People’s experiences with racism and stigma before the coronavirus must be taken into account when assessing the impact of social distancing, experts have said.
A new study argues that a form of social distancing due to racism and marginalization was familiar to people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds before the coronavirus pandemic, and it was already leading to discrimination and having a negative effect on lives , livelihoods, socio-economic status, health and well-being.
The study indicates that this impact worsened during COVID-19, which illustrated that “racism and health are deeply co-implicated”.
Research published in Point : Journal of Critical Phenomenologywas conducted by Luna Dolezal and Gemma Lucas from the University of Exeter.
Professor Dolezal said: “The health inequalities and disparities for minority ethnic groups that COVID-19 has exposed are part of a systemic and structural racism that has a long history of death. As the COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous challenges that have impacted people around the world in unprecedented ways, it is crucial that we recognize how the degree of this impact is uneven due to pre-existing systems of structural inequality.
“People’s social position, gender, ethnicity, race or health status were not considered when introducing social distancing measures. All bodies were given the same status as equally dangerous and equally vulnerable. In reality, people are not homogeneous biological entities. Nor are we equally vulnerable. There is ample evidence that public health social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, such as lockdowns and quarantines, have exacerbated social and health inequalities.
The research, written in autumn 2020 while social distancing measures were still in place in the UK, included an analysis of existing writings and research on racism, including those of black and ethnic minority commentators who have describes striking similarities between COVID-19 social distancing measures and routine experiences of racism that are ongoing for minorities in white-dominated societies. Many of the writings were personal experiences of seeing other people keep their distance from them before the pandemic.
One writer, Lisa Braxton, said: ‘We have long practiced social distancing to protect ourselves and reduce our chances of a shortened lifespan: not because of a contagious disease, but because of racism. . . I’ve seen white women suddenly grab hold of their purse straps as I walked past them on the sidewalk. Some have visibly started shaking, their eyes widening as if terrified if I ever make eye contact with them in an elevator.
GemmaLucas said: “Although social distancing can be alienating, isolating and painful for people who occupy privileged social positions, it will not be experienced in the same way by those who are regularly marginalized because of racism. Face-to-face social distancing was already familiar to many people whose bodies are perceived as suspicious or dangerous due to, for example, their race, class or disability.
“Being perceived as ‘contaminated’ and experiencing cautious avoidance of others may be familiar to people whose bodies are marginalized, stigmatized or marked as suspicious or dangerous and whose life experiences, therefore, were already marked by ongoing experiences of stigma, shame and marginalization.This may include others walking away or locking car doors and being watched by security in stores.
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