Nearly four in ten Asian and Black Americans say they’ve experienced racist behavior or attacks toward them since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Published on Thursday, the study further illustrates how the effects of the pandemic have fallen across specific racial fault lines: How you view and have experienced this public health crisis depends largely on your race and ethnic background.
Among white, Latinx, Asian, and Black Americans, Asian and Black Americans were most likely to say that racism towards their communities increased during the pandemic. More than half of Asian Americans (58 percent) said people expressing racist views to them had become more common since the start of the coronavirus pandemic; about 45 percent of Black folks said this was true for them.
But the data also points to how insulated lived experiences still are among racial groups—people outside those racial groups perceived the racism Asian and Black Americans experienced to be significantly lower. In total, about four-in-ten American adults said they thought Asians experienced more racism, and less than a third (30 percent) shared this belief about Black people.
Asian Americans are more likely than any other group to say they have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since the coronavirus outbreak: 31% say this has happened to them, compared with 21% of Black adults, 15% of Hispanic adults and 8% of white adults. About a quarter (26%) of Asian Americans and 20% of Black Americans say they feared someone might threaten or physically attack them, more than the shares of white and Hispanic Americans.
There were also notable differences within racial groups along gender and age. The study found Black men were more likely than Black women to say someone acted as if they were uncomfortable around them during the pandemic (it’s also worth noting that the pandemic, in this case, may not be the cause for this, but merely the context). Nearly half of Black men (49 percent) reported this experience, compared to 31 percent of Black women. Black men also reported fearing for their physical safety because of their race at higher rates than Black women (27 percent vs 15 percent, respectively).
Black adults younger than 50 were also more likely to report that they’ve been subject to verbal or physical harassment or abuse since the start of the pandemic.
A large part of the pandemic experience has revolved around the use—or non-use—of masks. While the need to wear a mask is universal, the experience (and fears) that come with wearing them are not. Of all racial and ethnic groups, Black Americans were most likely to say they worried about whether others might find them suspicious for wearing a facemask, at 42 percent. This was followed by Asian Americans at 36 percent. Almost a quarter of Latinx adults voiced similar fears, while only 5 percent of white adults worried about whether they’d be viewed as suspicious for wearing a mask.
Interestingly, white people were also the least likely to wear a mask or face covering all or most of the time—62 percent, which, to be fair, is still a majority. Asians and Asian Americans were the most likely to say they were regularly wearing a mask (80 percent), followed by Latinx adults (74 percent) and Black Americans (69 percent).
These numbers reflect the very different concerns Asian and Black Americans have about wearing a mask. For Black folks, wearing a face covering could heighten the fear that someone else would view them as a threat. For Asians and Asian Americans—who have been unfairly and incorrectly blamed for the spread of the virus in the U.S.—the fear is likely less about how they would be viewed for wearing a mask, but how they might be harassed for not wearing one.
At a time when systemic racism is at the forefront of the national conversation, data like this highlights how differently the coronavirus has impacted communities beyond the (well-documented) disparities in health outcomes. Another concern—rent deferments, due to a loss in income or employment—has also hit Black and Asian Americans at higher rates than other groups, according to a recent Lending Tree study.
Still, if one silver lining can be found in this Pew study (perhaps less a silver lining than a reflection of the very specific moment we’re in), Black Americans were also most likely of any group to report that people have expressed support for them because of their race and ethnicity, at 51 percent.
Now, if this country could juuuuuust find a way to codify that support in its budgets, its laws, and the distribution of resources, then we’d be getting somewhere.