Scapegoating Groups During a Crisis is Nothing New

I live in New York City, where in recent weeks there have been some absolutely horrid hate crimes against people of Asian descent. This is happening in a year when hate crimes against people of Asian descent are on the rise, as well.[1] These hate crimes are disgusting and uncalled for, and such hate crimes cannot be condemned strongly enough.

However, it is not enough to condemn the hate crimes. Instead, we should look at the root cause of them: anti-Asian sentiment related to COVID-19. More specifically, anti-Asian sentiment tied to the gravely mistaken idea that since the virus originated in Asia, people who look Asian are the cause of everything wrong with the situation in the United States (and around the world, for that matter) for the past year. Given that gravely mistaken, yet widespread, idea, it is no wonder that so many Asians have been victims of hate crimes in the United States.

Looking at the big picture, though, hate crimes against Asians during COVID-19 is actually the latest manifestation of a problem we seem to run into in the United States time and time again: if certain people of a particular ethnicity or religion are viewed as causing a crisis, then all too often everyone of that ethnicity or religion is scapegoated to the point of hate and violence.

Here are a few examples of this happening in the past century:

  • In World War I, there was an outbreak of anti-German sentiment that targeted German immigrants, German-Americans, and even the German language. There was a great deal of suspicion about the loyalties of anyone German-related during this time period.[2] All of this was the result of Germany being a foe of the United States in that war.
  • In World War II, people of Japanese descent were moved to internment camps by the United States, once again because of questions and doubts over the loyalties of people of Japanese descent.[3] All of this was a result of Japan being a foe of the United States in that war.
  • After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Muslims and Sikhs were frequent targets of hate crimes—Muslims for being perceived as being like the terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11, and Sikhs for being perceived as being Muslim (because of the turbans Sikh men wear). Some of these crimes happened in my neighborhood in Queens. All of this was the result of a group of Muslims attacking the United States on September 11, 2001.

And now, yet again, people of a particular group are being scapegoated, in the form of people of Asian descent being scapegoated to the point of hate crimes as a result of COVID-19.

Sometimes, history does repeat itself in bad ways.

But what are the implications of the fact that this history does repeat itself in bad ways?

At a personal level, I think it reminds us that this is not a new phenomenon—that of scapegoating groups perceived as being the cause of our problems. It is an issue that has existed for many years, even before many of us were born, and what we see now is the latest manifestation of that old phenomenon.

For policymakers, a start would be to not have rhetoric and/or actions that further fan flames that result in the scapegoating of certain groups. Former President Donald Trump’s calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” could be cited as an example of this problem, but Trump is far from being the only major leader to have made this mistake. For example, the way President Woodrow Wilson spoke unapprovingly of “hyphenated Americans” did not help the cause of German-Americans during World War I,[4] and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Japanese internment camps did not help the cause of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This is not to say that the current situation for people of Asian descent would be perfect if Former President Trump had no “China Virus” rhetoric, but words and/or actions like those certainly do not help. More needs to be done than simply our leadership avoiding the scapegoating themselves, but it’s a start.

Unfortunately, history has repeated itself. However, what we can do is learn from our dealing with hate crimes against people of Asian descent and strive to be better in the future.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2021/02/27/972056885/anti-asian-hate-crimes-rise-dramatically-amid-pandemic

[2] https://www.npr.org/2017/04/07/523044253/during-world-war-i-u-s-government-propaganda-erased-german-culture#:~:text=Some%20Germans%20and%20German%2DAmericans%20were%20attacked%20during%20World%20War%20I.,-Courtesy%20of%20Jeffrey&text=The%201910%20census%20counted%20more,longer%2C%20many%20since%20Colonial%20times.

[3] https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation

[4] https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/immigration/german/shadows-of-war/

Policing and Schools with Majority-Minority Populations

Ever since the storming of the United States Capitol Building on January 6th, there have been ongoing debates about how much security to have at the building, and how much to force members of the United States Congress to be subject to certain security regulations. Some of these debates and disagreements have even resulted in some members of Congress defying security regulations put into place…or at least attempting to do so.[1]

My initial thought when reading about the actions of some of the aforementioned defiant individuals: “This shows how privileged they are—openly defying some of the very same security measures that many kids in schools across the United States have to experience and have no choice in experiencing.” But lately, as drastic as this sounds, my thoughts this issue have turned to other questions.

Why do we have things like police officers, metal detectors, and locked gates at our schools? And why do we need bodyguards in the same space where students learn math, social studies, and science?

I used to assume that it was because school shootings are unfortunately a risk in the United States, and that these measures were an attempt to keep such heinous tragedies from happening.

My assumption was wrong.

