The California State University, Monterey Bay and Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3) hosted a virtual panel on April 7. The panel discussed racialized diseases and the negative impacts affecting communities, businesses and personal relationships. Coordinators for OC3 and Dr. Britt Rios-Ellis, Dean of the College of Human Health Sciences and Human Services provided personal insight to how COVID-19 has the potential to either divide or conquer society’s underlying racism.
Valerie Ordonez, courageous conversations coordinator, started and led the panel discussion with an introduction of her background. Ordonez identifies as Filipino and is upset with the array of jokes polluting social media for their insensitivity towards Asian populations.
Wendy Feng, sustainability and wellness coordinator, identifies as Chinese-American. “I feel like the President’s language around calling it a ‘Chinese virus,’ has escalated the xenophobia,” Feng said. “It makes me angry that people make assumptions about how the disease started and target people.”
Rios-Ellis attributes racism to health disparities unveiled by COVID-19’s rise in low-income neighborhoods. Rios-Ellis acknowledged how past diseases, such as H1N1, have been racialized and associated with certain countries or ethnicities.
“It shows how fear, racism and the social determinants issues surrounding poverty are really the issues plaguing this country,” Rios-Ellis said.
Lesly Lopez, community arts coordinator, addressed how xenophobia is a long-standing problem that still affects communities today. “In Mexico, when migrants were at the border, they were sprayed for diseases or lice,” Lopez said. “That’s horrific someone would do that to someone else. That is rooted in fear.”
Darchelle Burnett, cultural engagement coordinator, knows people directly affected. “I have had friends that have been stigmatized and have had to change their lifestyle due to COVID-19,” Burnett said.
“What all of these phobias do is separate people into classes,” Rios-Ellis said. “I would love to see us begin to address the pandemic of racism, the pandemic of classism.”
Throughout the nation, people have been trying to piece together a sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 crisis. The panel was asked how governments and communities have proactively or reactively been responding.