Kumar Aditya and Shambhavi Singh, both 2nd year students of JEMTEC School of Law discusses the rising incidents of racism amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Racism, xenophobia, and unfair discrimination have spawned slavery, when human being have bought, and sold and owned and branded fellow human beings as if they were so many beasts of burden.    – Desmond Tutu

A glimpse to the concept of Racism:

George Stinney Jr. was the youngest person sentenced to death in the 20th century in the United States. He was 14 years old when he was executed by the electric chair. He was accused of killing two white girls, Betty (11) and Mary (7), the bodies were found near the house where the teenager resided with his parents. The boy’s parents were expelled from the city, and the boy was electrocuted with 5,380 volts in the head. Seventy years later, his innocence was finally proven by a judge in South Carolina.[1] He was prosecuted for racial distinctions which was the sole ground of his prosecution.

Racism, also called racialism, is any action, practice, or belief that reflects the racial prejudice   as such an ideology promotes the idea of division amongst humans on the basis of biological differences; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioural features; and that some races are innately superior to others.[2] The concept of racism has been widely read, discussed, debated, and researched, though it is highly misunderstood. Racism is discrimination, prejudice, or antagonism against people belonging to a particular race, group or ethnicity. The new age racism which this article is emphasizing on, includes aversive racism, cultural racism, and othering. 

Aversive racists regard themselves as non prejudiced but, at the same time, harbour negative feelings and beliefs about members of minority groups.[3] Cultural racism is prejudice and discrimination based on cultural differences between ethnic and racial groups. For example, British marriage and kinship forms were considered more ‘advanced’ than other cultural forms (e.g., polygamy or multigenerational, extended families).[4] Othering practices is dichotomy—there must be the Other for the Self to exist and vice versa, and by defining Self, one defines the Other.[5] Therefore, Othering process marks and names those perceived as different from self.[6] It is the “us” and “them” way of thinking in which “them” is often stereotyped.[7] It is usually hierarchical and based on a relationship of power, of inclusion and exclusion.[8] This differentiation affects behaviour and mentality of people and emphasises on a concept of segregation of people into groups rather than diversifying.

Racism and the pandemic:

The new racism or perhaps racism or perhaps laissez-faire racism involves persistent negative stereotyping of African Americans, a tendency to blame blacks themselves for the black white gap in socioeconomic standing, and resistance to meaningful policy efforts to ameliorate U.S. racist social conditions and institutions.[9]

or unmarked racism after the 20th century transformed into a more subtle form of discrimination. The root of new age racism is paternalistic racism, similar to patriarchy, which is structurally embedded in our society and is similarly difficult to eliminate from society. The covert behaviour of racism has been as harmful as it was before for it has taken its ugly form in several nations and has amplified its magnitude resulting into xenophobia amidst the pandemic when uniformity and solidarity were the terms which we should be focussing on, we are looking at troublesome inception of intransigent racism at different levels.

With the outbreak of Coronavirus in the Wuhan Province of China, Asians faced boycotted in several parts of the world, especially those belonging to Chinese descent. It is agreeable to say that the Chinese authorities hid the intensity of the virus, and that resulted in the rife of the virus, but blaming the people of containing the virus is outrageous. They are not only fighting against the virus but racism as well. The extremism to which the Asians and Afro- Americans are discriminated has left an impact on their minds for any apparent violent attack against them by the people; police have continued to racially profile and murder African Americans at alarming rates, prompting public outcry but little remedy.[10] 

The immaculate example of racial discrimination was recently observed with the case of George Floyd, when he was strangled to death for the mere reason of his identity while others became a spectacle to his slow and tragic death as we see the footage of that traumatic incident. The United States offers a sad example where, despite anti-discrimination laws and equal protection rights, the government has failed to protect its people from racism.[11]

Racism is not limited to race but it scales all the forms and kinds of discrimination that are persistently degenerating the society. India has not been much behind America with respect to racism, as students from Delhi University college, belonging to north-east of India was called out by racist slurs.[12] These gross incidents are showing the injustices that society with plaguing mentality forces others to experience others. Likewise, India is also going through a specific form of racism against Islam; after the aggravation of violence by Tablighi with an increased number of coronavirus cases, the country experienced what it is called, Islamophobia. It is ubiquitously present in other countries including the USA and European nations which has also become a tool for the proliferation of hatred and discriminatory behaviour toward a particular community. 