As it turns out, the biggest predictor of which schools receive such stringent security measures is not crime in the neighborhood or anything crime-related, but skin color.[2] Evidence of this fact is how majority-minority schools are two to eighteen times as likely as schools with small nonwhite populations (under 20% nonwhite) to have metal detectors, school police and security guards, locked gates, and random sweeps.[3] A blunt way to summarize the current scholarship on security measures at schools is that it’s disproportionately used to treat students of color like suspected criminals.

But if school security measures are used in such problematic and even racist ways, what are the implications? Where do we go from here?

On a practical level, it means that there needs to be an honest answering of two questions:

  1. Should we even have security measures, such as bodyguards and metal detectors, at schools? Interestingly, it is not even a given that said measures even work at accomplishing the supposedly intended goal of keeping schools safe.[4] If the measures don’t even accomplish the goals they are supposed to, they are a huge waste of time for the people involved in keeping things “safe,” as well as a waste of money.
  2. If the answer to the previous question is yes, how can such security measures be better targeted so that we don’t continue to disproportionately treat students of color like suspected criminals?

On a political level, especially in relation to the increased security for members of the United States Congress in the wake of the attempted January 6, 2021 insurrection, I wish that the same energy dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for members of Congress were also dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for schools, and particularly schools that serve large populations of students of color. Security at the United States Capitol is important and should be deliberated, but so should the security of students going to school every day, and making sure that the way we implement security measures at schools is not based on the racial makeup of them. In the wake of mass school shooting tragedies in the last few decades ranging from Columbine to Sandy Hook, we know that the solution is not to completely ignore the issue of school security, but at the same time serious questions should be asked about the way school security is currently approached.

On the big-picture level, in terms of racial issues, the implication is that the issue of security measures in schools is yet another manifestation of racism in the way majority-minority populations are policed (something I’ve talked about in a previous blog post, by the way). While a fair bit of attention on racism and minority populations is focused on the shootings of unarmed people of color, some attention should also be dedicated to the policing of schools where most of their students are people of color.


[1] https://www.denverpost.com/2021/01/12/lauren-boebert-guns-congress-security-stop/

[2] https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/metal-detectors-and-strict-policing-schools-criminalize-minority-students-study-says

[3] The paper that has these findings can be found here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2830885. If you want a summary of the findings, you can read them here: https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/metal-detectors-and-strict-policing-schools-criminalize-minority-students-study-says

[4] Ibid.

Addressing Racial Inequity in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

People who have been following the news in the United States would have heard about the challenges this country is experiencing in distributing the COVID-19 vaccines. However, early data seems to be indicating that racial inequity has also affected who gets the vaccines (as if it doesn’t already affect enough things).

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the study of health issues in the United States, has been able to collect data on the percentage of vaccines distributed to different races/ethnicities in a number of states. The results are not very promising: in states where this data has been collected, it appears that the percentage of vaccines distributed to Hispanics and Blacks does not compare to the percentage of COVID deaths or the total populations of those two races/ethnicities.[1] It does not whether we’re talking about a Democratic-run state like Pennsylvania or a Republican-run one like Texas—this is an issue across the board at this stage.

So what might some of the issues be? Some of the news stories I’ve read and other issues that have been mentioned in other sources might give us some hints:

For centuries, there has been abuse of people of color in the medical field.

The instances of the abuse of people of color in the medical field are numerous. From the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”[2] in the mid-20th century to the exploitation of Blacks for medical experiment purposes during the era of American slavery,[3] the history of people of color being medically exploited is about as long as, well, the history of people of color existing in what is now the United States of America.[4]

Because of the centuries-long abuse of people of color in the medical field in the United States, the concern is that this has led to deep mistrust in the advice of public health officials by some people of color. This may result in a deep mistrust when it comes to getting the vaccines—a concern that is held by America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.[5]

In some cases, it is clear that minority communities are not being prioritized as locations for vaccination sites or as locations for vaccine shipments.

I don’t have any hard studies to back this up but instead stories from across the country. The stories are equally compelling and disturbing, though.

In Austin, Texas, there is a severe lack of vaccination sites in the city’s poorest and most ethnically diverse areas.[6]

As of January 27th, 2021, some Black communities in Florida reported having zero vaccine access.[7]

In Dallas, Texas, Southern Dallas clearly did not get priority from the state government in receiving COVID vaccines, even though that part of Dallas got hit by COVID extremely hard.[8]

Stories such as these show that perhaps one of the issues we’re dealing with is that communities of color, and particularly communities of color that have experienced the hardest impacts from COVID, are not getting the priority they should receive.

Language barriers exist, and those responsible for distributing information on vaccines at times put embarrassingly little effort into addressing them.

