George Flyod. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. These are few of the many individuals who were victims of racial prejudice and discrimination in the past few weeks. This rise of racial injustice awareness has come at the unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Black Lives Matter movement and coronavirus seem unrelated, there might be an underlying connection that explains the rise in racial tension in the political climate.
In the United States, it has been hypothesized that increased exposure to African Americans increases White American’s prejudicial attitudes. The parasite-stress hypothesis (Thornhill & Fincher, 2014) suggests that people living in regions with higher infectious disease rates have a greater tendency to avoid out-groups (in this case, race groups) because such avoidance reduces perceived likelihood of contracting illnesses. Our behavioral immune system (BIS) evolved to protect humans from exposure to infectious diseases via hypervigilance towards out-groups.
Based on the BIS framework, the parasite-stress hypothesis predicts that (1) people will tend to avoid apparently infected individuals and (2) increase prejudice toward groups that are associated with diseases. The parasite-stress hypothesis also predicts that people exposed to more diseases will avoid, and express more negative attitudes toward dissimilar others, such as people with foreign accents (Reid et al., 2012) or those who are from distant regions because of their potentially different pathogens (Faulkner et al., 2006).
This scientific perspective on race relations in the US is an interesting one, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Chen Xi, an associate professor of public health at Yale University believes the riots are enhanced by the psychological frustration that occurred in our history’s longest shelter-in-place orders.
I was able to delve deeper into racial disparities of COVID-19 and psychology behind the surge of political activism as we come to an end on official stay-at-home orders. This has shown me how imperative it is to advocate for vulnerable populations, as our healthcare and law systems often push them to the side. We have to pay attention to the data and listen to the people affected by such disproportionate tragedies.