How Does the Media Negatively Reinforce Stereotypes in a Pandemic?

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Link to Featured Image

INTRODUCTION AND PERSONAL INTEREST

We are living in an unprecedented time, or so we keep being told. Anti-Asian hate crimes and violence are at an all-time high, which truly makes this age an “unprecedented time”. However, when phrased as such, it seems as though we have no choice about it, no impact that we can make, and this is untrue. The effort to stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate is an effort that each of us must make to see a change in our communities.

My interest in the topic of disease-related discrimination first began when we were hearing about what was at the time called “the Coronavirus” in January of 2020. I saw many articles about different aspects of the disease that were outright false, but way too many people believed them. Then, the jokes about those fake articles began. The main article that comes to mind is one containing a video showing a woman eating a bat that people were told was the start of COVID-19. These jokes were being made at the expense of Asian people, through the perpetuation of stereotypes, hatred at the thought of people missing important events of their life, and much more. In April of 2020, I had a research project about a topic of our choice, and I had chosen to research this topic. Over the past year, many things have changed in our lives and during that time, anti-Asian violence has increased drastically. I decided to make my catalyst project about this topic to highlight the role that the media plays in inciting hatred not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but also during the HIV/AIDS outbreak.
For the full essay about my personal interest, click here.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

COVID-19 is not the first major disease in the past century that has caused long-lasting harm for a minority group in the United States. Taking a look back at the HIV/AIDS outbreak in the 1980s provides us with a perspective on how the LGBTQ+ community was impacted by backlash from a disease outbreak. Now, it is important to note that this comparison is not made between two completely similar groups, but rather two minority groups that each had their separate histories in the US, where a disease outbreak became enough “reason” for widespread hatred and discrimination to occur. That said, the 1980s was an incredibly important time for the LGBTQ+ community, and many places across the United States like San Francisco and New York City were starting to make major steps towards acceptance (Ruel). However, when five homosexual men were some of the first to fall victim to the first stage of the virus known as human immunodeficiency virus or HIV in 1981, the media publicized it to the point that people with anti-gay sentiments thought it was reasonable to start placing blame on the LGBTQ+ community for “starting the virus” (“History…”). HIV/AIDS was briefly labeled as gay-related immune deficiency or GRID, and although this name was only official for less than a year, it was referred to as such for many years to follow (“History…”). This harassment and violence continued throughout the 1980s not only in a social sphere but also legally. A ban on gay men donating blood through Red Cross was put in place in 1985, and this ban continues today unless the donor has been celibate for a year (“History…”). All of this still happens even though all blood donated is regularly tested for HIV and has been since the 1980s (“History…”). 
For the full essay on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the LGBTQ+ community, click here.

With that said, we now have to look back to the Winter and Spring of 2019-2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. Very little information was known about this disease and people were grasping at anything regardless of credibility. The only thing that was known for certain was that the virus was spreading fast and no one knew exactly what to do. Additionally, former President Donald Trump had tweeted out and used the phrases “Chinese virus”, “China Virus”, and “Kung Flu” various times, which directly contradicts the 2015 World Health Organization best practices of not naming diseases that refer to people, nations, or economies (Gover, “WHO issues…”).
For the full essay on the start of COVID-19 and its impact, click here.

This infographic shows statistics on the number of hate crimes in 2019 and 2020 in the 15 largest cities in the United States. Even though the overall percent of hate crimes decreased 7% from 2019 to 2020, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes increased 149%. Link to Infographic

SOLUTIONS

Over the past year, hate crime reporting site Stop AAPI Hate has received over 3,700 reports of hate crimes, which was a 1900% increase from the year prior (Stop AAPI Hate, Lang). To discuss solutions, we have to consider what solutions we have now as well as what solutions could have lessened the original impact of COVID-19. 

For the current violence, most of the answers lie in two categories: education and action. Now, both of these categories could have individual aspects and community-wide aspects. Many online educational resources talk about reports, tangible statistics, and other ways to help. One of these resources is the Stop AAPI Hate organization website that provides many resources for those who are eager to make a change. Some other ways to help entail donating to foundations designed to help those impacted by anti-Asian violence, but others include taking action in your communities. One example of this is Oakland resident Jacob Azevedo who founded Compassion in Oakland (Somvichian-Clausen). Compassion in Oakland is a volunteer organization that walks alongside Oakland Chinatown residents who would feel safer with a chaperone (Somvichian-Clausen). Overall, it is up to everyone to make a change in their community, whether that is educating yourself about topics that impact the AAPI community or volunteering alongside others, everyone must take action.
Link to Stop AAPI Hate website

Jacob Azevedo and other volunteers for Compassion in Oakland. Link to Image

Upon reflection of the lead-up to both the HIV/AIDS outbreak and the COVID-19 outbreak, there are three main categories to address regarding what could be done to prevent backlash.

  • The first one is naming the diseases. Even though the World Health Organization’s best practices strongly recommend avoiding names that reflect upon groups of people or nations, it still happens in the media. Both “gay-related immune deficiency” and “Chinese virus” have negative connotations, so major news outlets and political figures must steer clear of any terms such as these.

  • Adding onto that is the portrayal by the media overall. Especially in the age of the internet where everything is a mere touch away, media outlets can not put out false information in a time where impressionable minds are waiting for anything they can get their hands on. It is better to put out information slightly later that is known to be correct as opposed to information from a less credible source that is published immediately.

  • Lastly, there is the topic of fear-mongering. Fear-mongering has been present throughout both the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic and news headlines play a major role in this. If an article is talking about new information about a disease, but the title is an attention-grabber, the many people who only see headlines flash across their phones or computers will get a different message than intended from the article.

In summary, it is an imperative part of the media to put out information that is not harmful or incorrect, and failure to do so will not result in anything good, as we have seen.

One example of a tweet from former President Donald Trump that uses harmful language. It is important that language such as this is not used during the start of a disease outbreak. Link to Image of Tweet

FEEDBACK

Please take some time to consider the following questions and think about how you could make change your community.

– What other approaches could be taken to lessen or outright eradicate the hatred towards impacted groups during the start of a pandemic?

– How can you help educate yourself, your family, your friends, and the people in your community?

– How might you unknowingly contribute to harmful stereotypes and jokes? How can you become more aware of the impact of your words?

Feel free to leave any other questions or comments below!

Works Cited and Consulted

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. Hi Darby! This is such an interesting topic and was a great read! I saw the increase of violence against AAPI communities in my own area (DC, Virginia, Maryland or DMV). After reading this, I am curious to what you think the responsibility of the media has to their consumers about publishing correct and unbiased content? How, if at all, should this be enforced?
    To answer your last question, one thing that I need to work on is not believing everything I see in the media. At the beginning of this pandemic, I saw the article about a Chinese woman eating a bat that you mentioned. I believed this blindly without really thinking about it too much.

  2. This is a really interesting topic. As an Asian myself, I can relate to this topic. Although I have not experienced any direct negative stereotypes myself, some of my friends and family living in other areas of the world have experienced these negative stereotypes. To answer your first question, the media plays a major role in creating hatred towards a certain community, especially if the media over exaggerates a situation or specifically blames a certain group. For example, during the start of the COVID pandemic, the Wuhan government was negatively portrayed by the media. Several articles also surfaced stating that the cause of the pandemic was due to certain people consuming animals such as bats, which furthered the spread of negative stereotypes.

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