Terms like ‘Chinese virus’ by US Secretary of State, increased bias against Asian-Americans: Study

The term was popularized by Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo among others

In a study published by two PhD students from the University of California, Berkeley it was found that popularization of terms like “Wuhan Flu” and “China Virus” by the US secretary of state among other Republican figures and conservative media outlets increased unconscious bias against Asian-Americans.  

The study titled “After “The China Virus” Went Viral: Racially Charged Coronavirus Coverage and Trends in Bias Against Asian Americans” and published in Health Education & Behavior, found a measurable difference in implicit perception of Asian-Americans by non-Asians, in fact, 3 years of steady decline in implicit bias against Asian-Americans was offset in a matter of 3 weeks from March 8 to March 31.  

On March 7, US’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo had called COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus” on Fox and Friends. Subsequently, popularization of term grew and “on March 8 there was a 650% increase in retweets using the term ‘Chinese virus’ and related terms. On March 9, there was an 800% increase in the use of these terms in news media articles,” the researchers said.  

The study had analysed data collected by Harvard’s Project Implicit website from 3,39,063 non-Asians in a time period of January 1, 2007 to March 31, 2020.

The data was recorded via a computerized Implicit Association Test, that would determine the participant’s unconscious attitudes by having them categorize pairs of words related to certain social groups and attitudes. 

The researchers specifically focused on data which assessed the perception of “Americanness” of Asian-Americans compared to European Americans by non-Asians, otherwise called the Implicit Americanness Bias. 

Michaels and Darling-Hammond, authors of the study told PsyPost, “Our study provides real-world evidence that words do matter, that rhetoric is not harmless, and that media representations can have measurable consequences for our collective biases.”  

“Recent events echo that rhetoric can poison our hearts and lead us to act out of hatred and fear. We must all think critically about what our elected officials say, how they say it, and how their words may be weaponized to harm the health and safety of marginalized groups.” 

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