How can I confront coronavirus racism?

School of Medicine Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Nicole Jacobs, recommends methods for dealing with biased behavior, whether you are the intended recipient or a witness.

Headshot of the Author Dr. Jacobs

How can I confront coronavirus racism?

School of Medicine Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Nicole Jacobs, recommends methods for dealing with biased behavior, whether you are the intended recipient or a witness.

Headshot of the Author Dr. Jacobs
 "Ask the Professor: The answer may surprise you!" with science-related doodles in background
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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all, but our Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) colleagues have been experiencing an additional stressor: xenophobia and racist anti-Asian comments, directed in particular toward Chinese individuals. In recent weeks, people in the AAPI community across the country have experienced hateful acts, such as being spit on, and hurtful comments, casting blame upon them for the coronavirus pandemic.

Health care providers and medical students are not immune to this coronavirus racism.

As providers who are committed to our professional values, we must stand up to racism and xenophobia when we witness it. Challenging times like these offer an opportunity to affirm our commitment to equity and inclusion.

If you witness an act of racism or bias, follow these steps to guide your response and help you ARISE to be an active bystander: 

  • A – Awareness of the biased behavior: Use mindfulness or perspective-taking skills to be aware of the bias in the moment and imagine what it might be like for the person who is receiving it. Reading up on the long history of racism toward Chinese and Asian immigrants in this country may help you to be aware of the roots of the current coronavirus racism. 
  • R – Respond with empathy and avoidance of judgement: When we are inflamed by racist comments, it is tempting to respond with anger. The goal of bystander intervention is not only to be an ally to our colleagues, but to rebuild the community, so we must respond with empathy and avoidance of judgment.
  • I – Inquire about the statement or act: Approach the source of the bias with questions about their comments or behavior, such as “What did you mean by that?” or “Why did you call it the Chinese virus?” 
  • S – Statements that start with “I”: First-person statements can be used to express what you noticed or how you feel about the comment, such as saying “I am very uncomfortable with that statement” or “I am not ok with you referring to this as the Chinese virus.” 
  • E – Educate and engage the source of the bias: Racist comments and actions may be an opportunity to educate our peers and engage them as allies, especially if they do not understand that their comment or behavior is so hurtful. For example, you may say, “We no longer name viruses after locations. This pandemic affects us all. If you want to combat this crisis, the best way is to practice social distancing and handwashing, not blaming my colleague.”

In addition to addressing the source of the bias, it is also important to debrief with the recipient, who is likely left feeling hurt, angry, and even frightened. You can be an ally by validating their response and affirming that what happened to them was unacceptable. For example, you may say, “I’m so sorry you had to experience that. That comment was so wrong! No one deserves to be treated that way.” Offering your support can be very helpful to victims of racism, such as by saying, “I’m here for you. Let me know how I can help.”

 If you are the recipient of the bias or discrimination, you can also use some of the steps in the ARISE model, such as inquiring about the statement or act, making “I” statements about how the behavior impacts you, and engaging and educating the source. It is important to remember that you get to choose whether and when to respond, and that you are not responsible to address the source of the bias.

Hearing these types of comments or being worried about the bias you or your family may face at this time can take a toll on your well-being. Be sure to reach out to trusted friends or colleagues who can support you. The UNR Med Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and The Center are here to support you as well. You may also choose to file a Bias Incident Report or call the reporting hotline at 775-784-1030. Counseling services are available through the University’s Counseling Center.

During this time of crisis, we urge all members of our community to recommit to UNR Med’s mission of equity and inclusion and our core values of respect, integrity and compassion. We must all work together to care for our patients and ensure that our learners, faculty and staff can thrive in a safe and supportive climate that is free of racism, discrimination, hate and hostility.

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