In Florida, information for Spanish-speaking people who want to take the vaccine is nowhere near what it should be.[9]

In Arizona, there are concerns that there are not adequate Spanish-language interpreters at vaccination sites.[10]

In the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, a neighborhood with a large Spanish-speaking population, there were no Spanish language interpreters at the vaccine site.[11]


How can we possibly expect people to know the information they need to get the vaccines they need when people have to confront a language barrier? This is a rhetorical question, of course. The concern is that if we don’t make the effort to deal with the language barrier, many people will be left too frustrated to continue in their attempts to receive the vaccinations they need.

The three issues mentioned above are three of the issues that are making it a challenge for people of color to get the vaccinations needed, even though many of the communities hit hardest by this have been communities of color.


[1] https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/early-state-vaccination-data-raise-warning-flags-racial-equity/. I should note here, by the way, that this study includes data on Blacks and Hispanics, but data on Native Americans is still apparently quite limited. Because of the limited data on Native Americans and vaccine usage and distribution, this post will not focus on Native Americans. A second post on the topic of racial inequity and COVID vaccine distribution may be required, if such inequities also exist with Native Americans.  

[2] The short version was that this was a highly unethical study looking to record the natural history of syphilis in Blacks. As for a longer version, it’s on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm

[3] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

[4] The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, has a longer piece on the issue of medical racism in the United States: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

[5] https://www.baltimoresun.com/coronavirus/bs-md-vaccine-rollout-disparity-20210125-d2mwyfe7evfthgeoswe54tsb54-story.html

[6] https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2020/12/30/covid-19-vaccination-sites-lacing-east-austin/4091913001/

[7] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2021-01-27/some-black-communities-in-florida-have-no-vaccine-access

[8] https://www.nbcdfw.com/investigations/texas-has-sent-no-covid-19-vaccine-to-southern-dallas-neighborhoods-where-many-have-died/2522753/

[9] https://www.orlandosentinel.com/espanol/el-sentinel-in-english/os-prem-ex-english-covid-vaccine-information-spanish-20210122-hcmmd24hbrfhbcptho4f3tnqkm-story.html

[10] https://www.abc15.com/news/region-west-valley/glendale/do-arizona-covid-19-vaccination-sites-have-enough-bilingual-assistance

[11] https://www.thecity.nyc/coronavirus/2021/1/26/22251524/vaccines-washington-heights-armory

Obamacare and Race

One of the signature issues for both major political parties is health care. Many Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that passed in 2010. President-elect Joe Biden, who was Vice President in the administration under which Obamacare was passed, says he wants to expand it. These are two wildly differing views on what to do with our health care system.

However, given the current climate of racial unrest in the United States, as well as the potential repeal of the law being considered by the United States Supreme Court, it seems timely to talk about Obamacare from a racial justice standpoint.

So, where does Obamacare stand from a racial justice standpoint? Well, I have some good news for proponents of Obamacare, and some not-as-good news:

Reductions in uninsured rates were significant among minorities.

Among the highlights of those gains:

  • 21.8% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32% in 2010.
  • 19% of Hispanics were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32.6% in 2010.
  • 11.5% of Blacks were uninsured as of 2018, down from 19.9% in 2010.
  • 9.3% of Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders were uninsured as of 2018, down from 17.9% in 2010.
  • 6.8% of Asians were uninsured as of 2018, down from 16.7% in 2010.[1]

These are undoubtedly significant gains. However…

The aforementioned gains I mentioned have stalled out.

Most of the gains that occurred were between 2014, when important provisions of Obamacare were implemented, and 2016. Those gains have stalled since then, and for Blacks the rate of those uninsured has started to tick up in recent years. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues, attributes this to certain policy changes in the Trump Administration “that affected the availability of and enrollment in coverage.”[2] But whatever the reason for this stall, it has happened, and this stalling trend is one that a President Biden will need to address (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t repeal the law).

However, the gaps in insurance by race are about more than just what’s coming out of Washington, DC. It’s also because of policies at the state level.

Many states with large Black populations have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

As a result of this, even though there appear to be modest gains in racial disparities among the uninsured overall as a result of Obamacare, the gains are not as big as many might like. Additionally, the result of this is that about half of the remaining uninsured Americans are people of color.[3] This goes to show that elections have consequences—not just federal elections, but state ones too. This is worth keeping in mind for future elections at the state level.

In spite of the issues I’ve mentioned, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat.

The rate of those without insurance has dropped among whites too, but as there were fewer uninsured whites than uninsured people of any minority group to begin with, the rate among whites of those lacking insurance dropped more slowly than among any other racial group. As such, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat, even if there are disparities that still exist.[4]

In spite of all this data I’ve shared, there are some unanswered questions.

