Racial minorities experience higher COVID-19-related discrimination

Racial minorities experience higher COVID-19-related discrimination

Written by James Kingsland on July 10, 2020 — Fact checked by Harriet Pike, Ph.D.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, marginalized racial groups and those who wore face masks reported an increase in discrimination from people who thought they might have the virus.


Share on PinterestNew research is looking at which groups of people experience the most COVID-19-associated discrimination.

The online survey of people living in the United States suggests that between March and April 2020, the percentage of people who experienced discrimination related to COVID-19 more than doubled, from 4% to 10% overall.

The sharpest increases were for Asian and African American people.

The percentage of Asian people reporting COVID-19-related discrimination increased from 11% to 17%, and among African American people, the percentage increased from 9% to 15%.

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Among white people, perceptions of discrimination increased from 4% to 9%.

The percentage of people who wore face masks in public and experienced discrimination over the same period increased from 11% to 14%.

Researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, conducted the survey.

It followed media reports early in the pandemic of discriminatory behavior toward people with a greater apparent risk of infection.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine has published the results as a preproof article.

Mental distress

Feeling discriminated against was associated with subsequent reports of mental distress among the survey participants.

“The relationship between COVID-related discrimination and worsening anxiety and depression is particularly pertinent during this pandemic, as it compounds mental health distress attributable to concerns of disease spread, social restrictions, and financial stress,” says study co-author PhuongThao Le, a postdoctoral researcher at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The survey was part of the Understanding America Study, a nationally representative sample of adult U.S. residents maintained by the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the University of Southern California.

A total of 3,665 respondents answered “yes,” “no,” or “unsure” when the survey asked if they had had the following experiences due to people thinking they might have the novel coronavirus:

  • treated with less courtesy and respect than others
  • received poorer service at restaurants or stores
  • people acted as if they were afraid of them
  • were threatened or harassed

The researchers defined perceived discrimination as responding “yes” to any of the above.

According to the survey, African American people’s risk of experiencing discrimination increased more sharply between March and April than that of other groups.

“This increase may in part be attributable to the spike in media coverage we saw during this time regarding African Americans’ disproportionate vulnerability to COVID-19,” says study co-author Kyla Thomas, a sociologist at the CESR.

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