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Demystifying, recognising and combating racism during the pandemic

26 November 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 21


The increased reports of escalation of social inequalities, xenophobic and racist ideologies during the COVID-19 pandemic presents a growing concern. Nurses are not immune to xenophobia and racism, both as perpetrators and as victims. Although COVID-19 brings a new wave of xenophobia and racism, healthcare organisations have been tackling discriminatory and racist practices for decades. However, racist practice quite often goes undetected or unchallenged due to its associated sensitivity and a lack of understanding of its complexity. There is a need for a more open and non-judgemental discourse around interpretations of racism and its predisposing factors as a means of combating the growing reports. This discussion paper proposes a practice-orientated conceptualisation of racism and outlines some particular and sustainable areas for consideration for nurses to use in their daily practice. Developing self-awareness and nurturing the courage, confidence and commitment to challenge self and others is critical for transforming ethnocentric and racist ideologies.

Health professionals across the globe must be commended for their commitment and outstanding bravery in their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding the limited resources available and the unprecedented high volume of critically ill patients often exceeding capacity, many lives have been saved. However, healthcare services need to remain vigilant for racial inequalities and disparities, as wider societal fears regarding COVID-19 are escalating, fuelling xenophobic and racist ideologies (Coates, 2020; Smith et al, 2020). Inevitably individual countries are taking measures to protect the wellbeing, safety and identity of their citizens, such as closing borders to some countries. However, this is escalating fears, introducing a culture of blame and contributing to an increase in stigmatising minority groups. For example, a rise in anti-Asian statements in political and media coverage of the pandemic (Gee et al, 2020) and accusations that Roma recently returned from other countries were spreading COVID-19 (Matache and Bhabha, 2020). The rise in health and social inequalities (Coates, 2020) and the increasing statistical trends showing that people from minority communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, are also growing concerns (Chowkwanyun and Reed, 2020; Devakumar et al, 2020). The risks associated with COVID-19, in terms of infection rates, recovery periods and mortality rates, are not equal across all members of society (Smith et al, 2020). For example, the mounting evidence highlighting that black people, Asian people, and people from minority ethnic communities are dying in disproportionately high numbers (Kirby, 2020), raises further questions about causes of such inequalities.

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