As the public health crisis wrought by COVID-19 continues to upend the everyday life of communities, families, and individuals throughout the globe, not all of the challenges that lie before us are as novel as the coronavirus.

As two UC Press authors specializing in race in America explain, there is a well-documented history of discrimination and xenophobia targeted at racial minorities—particularly those of Asian descent—in times of crisis and uncertainty.

Nayan Shah, author of Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and Natalia Molina, author of Fit to Be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939 and coeditor of Relational Formations of Race: Theory, Method, and Practice, have utilized their extensive knowledge of this history as sources in a number of recent articles concerning the prejudice leveled toward Chinese individuals and communities in recent weeks as a result of COVID-19.

The following perspectives that have appeared in the media from Molina and Shah help provide context, historical understanding, and ultimately inspire empathy in this current crisis moment of great need.

Nayan Shah

Coronavirus Spurs Prejudice. History Suggests That’s No Surprise.

“As anti-Asian sentiment surges amid the growing coronavirus crisis, experts point to history and warn of consequences.”

Passengers outside of Terminal 4 at London’s Heathrow Airport in January as government officials meet to discuss the threat to the U.K. from coronavirus. (Steve Parsons / PA Images / Getty Images)

Conservatives Try to Rebrand the Coronavirus

“The term Wuhan virus treats COVID-19 as a Chinese scourge—and ignores an ugly history.”
The Atlantic

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Natalia Molina

Backlash against Asians could hinder efforts to contain coronavirus, expert says

“All continents except Antarctica are affected, but Asians have been targeted.”
—ABC News

Residents gather to protest against racism in the Chinese community during a rally held at Portsmouth Square in the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco, Feb. 29, 2020. (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via Polaris)

Why pandemics activate xenophobia

“The coronavirus is much more than a public health problem.”

Shanghai Ballet dancers take safety precautions while in a training session at a dance studio amid the coronavirus outbreak in Shanghai, China, on March 2, 2020. (Tang Yanjun/China News Service via Getty Images)