My son, who is nearly 17 years old and Black, is afraid to go outside.
“Mom, I am a Black guy wearing a mask in Oakland,” he told me. “I am going to be killed.”
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, my 19-year-old daughter was afraid to ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. “Mom,” she explained, “they kill Black girls on BART.”
She was referring to the July 2018 murder of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old Black woman whose throat was slashed as she and her two sisters exited Oakland’s MacArthur station, in an apparently racially motivated attack by a homeless white man. One of her sisters was also stabbed in the throat, but survived.
All across America, people of color, like me and my kids, are perceiving that racial bias is increasing. Now a new study by the Pew Research Center delivers some numbers to back that up.
The study, released on July 1, was based on a survey conducted in early June, with 9,654 people participating. It found that four in 10 Americans say it is “more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views about people who are Asian” than before COVID-19.
A significant percentage of respondents also felt that race bias against Black and Latinx folks had also spiked.
But it isn’t just the perception of bias that is on the rise. The survey found that “about three-in-ten Asian adults (31%) say they have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since the outbreak began, compared with 21% of Black adults, 15% of Hispanic adults and 8% of white adults.”
More than half (58%) of the Asian folks surveyed stated that it is now more common to express “racist or racially insensitive views” about Asian people. Four-in-ten Asian and Black people reported that since the pandemic, “someone has acted uncomfortable around them because of their race or ethnicity,” as compared to 27% of Latinx and 13% white respondents
More than quarter of Asian Americans (26%) and 20% of Black Americans feared “someone might threaten or physically attack them.” Some raised specific concerns about wearing masks in public.
Many of my Asian friends have shared stories of overt bias, including being told to “go back” to Asia, even though they were born in the United States.
One obvious factor driving these numbers upward is the explicit racism of President Donald Trump, who has blamed China for the pandemic and taken to referring to it as the “Chinese flu” and “Kung flu.”
Meanwhile, 45% of Black respondents said it was more common to hear “racist or racially insensitive” remarks about them than pre-COVID-19.
Black people have had the police called on them for such crimes against humanity as holding a barbecue in a public park (which happened last year in Oakland), to renting an Airbnb, to selling lemonade and dancing in the streets.
One Black man had a white woman call the cops on him in Central Park, falsely claiming that he was threatening her life, after he asked her to leash her dog.
The most recent incident to go viral is that of Vauhxx Booker, a member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, from Bloomington, Indiana, who says he was attacked by five white men in the Indiana woods; some of this was captured on video and posted to Facebook. There was a call to get a noose and racial epithets were used.
Prejudice, privilege, and bias all work to imbue an underlying hatred for folks of color and a willingness to see us as less than human, as other.
White America has some serious work to do to dismantle racism.