​Fighting Racism and Discrimination in the Wake of Coronavirus

Sara H. Goza, MD, FAAP

March 13, 2020

As pediatricians continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on our patients and our colleagues, our communities and our professional activities, it’s also important to remember some simple truths about the virus and how we can support one another during this time.

In addition to modeling good behavior by keeping up good hygiene practices and staying home if we feel ill, we can also help model empathy and support in the face of stigma and discrimination emerging in the wake of the virus’ spread.

Coronavirus does not discriminate, and neither should we. Misinformation about coronavirus can create fear and hostility that hurts people and makes it harder to keep everyone healthy.

COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China. That’s a geographic location. Having Asian ancestry – or any other ancestry – does not make someone more susceptible to the virus or more contagious.

Let's stay informed, overcome stereotypes and treat others with dignity and understanding in every encounter. At the Academy, our message is always to stand together against discrimination. This is no different.

Children turn to adults for how to act, so let’s model compassion for them. Turning to reputable sources of information like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state or local health departments can equip us with facts to counter the falsehoods. For example, these key messages from King County in Seattle, Wash., offer good reminders, including to help confront stigma and discrimination if we see it. We can empower children to do the same.

“Coronavirus does not discriminate, and neither should we. Misinformation about coronavirus can create fear and hostility that hurts people and makes it harder to keep everyone healthy.”

Pediatricians have a powerful platform; we are one of the most trusted professions out there. Let’s take that responsibility beyond medical interventions and speak up if we see racism and discrimination around us. We know that racism harms children’s health and that experiencing this kind of harassment during a time of heightened anxiety and fear takes an additional toll on mental health. We therefore can be empowered to speak up if we witness discrimination related to coronavirus and gently but clearly fall back on facts and redirect the conversation.

This is a time of uncertainty that will require us all to be flexible, vigilant and supportive of one another. This pandemic has already disrupted daily routines, canceled events, limited community convenings and led to social distancing protocols. All of these measures can leave individuals feeling anxious, panicked and isolated. When people operate out of fear, they may resort to racism and discrimination. We must take it upon ourselves to counter this impulse by demonstrating inclusivity and support. We care for all children, and we stand up for all children. Never has that mission been more vital than at this moment.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

About the Author

Sara “Sally” H. Goza, MD, FAAP

Sara “Sally” H. Goza, MD, FAAP, is the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr Goza is a general pediatrician and has had the privilege of taking care of children in her hometown of Fayetteville, Ga., for over 30 years. She is a managing partner in First Georgia Physicians Group.