) instead of actual hatred or factual evidence.
News reporters and politicians are repeatedly calling COVID-19 a ‘Chinese virus,’ resulting in, (albeit, unintentionally) viewers adhering to some distorted beliefs regarding the illness. It’s causing some viewers to begin associating the virus with Asian people themselves.
Most hate incidents/crimes are the result of anger and frustration regarding a particular situation that is exacerbated by superficially held prejudices.
Human beings, in general, have considerable anxiety about their vulnerability and mortality. To ease the terror of their inevitable death, many choose to simply avoid anything, including people, that reminds them of death.
They may choose to go so far as to reject a certain people group altogether to avoid the discomfort and anxiety associated with these fears. With respect to xenophobia, some people target Asians, because they perceive Asians as being infected, contagious, a threat to health, and a reminder of death.
In the mix of uncertainties and chaos, some may feel the need to defend their in-group, socio-economic security, and to regain a sense of control, by outing a group (some see Asians as a threat to the in-group’s effective functioning and socio-economic security).
In times of uncertainty and shortage of basic supplies, people with a scarcity mindset may decide that outing a group helps maintain their in-group ability to access resources. It is important to realize that this type of bigotry is simply a fear-based, senseless bias, targeting a group that certain individuals belong to, and is never personal.
Repeated exposure to bigotry and discrimination can leave “marks of oppression” on individuals’ well-being and self-esteem (e.g., experiences of alienation, depression, helplessness, or worthlessness). Individuals who experience a similar type of bigoted incident/crime can have a very different reaction from the incident.
Hate Crime is a crime motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability against a person, group, or property.
Bias or Hate Incident is an act of bigotry that does not rise to the legal definition of a crime and does not involve violence, threats, or property damage.
Responding to Racism Incident/Crime
1.Practice Common sense and be safe. SAFETY first
2. Avoid confrontation. People are not in their sound mind when they are engaging in racist acts and arguments.
3. Walk away safely. Avoid treating disrespect with disrespect. Reacting negatively could escalate the situation. Violence only begets and escalates more extreme behavior of violence.
4. Breathe. It is normal to feel hurt, sad, angry, confused or other emotions. Always remember incidents like these are never a direct action or comment toward you personally; rather, they are the result of a bias towards the group/race you happen to belong to; or the perpetrator has other underlying issues contributing to his/her behavior.
5. Document the incident: safely (dates, times, locations, witnesses, photos, videos, etc.)
6. Reach out to someone that is supportive and process the incident/crime.
7. File a report. Hate crimes or incidents should always be reported. Contact local police for hate crimes, and notify local organizations that provide support in hate crime/incident reporting. For states that do not have hate crime laws, a report should be made to the FBI.
How to Buffer Against Racism
- Have a response plan: know what to do, whom to talk to, and where to go to get help and file reports.
- Understand and exercise your rights.
- Join the movement and educate others.
- Understand the power dynamics and challenge racial supremacy.
- Form community support and solidarity.
- Be compassionate and understanding towards each other. (It is normal to feel unsafe after experiencing a bigoted incident or crime).
- Deflect the bigotry away from your personal identity by attributing it toward a social identity.
Federal Protections Against National Origin Discrimination. (2015, August 6). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/reducing-stigma.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/reducing-stigma.html
Ommundsen, R., Yakushko, O., Van Der Veer, K., & Ulleberg, P. (2013). Exploring the Relationships between Fear-Related Xenophobia, Perceptions of Out-Group Entitativity, and Social Contact in Norway. Psychological Reports, 112(1), 109-124. doi:10.2466/17.07.21.PR0.112.1.109-124
Reducing Stigma. (2020, March 30). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/reducing-stigma.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/reducing-stigma.html
The social psychology of inclusion and exclusion. (2005). New York: Psychology Press.
Walters, M. (2014). Restorative Approaches to Working with Hate Crime Offenders. In Responding to hate crime. https://doi.org/10.1332/policypress/9781447308768.003.0018
Helena Ma is a social entrepreneur, an artist-researcher in socially engaged art and an art therapist. She received her M.A. in Marital & Family Therapy and Clinical Art Therapy from Loyola Marymount University, CA. Currently, she is a doctoral student in social work. Her practice experience has included working in inpatient psychiatric hospitalization, community-based children and family services and addiction treatments. She presented internationally on the topics of social stigma and social action art therapy.