Black and Asian Americans have both reported experiencing more racism because of the COVID-19 pandemic and worry about wearing a mask because it might make them a target, according to a new survey.
The findings reinforce the many ways people of color have faced some of the most insidious effects of the pandemic.
The Pew Research Center survey published Wednesday found that 39% of Asian American respondents, 38% of Black respondents and 27% of Hispanic respondents said that “someone has acted uncomfortable around them because of their race or ethnicity since the coronavirus outbreak” — compared to just 13% of white respondents.
A significant portion of both Black and Asian Americans also worried that wearing a mask may put them at risk for racism or discrimination in public. About 42% of Black respondents and 36% of Asian American respondents said that they “worry a great deal or a fair amount that other people might be suspicious of them because of their race or ethnicity if they wear a mask or face covering when in stores or other businesses,” the survey found.
Some states and municipalities have mandated wearing a mask in public. But the issue has become political in many areas of the country — leading to vocal opposition and sometimes physical confrontation — despite growing consensus from public health experts that wearing a mask can greatly reduce or mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The Pew survey’s findings are consistent with the many ways the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color. Advocacy groups have collected mounting reports since March of racist harassment and attacks against Asian Americans due to the pandemic. And they’ve warned that racist rhetoric from leaders — including President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu” — only fuels anti-Asian racism.
Black and Latino Americans have died disproportionately from the virus because they are more likely to be working in front-line or essential professions, greatly increasing their exposure to the virus. They are also more likely to live in areas with poor access to health care and other resources and to have preexisting health conditions that put them more at risk of getting COVID-19.
Pew conducted its survey from June 4 to 10, during the height of nationwide anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests catalyzed by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Both Black and Asian Americans surveyed were more likely to have experienced racist slurs or jokes since the pandemic began and more likely to report having fears of threats and physical attacks because of their race.
Pew’s sample size of Asian American respondents was relatively small and may not represent the overall Asian American population because the survey only included English-speaking Asian Americans, Pew said.
“Despite this limitation, it is important to report the views of Asian Americans on the topics in this study,” the survey’s authors wrote.
Read the full Pew survey here.
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