Geopolitics of anti-Asian racism in times of COVID-19

Chaufan, Claudia | $64,818

Ontario York University 2021 SSHRC

How do geopolitical tensions between the West and China shape public opinion towards Asians, and in so doing influence anti-Asian racism? Our project addresses this overarching question through a multiple case study of public discourses across Canada, the USA, and the UK. We will critically appraise synergies between an overlooked aspect of anti-Asian racism, the geopolitics of narratives from dominant social institutions and actors — hereafter, “dominant narratives” — on COVID 19, and public opinion towards Asians, across three countries. We aim to fill a research gap concerning how such synergies may shed light on anti-Asian sentiments and actions in the West and inform public policy to counter anti-Asian racism.

Racialized frames of blame and accountability since the onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic have shaped Western public opinion towards China, while a disturbing rise in anti-Asian racism has been documented. Since early in 2020, the Canadian community-led “FIGHT COVID‑19 RACISM” platform has recorded 1,150 instances of anti-Asian racism, the US Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate reporting forum has lodged over 3700 self-reports of anti-Asian incidents, and the UK advocacy group “End the Virus of Racism” reported a 3-fold rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. While leaders in all three countries have condemned these acts, they have also warned the public about the threat that China represents to values that the West holds dear. As well, Western medical authorities have suggested that China may have led to delays in the West’s response to COVID-19, while the mass media have largely endorsed these views. Negative narratives about the Chinese state can easily be conflated by Western publics with accountability of Chinese people for the pandemic, therefore inciting, however inadvertently, racist attitudes and behaviours against whoever “looks” Chinese.

Our research objectives are: first, to compare COVID‑19 narratives from print media, government documents and the medical literature in the three countries to identify indicators of anti-China sentiments; second, to consider synergies between anti-China sentiments in these narratives and public opinion towards Asians. By illuminating the process of racialized blame our findings will: 1) shed light on how geopolitical tensions shape beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours among the public; 2) generate knowledge that can inform policy efforts to address anti-Asian racism during the current pandemic; 3) help promote equity, diversity, and inclusion, critical in an ethnoculturally diverse society like Canada.

Critical social science, anticolonial and anti-imperial lenses will inform this study. Cases will include publicly available documents from print media (Globe & Mail, New York Times, UK Guardian), government websites (Global Affairs Canada, US State Department, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Policy), and medical journals (Canadian Medical Association Journal, New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet), examined through quantitative content analysis, thematic analysis, and critical discourse analysis approaches to identify anti-China sentiments. Cases will also include findings from an online, cross-national public opinion survey experiment whose goal is to appraise how dominant narratives shape public opinion towards Asians.

Knowledge mobilization will include refereed and popular articles, policy briefs, and presentations at academic conferences, webinars, and public events. We will disseminate our findings through social media platforms and a project website. Students research assistants will build on the project for their thesis work. We trust that, with SSHRC support, our research can contribute to on-going global efforts to combat racism in all its forms.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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