Coronavirus & Asian Community Members

Bishop's Director of Diversity and Community Life David Thompson discusses xenophobia and how to respond to microaggressions.
There’s chatter among students in our community (and possibly adults too) about the potential spread of coronavirus and COVID-19. We’re inundated with information right now with good reason, and yet, the quest for information has the potential to lead any of us towards misinformation. In light of the unknown, humor feels like a safe response to discomfort but—and I hope it goes without saying—humor at the expense of another person or group doesn’t make anything better. 
 
Our students (especially Asian students of Chinese descent) share being the brunt of jokes and microaggressions, and hope that the adults who hear comments can correct the poor behavior of their peers. Speaking up against microaggressions and rude comments—modeling upstander behavior—is trying in the face of good intentions and the difficult discernment between general ribbing and cruelty. When our students are targets of these comments, lean towards the latter, even if they meet you with resistance. A swift correction should send the message. For instance, on February 26, The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus issued a letter to members of Congress stating, “the best way to stop the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands, not perpetuate racist stereotypes.” The reports are out there and I imagine our students, among many throughout the nation, are one “joke” away from being in a news headline. 
 
This is no different from the perceived Muslim ban, permitting the unnecessary jokes and targeted comments of Muslim community members. Those comments continue today and, although diminished in scale or frequency, I cannot state enough that kids aren’t sure how to respond to their fear other than through the social permission they receive from media messages exacerbating their fear. With today’s concern, it’s not just non-Asian students making comments. Last week, a New York Times article highlighted one person’s story of Chinese discrimination in Los Angeles from Asians of other descents. Students in the Asian American Student Association last week shared stories that mirrored this experience at school.
 
Please, perhaps on your drive to or from school, listen to a recent episode of NPR’s Code Switch: When Xenophobia Spreads Like a Virus (25 minutes). 
 
What to do:
 
In a March 3 New York Times article How to Respond to Microaggressions, author Hahna Yoon offers insight on the impact of microaggressions and offers tips to address them. "It’s tempting to ignore microaggressions, considering blatant, obvious discrimination is still a real problem, but the buildup of these ‘everyday slights’ has consequences on a victim’s mental and physical health that cannot be overlooked. The normalization of microaggressions is antithetical to a well-rounded society with equal opportunities for marginalized individuals," Yoon says before sharing resources including Dr. Diane Goodman's tools for responding to microaggressions and bias. Yoon reiterates the importance of remembering Goodman's suggested tactics to remember:

  1. 1.     Ask for more clarification: “Could you say more about what you mean by that?” “How have you come to think that?”
  2. 2.     Separate intent from impact: “I know you didn’t realize this, but when you __________ (comment/behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because___________. Instead you could___________ (different language or behavior.)”
  3. 3.     Share your own process: “I noticed that you ___________ (comment/behavior). I used to do/say that too, but then I learned____________.”
 
I close with a few additional links to just a few articles I've read in the past few weeks, reminding me that as we try to take care of ourselves we mustn't forget to take care of each other.
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The Bishop’s School is an independent, coeducational college-preparatory day school for students in grades six through twelve who live throughout San Diego County. Founded in 1909, the School is affiliated with the Episcopal church.