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NIH Says COVID Exacerbated Preexisting Resentment against Racial/Ethnic Minorities

COVID-19 exacerbated preexisting resentment against racial/ethnic minorities and marginalized communities, according to a government study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency. Furthermore, the taxpayer-funded probe reveals that in comparison with whites all minorities “were more likely to report that people acted afraid of them because of suspected COVID-19 infection.” Limited English proficiency, less than a high school education and an annual income below $60,000 were also associated with experiencing increased discrimination, the study found.

Scientists from the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities used a special tool called Unequal Racial Burden (CURB) survey to conduct the analysis. The data was used to measure the prevalence of COVID-19-related discrimination in all major racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The government scientists also analyzed the impact of other social and demographic factors on pandemic-related discrimination and found that people from marginalized groups, such as those who speak little to no English and those with lower education levels, were also found to face more discrimination. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, most racially diverse, and most recent assessment of COVID-19–related discrimination in the United States,” the researchers write in their recently published paper.

Information was collected by the online CURB survey in English and Spanish from 5,500 American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, Latino, white, and multiracial adults. The survey asked whether participants had experienced COVID-19–related discriminatory behaviors, such as being called names or insulted, being threatened or harassed, or hearing racist comments, because the perpetrator thought the participant had COVID-19. The survey also asked whether participants felt that others acted afraid of them because they belonged to a racial/ethnic group misconceived to get COVID-19 more often.

More than 42% of the minority responders reported that “people acted afraid of them,” and 22% said they had experienced “COVD-19-related discriminatory behaviors.” All racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to experience COVID-related discrimination compared to whites, the racial burden surveys reveal. “Participants who identified as Asian or American Indian/Alaska Native were most likely to have experienced this hostile behavior, and participants who identified as Hawaiian or Pacific Islander or Latino were also highly likely to have experienced discrimination,” the findings state. “Higher rates of discrimination affected participants who lived in a big city; in a rural area; or in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, or Tennessee.”

In an announcement promoting the study last week the NIH writes that the results suggest COVID-19 has worsened existing resentment toward racial and ethnic minorities and “other minority populations” in the United States. “The study showcases the need for careful and responsible public health messaging during public health crises to help prevent and address discrimination against groups that have been marginalized,” the agency writes. In the paper the researchers state that “efforts are needed to minimize and discredit racially driven language and discrimination around COVID-19 and future epidemics.” They also assert that future studies and public health efforts focused on COVID-related discrimination “should explicitly include all major racial/ethnic groups, as most appear to be at equally high risk as Asian adults but have thus far been largely ignored in antidiscrimination efforts.”

The government scientists seem to indicate that the problem is probably much worse than the study reveals because there were limitations. For example, the survey was administered online and minorities with limited or no internet access were less likely to be included. Another limitation, conveniently buried at the bottom of the NIH press release, is that it was a “self-reported survey, and discrimination was based on perceived motivations of the perpetrators.”


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