So far, I have painted a mixed picture of what Obamacare has been like for minority groups, particularly from an insurance coverage standpoint. But there are some unanswered questions about the true impacts of the health care law, too. Here are a few such questions:

  • While the number of uninsured Americans has decreased significantly since Obamacare was passed in 2010, the number of underinsured Americans has also increased.[5] To what extent does this underinsurance issue affect people of color?
  • Is there anything about Obamacare that might, even unintentionally, contribute to the continued (if somewhat decreased) gap in the uninsured between some minorities and whites?
  • There are mixed messages about how Obamacare affected health care costs—out-of-pocket health care spending decreased, while premiums increased.[6] To what extent are people of color getting the benefit of reduced health care spending, or the drain of increased premiums?

The unanswered questions are so numerous that I may need to republish this post at some point, as a version that hopefully answers some of the questions that I’m asking here.


Over the last several hundred words, I have painted a rather mixed message on the question of Obamacare and racial justice. But where does this leave us?

For those in the United States who care about American health care, this raises some questions. For the Republicans, who are proponents of repealing and replacing the law, how does the law get repealed and replaced without erasing all the gains that people of all races, particularly minorities, have seen as a result of Obamacare? For Biden and his supporters, how can we continue making progress in increasing the number of insured Americans, and how might the issues with underinsurance and health care premiums be addressed (assuming, once again, that the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down the whole law)? And for all sides of the debate on this law, how can we ensure that every American is insured?

The last question is maybe the most important one of all, because access to affordable health care should be a human right, not just a privilege to those fortunate enough to access it.



[1] https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/changes-in-health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity-since-the-aca-2010-2018/

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/usc-brookings-schaeffer-on-health-policy/2020/02/19/there-are-clear-race-based-inequalities-in-health-insurance-and-health-outcomes/

[4] https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/changes-in-health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity-since-the-aca-2010-2018/

[5] https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2019/feb/health-insurance-coverage-eight-years-after-aca

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/22/out-of-pocket-health-spending-dropped-after-obamacare-rolled-out.html

What Is…White Guilt?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is white guilt.

Dictionary.com offers a concise definition of white guilt: it is “the feelings of shame and remorse some white people experience when they recognize the legacy of racism and racial injustice and perceive the ways they have benefited from it.”[1] While it sounds well-intended in certain ways—after all, it recognizes racism and injustice and ways white people like me have benefited from it—white guilt can also be extremely problematic in certain ways.

But why can white guilt be problematic?

The problem is that in many cases, feelings of shame and remorse can be so great that they prevent one from doing anything about the racism and racial injustice that’s so upsetting to begin with. While it is important to recognize racism and racial injustice around you, especially if you recognize some of the ways it benefits you, it’s counterproductive to be so upset about those systems of injustice that you feel unworthy of playing your part as an ally in the larger effort to ensure that Black lives matter. After all, the goal is not to wallow in guilt, but to turn the recognition of injustice into anti-racist action.

It’s also worth noting that one of the criticisms I often hear of white guilt is that white guilt doesn’t turn into white action.[2] That’s something to be conscious of, if you, like me, are white. It’s important to be conscious of the fact that it’s not enough to simply recognize how racial injustice benefits you, nor is it enough to feel guilty about how racial injustice benefits you. Instead of simply recognizing how racial injustice benefits you (or even feeling guilty about that), donate to and/or volunteer for racial justice organizations, attend Black Lives Matter marches (while practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, of course), vote for candidates who have an extensive platform on racial justice, and educate your own friends about the systems of racial injustice you’ve noticed yourself, among other things. In doing these activities, however, please note that it’s not about you or about erasing your guilt, but about racial inequality (because for too many people attending a protest march, for example, is about making them look like the “good people”).

In addition to the volunteering, marching, voting, etc., however, I also recommend that people struggling with white guilt should process those feelings with other people who have struggled with white guilt themselves and managed to turn that guilt into racial justice action. While it may be tempting to talk about your white guilt with anyone and everyone to show how “woke” you are, the most productive and healthy way of processing and overcoming white guilt is probably by talking with people who have that shared experience with you.

So, for those who are still struggling with white guilt, I know how you feel. I was there, and I can sometimes still be there. I just hope that you will be able to turn guilt into action, for guilt without action does nothing.


[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/white-guilt

[2] Some, such as Ciarra Jones, the author of a widely-read Medium piece on white guilt, argue that white guilt can even impede upon white action: https://medium.com/@ciarrajones/the-violence-of-white-and-non-black-poc-apologies-d1321c0ccb8e