COVID-19 and xenophobia: ‘What faith and morality call us to do’ 


February 5, 2021

Some of the latest actions from the Biden administration tackle one of the starkest departures between the current and the previous President — racial equality and xenophobia. Biden issued a series of executive orders addressing long-standing systemic racism, including in areas such as education, housing, and criminal justice. One of these executive orders addresses an unnerving statistic; hate crimes in America rose to the highest level in more than a decade in the past year and the target is overwhelmingly Asian Americans. 

Biden stressed the dire severity of this trend in his announcement. “We’re in a battle for the soul of this nation, and the truth is our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to exist,” Biden said. “I’m not promising that we can end it tomorrow, but I promise you that we’re going to make strides to end systemic racism, and every branch of the White House and the federal government will be part of that.” 

The President’s comments constituted pointed criticism of the dangerous rhetoric that former President Donald Trump encouraged in the past four years. Advocates have praised the latest action as a “bright moment” after months of xenophobic and racist rhetoric. The most infamous tactic, referring to the disease as “the China virus,”  represented Trump’s attempts to scapegoat and blame China for the spread of COVID-19 instead of addressing his Administration’s own failure to move past this verbal harassment. 

United Nations report categorized the recent rise as reaching an alarming level. More than 1,800 racist incidents were reported against Asian Americans from March to May 2020 alone. These attacks include physical violence, vandalism, refusal of service, and echoes of the former President’s attacks.   

The report includes various examples of racism and xenophobia. One Asian man was slammed to the floor by his neighbor who had lost his job in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The attacker yelled, “I lost my job [be]cause [of] Asians.” In another case, an older white man pushed a seven-year-old biracial (half-white, half-Asian) girl from her bike in the park and yelled at her white dad: “Take your hybrid kids home because they’re making everyone sick.” Another fatal attack took place in March when a man stabbed members of an Asian family inside a supermarket in Texas. Believing the family to be Chinese and “carriers” of COVID-19, the attacker assaulted the family members allegedly to stop them from infecting others.  

Local merchants at the world-famous San Francisco’s Chinatown called for “Facts not Fear.”

These beliefs have affected Asian Americans’ economic and physical well-being. Although the whole country is facing economic crisis, the two million Asian-owned businesses were hit disproportionately hard. Between February and April of 2020, 233,000 Asian American small businesses closed and the jobless rate among Asians was 21 percent. Bloomberg also reported that it was harder for these individuals to regain employment compared to other groups.  

Prejudice is also likely to play a part in poor COVID-19 health outcomes for Asian Americans. Individuals are likely to seek care for COVID-19 later compared to other groups out of fear of confirming the racist narrative surrounding the spread of disease. This is likely to contribute to the high mortality rates among Chinese patients specifically, who are 1.5 times more likely to die compared to white patients.  

Biden’s joint effort between the Justice Department and Health and Human Services holds hope in healing these deathly divisions through socially conscious reform. “It’s time to act because that’s what faith and morality call us to do,” he said. “It’s what the core values of this nation call us to do.”