Four distinguished panelists participated in the inaugural event for the Equity, Inclusion and COVID-19 conversation series, titled “Race in the COVID Era: What America’s History of Racism and Xenophobia Means for Today.” Live-streamed on Facebook on June 8, the 90-minute discussion addressed how xenophobia and racial inequities in the United States had been amplified by the pandemic, particularly discrimination against people of Chinese and Asian descent.
Helen Zia ’73, activist and author of “Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution,” explained that the health crisis had created an accompanying “global pandemic of hate and violence against people who look Chinese,” referencing the uptick in hate crimes by people who blame Asian Americans for the spread of the virus.
Princeton history associate professor Beth Lew-Williams, who specializes in Asian American history, race and migration, provided an historical perspective. “A lot of the rhetoric we hear today about concerns about the Chinese as diseased really resonates with the earlier prejudice against the Chinese [in the 19th century],” she said.
Keith Wailoo, Chair and Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs, dissected the social and economic conditions that lead to enormous health disparities between racial demographic populations, such as fatality rates that are 2.5 times as high for black Americans compared to white Americans. “It really reflects a great deal about pre-existing disparities, pre-existing challenges and problems,” he said. “The impact of the coronavirus is layered atop an accretion of previous insults.”
New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim, who serves on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, was hopeful that the country would ultimately emerge from both the health pandemic and the nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd a stronger union.
“To be able to do this alongside [Congressman John Lewis] and for him to remind us of the moment that we are in,” Kim said. “Just reminding us that right now the world is watching.”
The event was sponsored by the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and the Office of International Affairs and Operations and moderated by Aly Kassam-Remtulla, Associate Provost for International Affairs.
To view the entire panel, visit the Princeton Facebook page.