The Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold, best known for extolling the virtues of nomadic taco trucks and under-the-radar noodle shops in his native Los Angeles, once said that he wrote "to try to get people less afraid of their neighbors."
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hate crimes against Asian Americans in major U.S. cities have surged dramatically, making Gold's message more important than ever. Stop AAPI Hate, a Los Angeles-based coalition aimed at addressing discrimination against Asian American Pacific Islander communities during the pandemic, received nearly 3,800 firsthand reports of anti-Asian hate in the U.S., including verbal harassment and physical assaults, in the past year. Of those who shared their experiences, nearly 70 percent were women. Actual numbers are thought to be even higher, as many hate crimes go unreported, due to a host of factors ranging from cultural and language barriers to a lack of trust in law enforcement.
In February 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, Jonathan Mok, a college student from Singapore, reported being punched and kicked on the street in London. His attackers, he told the BBC, shouted, "We don't want your coronavirus in our country." Mok posted photos of his injured face on social media, writing, "Racism is not stupidity — racism is hate. Racists constantly find excuses to expound their hatred — and in this current backdrop of the coronavirus, they've found yet another excuse."
Racism is not stupidity — racism is hate. Racists constantly find excuses to expound their hatred — and in this current backdrop of the coronavirus, they've found yet another excuse.
In January, Black Lives Matter, the global racial justice movement, was nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, for the way its call for systemic change has spread around the world. Meanwhile, migrants and refugees — some literally running for their lives — continue to be met with suspicion and hostility.
Gold saw food as one way to bridge the divide between people from different ethnic backgrounds. Learning about other cultures emphasizes the fact that we are all people and sends the message that racism and xenophobia will not be tolerated in a civil society. It is our job, as people, as parents, as citizens of the world, to combat racism and xenophobia wherever we can. Here are five ways:
1. Celebrate other cultures
There is no real upside to a global health emergency, but it does serve as a powerful reminder that we are all in this together. The novel coronavirus is a threat to every human being; we must work together to halt transmission and protect the most vulnerable among us.
Stigmatization is cruel and counterproductive. Stand up for cultural diversity in your community by supporting local businesses run by immigrants. Read your kids stories that celebrate different cultures. Try foods and recipes from a range of culinary traditions. Watch films from other countries with your children.
2. Call out bigotry and hate speech
There has been a disturbing increase in hate speech among Americans and Europeans in recent years, often blaming immigrant and minority groups for the difficulties of their own countries. If you overhear someone tell a racist joke, speak up and let them know stereotyping isn't harmless. Let your children know they should feel free do the same. There's nothing funny about using "humor" to normalize dangerous ideas and perpetuate ugly stereotypes.
If you see something in the newspaper or on social media that reflects prejudice, write a letter to the editor or leave a comment to let others know that intolerant remarks are unkind and uncalled for.
3. Teach children kindness and how to talk about differences
Prejudice and hate are not innate. They are learned behaviors — and they can be unlearned. Children absorb biases from the adults around them, and from the media, books and their peers. So set a good example. The process of countering negatives with positives begins at an early age. Talking about differences does not increase prejudice in children. Make sure children understand we are all human and we all have a right to feel safe and valued. Name-calling is uncivilized and will not be permitted.
4. Stand up for people being harassed — intervene if it's safe to do so
When the public stands in solidarity with immigrants and marginalized groups, bullies lose their power. If you see someone being harassed or physically attacked, it is important to help if you can do so safely. Make your presence as a witness known. Make eye contact with the person being attacked and ask if they want support. Don't escalate the situation. Verbal and physical abuse is wrong and should not be tolerated. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity.
5. Support human rights organizations like UNICEF
UNICEF has highlighted and advocated tirelessly for children's rights around the globe for 75 years and knows that children need to be seen as children, first and foremost. During this global crisis, it's more important than ever that we all remain in solidarity with one another. Human rights are a collective promise made by all countries of the world, including those in distress. Children from all ethnic backgrounds — especially children who have been uprooted by violence, war and poverty — need our support, wherever they are. Every child deserves to be treated with humanity and empathy, and to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.
Top photo: A lonely figure walks the tracks on the outskirts of Reynosa, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas. Alone or with family members, thousands of Central American children and teens arrive in Reynosa every year, seeking safety and a better life across the border in the U.S. © UNICEF/UN030740/Zehbrauskas