International laws a tool to mitigate racism

International human rights law seeks to eliminate racial discrimination in the world through treaties that bind and in furtherance, transforms the society as a whole. Racial discrimination is antithetical to every aspect of the fundamental tenants of international human rights law, which expressly aims to advance the cause of human dignity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 in Paris, France, which expressly expounds the human rights. The Art. 2, of the UDHR, states that these rights are entitled without considering any distinctions such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, et cetera. This declaration makes the human rights, universally acceptable. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which came into force in 1976, in Art 6, states that the member state should recognize the right to work, which expressly includes right of everyone without any distinction based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, et cetera which abolishes any race-based employment in the member state. Besides, Art. 9 says, that the member states have to recognize the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance, which ensures the social integrity of the society. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was adopted in 1989, in Art. 16 states that; everyone shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law, which was a step forward in establishing the rule of law across the globe. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Adopted, following Art. 19, where racial discrimination was defined in Art. 1, which states that; the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

The problem of the current scenario is that even the more liberal democracies do not systematically and constructively oppose the rising tide of racism. On the contrary, they have indulged themselves in the well-known elite denial of racism, especially also by ignoring their role in the elite management of “race relations.” This aversive racism is leading to the gradual destruction of the welfare state. These race relations policies have also become intolerant, and such policies are generally blatantly endorsed, or at least hardly criticized, by the elite governance of any democracy.

Ways to mitigate racism during Covid 19:

Firstly, mitigating racism is via acknowledging deep-rooted racism. We cannot find a solution to a problem if we restrain ourselves from recognising it. Adversity brings the ugliness of the society, and so has this pandemic; Therefore, it is necessary for every individual around the world to consciously make efforts in eliminating this disease, which is a hidden pandemic in itself. 

Secondly, understanding the responsibility, any statement which in its slightest form, if is synonymising racism should be immediately prohibited. Authority brings responsibility; therefore, it is the responsibility of the people in authority to understand their actions and behave responsibly with accountability.

Thirdly, understanding the roles of member states with international human rights law is an instrument to mitigate racism because this impediment can only be countered strategically with a legal framework that empowers the people without any distinctions and establishes the rule of law across the globe. 

We need a better discussion and debate along with the correct understanding of the concept of racism, and attentively take actions and amend orders, which anyway procreate the idea of discrimination. Dismantling all such systems irrespective of any attachment or prejudice, will help in creating harmony. This can be concluded with the words of Kofi Anan “Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”[13]

Kumar Aditya and Shambhavi Singh are Second year students from JEMTEC School of Law.

[1]Lindsey Bever, It took 10 minutes to convict 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. It took 70 years after his execution to exonerate him.,TheWashingPost (Dec. 18, 2014), available at:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/18/the-rush-job-conviction-of-14-year-old-george-stinney-exonerated-70-years-after-execution/

[2]Britannica; “Racism” by Audrey Smedley; available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/racism

[3]Psychology Research; “Aversive Racism”; available at: https://psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/prejudice/aversive-racism/

[4]Encyclopedia.com; “Cultural Racism”; available at: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cultural-racism

[5]Canales, Mary K. 2000; “Othering: Toward an understanding of difference.”; Advances in Nursing Science 22: 16–31

[6]Weis, Lois. 1995;  “Identity formation and the processes of othering: Unravelling sexual Threads”; The Journal of Educational Foundations; 9: 17–33.

[7]Udah, Hyacinth, and Parlo Singh; 2019; “Identity, Othering and belonging: toward an understanding of difference and the experiences of African immigrants to Australia” ; Social Identities Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 25; 843–59.

[8]Canales, Mary K. 2000; “Othering: Toward an understanding of difference”; Advances in Nursing Science 22; 16–31

[9]Lawrence Bobo, James R. Kluegel, and – Ryan A. Smith, “Laissez-Faire Racism: The Crystallization of a Kinder, Gentler, Antiblack Ideology”; RACIAL ATTITUDES INTHE 1990s; P. 16, 1997 available at: https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/bobo/files/laissez-faire.pdf

[10]Between 2014 and 2016, for example, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castile were among the disproportionate number of African Americans killed by police or who died in police custody. See, e.g., Jasmine C. Lee and Haeyoun Park, 15 Black Lives Ended with Confrontations with Police. 3 Officers Convicted, N.Y. TIMES (Oct. 5, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/17/us/black-deaths-police.html; Alvin Chang, There are huge racial disparities in how US police use force, VOX (Nov. 14, 2018), https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/8/13/17938186/police-shootings-killings-racism-racial-disparities (reporting that black people make up 62.7 percent of all the unarmed people killed by police based on available FBI data).

[11]Act of Sept. 14, 2017, Pub. L. No. 115-58, 131 Stat. 1150 (joint resolution of Congress acknowledging the “growing prevalence” of “hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and White supremacy”).

[12]Mohd Ibrar, Delhi: M. Phil scholar faces slur, spat on over coronavirus paranoia, Times of India (Mar 24, 2020), available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/mphil-scholar-faces-slur-spat-on-over-corona-paranoia/articleshow/74783458.cms

[13]Tahir Habib Cheema, Ignorance and prejudice: learning from Kofi Annan, The Express Tribune, (August 21, 2018), available at: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1785660/6-ignorance-prejudice-learning-kofi-annan

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

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