Seek to Understand

People have been grasping at ways to understand what is happening in the world right now. I have heard comparisons to everything from slavery to the Nazi Regime as well as many names for COVID-19. Some of you may be thinking “wow that’s extreme”, while others may be thinking that those are completely reasonable comparisons. Neither is technically wrong, and both of you are functioning within your own frame of reference of the world. As humans, we are constantly seeking to understand what is happening around us. When new things happen, we compare to what we know.

I am going to start by normalizing something. As humans, we all have biases. Bias tends to be formed out of not understanding what is different than us, and stereotyping with the little bit of information that we have about someone. We cannot escape that we have these biases. What we can do is seek to understand our biases better, and understand that everyone is at a different point in their journey of understanding their biases.

When people call COVID-19 the “China virus” the “Chinese flu” or something similar they may have started by trying to understand the virus and why all of this is happening. The problem is that even if they did not intend harm, by calling it the “China virus” we are adding to the bias towards individuals with Asian backgrounds. When we feed the bias, with repeating what we hear, jokes, and fearing others, we are acting on our bias. This becomes a slippery slope that can feed into discrimination and violent acts against others. So while someone may not have had bad intentions by calling COVID-19 the “China Virus”, it can feed into another’s bias, which is why people escalate to violence against people from Asian backgrounds. Fear definitely plays part in amplifying people’s biases at a time like this. Fear can cause people to do irrational things. Many people have tried to take control of their fear by attacking those of Asian descent. This all started with bias that remained unchecked.

As I stated before, it is normal to have bias, what we cannot normalize is hate speech and violent actions towards others. There are a few things that we can do to have control over this situation.

  • If you are interested in learning more about your biases you can take implicit bias tests by Harvard’s Project Implicit.
  • Do your part and control the spread of misinformation, call the virus COVID-19, and staying at home what it is, isolation/quarantine.
  • Remember, your feelings are valid, these times are very hard for some. However, recognize that the virus is no one’s “fault”. This may be difficult, but we are practicing an excellent skill for our mental health by simply radically accepting that this virus is what it is.

  • Travel, in books. Mark Twain stated “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Emily Dickenson reminds us that when we cannot leave our homes, “To travel far, there is no better ship than a book.” If you are in a mindset that is ready to challenge your biases, read books about experiences from authors who are Asian. Read about the difficult injustices in history to see how radically different our current experiences are to slavery and the Nazi Regime.
  • Share what you have learned. Do not tolerate harmful messages being spread around you, and gently share what you have learned.
  • No one can learn well when they feel attacked, remember that people are functioning in the reality of what they currently know. It takes time to change that reality.

Remember, libraries provide access to information. Contact Information and Reference if you are interested in accessing more information about COVID-19, biases, or diverse materials.

If you have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, contact Libby, Community Resource Specialist, for resources to work through your experiences.

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