People’s experiences with racism and stigma prior to the coronavirus should be taken into account in any assessment of the impact of social distancing, experts say.
A new study argues that a form of social distancing resulting from racism and marginalization was known among blacks and ethnic minorities before the coronavirus pandemic, and this was already leading to discrimination and negatively impacting lives, livelihoods, socioeconomic status, health.
The study says this impact got worse during COVID-19, illustrating that “racism and health are deeply involved together.”
The research published in Puncta: Journal of Critical Phenomenologywas conducted by Luna Dolezal and Gemma Lucas of the University of Exeter.
Professor Dolezal said: “The inequalities and health disparities for ethnic minority groups that COVID-19 has exposed are part of a systemic and structural racism that has a long history of taking lives. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous challenges which, in unprecedented ways, have affected populations around the world, it is critical that we recognize the ways in which the extent of this impact is uneven because of pre-existing systems of structural inequality.
“People’s social position, gender, ethnicity, race or health status were not taken into account when social distancing measures were introduced. All bodies were given the same status as equally dangerous and equally vulnerable. In reality, people are not homogeneous “We are equally vulnerable. There is ample evidence to show that public health social distancing measures taken to contain the spread of the virus, such as lockdowns and quarantines, have exacerbated social and health inequalities.”
The study, written in late 2020 when social distancing measures were still in place in the UK, included an analysis of existing texts and research on racism, including those of black and ethnic minorities who have described striking similarities between COVID-19 social distancing measures. and the routine experiences of racism going on for minorities in white dominant societies. Many of the writings were personal experiences of seeing other people who kept their distance from them before the pandemic.
One writer, Lisa Braxton, said: “We’ve been taking social distancing for a long time to keep ourselves safe and reduce our chances of a shortened lifespan: not because of a contagious disease, but because of racism…I’ve seen white women become suddenly clinging tightly to their purse straps as I passed them on the sidewalk. Some of them visibly twitched, their eyes widened, as if terrified, if I happened to make eye contact with them in an elevator.”
Gemma Lucas said: “While social distancing can be alienating, isolating and painful for individuals occupying a social position, it will not be experienced in the same way by those who routinely experience marginalization because of racism. Distancing was already known to many people of who the body is perceived as suspicious or dangerous, for example because of their race, class or disability.
“Being perceived as ‘contaminated’ and experiencing how cautiously others are avoided may be familiar to people whose bodies are marginalized, stigmatized or marked as suspicious or dangerous and whose life experiences as a result have already been marked by ongoing experiences of stigmatization, shame and marginalization This could include others pulling away or locking car doors and being watched by security in stores.”
Experience of racism associated with poorer memory and thinking
Luna Dolezal and Gemma Lucas, Differential Experiences of Social Distancing: Considering Alienated Embodied Communication and Racism (2022)
Provided by the University of Exeter
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