Intersectionality and the Virus

Entrance gates to a train station. Stickers say "stay home if you are sick"

In Episode 5 of our Race in Society series, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I lead a panel exploring the impact of race, gender, and socioeconomics on COVID-19, through a lens of intersectionality. Writing in 1989, Professor Kimberle Crenshaw showed that industrial law in the USA treated racial and sexual discrimination as distinct experiences. She showed that Black women experience both racism and sexism simultaneously, and so the impact of each is compounded. Professor Patricia Hill Collins and other theorists have also shown that, without using this term specifically, people in the Global South have used intersectionality as an analytical tool, since at least the 1800s, to grapple with the complexity of discrimination. In Australia, we look to the works of Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, such as her book, “Talkin’ Up to the White Woman,” which examines how white feminist research has established authority by mobilising whiteness and enacting power over Aboriginal women. Intersectionality is not an identity, but rather a way to understand power relations in society, as well as social inequality, by looking at the interconnections of social division, including race, gender, disability, sexuality, and class.

In the video below, we speak with Karl Briscoe, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA). His organisation has been proactive in producing resources throughout the pandemic, from advice to Black Lives Matter protesters, as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Professionals Resource Toolkit. He discusses how intersections of race and health impact the work by Aboriginal healthcare workers. We then speak with Professor Karen Farquharson, who has studied race in Australia, South Africa, and the United States. She explores how ideas of whiteness are used to dehumanise Black people, and how this has led to disparate health outcomes during the pandemic. Finally, Dr Nilmini Fernando is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Griffith University and a scholar of Black and post-colonial feminisms. She discusses a gap in the domestic and family violence sector, with respect to how violence is measured and categorised. Specifically, its inadequate attention to intersectionality. She notes that, by focusing on colonial definitions of violence, women of colour are inadequately protected when trying to rebuild their lives during social isolation.

Race in Society: Intersectionality and the Virus
Continue reading Intersectionality and the Virus

Race and Indigenous Language Rights in Peru

Quechuan woman carries goods on her back with a child walking beside her. They are on a mountain

On 27 August 2021, in his maiden speech to the Peruvian Congress, Guido Bellido, Prime Minister of Peru, was heckled by his fellow politicians, and reprimanded by the President of Congress for giving an extended welcome in Quechua and Aimara. Quechua is the language of the Quechuan people, the largest Indigenous group in Peru. Aimara is the second largest Indigenous group. Bellido is Quechuan. He was elected as the Cusco representative for Congress on 29 July 2021. Cusco is a Quechuan-majority region, where citizens have a legal right to Quechuan language services, and public servants must speak at least basic Quechua. As a public servant and Indigenous person elected to serve Cusco, Bellido had a legislated right to speak Quechuan.

Quechua and Aimara are both official national languages of the Republic of Peru, alongside Castellano (Español, or Spanish spoken in South America). Quechua has an ongoing influence on the evolution of Castellano in Peru. This includes every day words, grammar, conventions used for the third person, and regional variations of speech.1

Indigenous languages are the original mode of verbal communication in Peru. The events in Congress reflect the pervasive impact of race on politics and all other aspects of society.

To explore the functions of race in Peru, I begin with an examination of Bellido’s speech as a case study of race. I’ll then explore the history of race and language in Peru, before discussing why racial inequality persists despite the development of Constitutional right to language and ethnic (cultural) autonomy. I then deep dive into a racial profile of Quechuan people, using data from the most recent Census.

Continue reading Race and Indigenous Language Rights in Peru

How to Improve COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Experience

Infographic on COVID-19 Mass Vaccinaton Behavioural process. On the left, what it is currently: 2 month wait, routine sms, long delays, routine follow-up. On the right what could be improved: timely access, behavioural prompt, enhanced service

Vaccination, effective self-isolation, and adequate socioeconomic support are key public health measures that are proven to reduce the impact of COVID-19. Vaccination is safe,1  and scientifically shown to reduce death, hospitalisation, and severe health issues arising from COVID-19. Vaccination is currently available to everyone in Australia aged over 16; from 13 September 2021, it will be extended to 12 to 15 year olds. I’m very lucky, and thankful, to be fully vaccinated. Vaccination itself was quick, easy, and painless. Health staff delivered excellent service. In particular, the clinicians who carried out the vaccine were compassionate, warm, patient, and good humoured. I urge everyone who is medically able to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Vaccination efforts have been radically advanced in the state of New South Wales (NSW), due to the current Delta outbreak. As of today, 4 September 2021, vaccination doses have already reached 7.3 million in NSW alone.2 Mass vaccination sites are producing extraordinary results given current constraints, including a strict lockdown in Southwestern Sydney.3

Nevertheless, there is a pressing need to rapidly increase vaccination. To date,4 62.1% of people over 16 years have received one vaccine dose in Australia, and only 37.8% are fully vaccinated. Health inequities undermine vaccine efforts. I’ve previously detailed that policing patterns are unfairly targeting racial minorities in working class suburbs, illustrating how race and class impact the management of vaccination.5 As I show below, there has been a lack of vaccine supply and outreach to priority groups at high-risk of COVID-19, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, people living in aged care and disability group homes, and rural and remote regions.

Many countries are struggling to entice people to return for their second vaccination. For example, in early April 2021, five million Americans6 had not gotten their second dose. By early August Britain is lagging behind France on second doses.7

Systemic support could improve vaccination, especially through federal funding to support people who are unemployed or precariously employed, so they are not forced to keep struggling until they are fully vaccinated. Alongside institutional responses, small physical and behavioural tweaks could improve the public experience at mass vaccination sites.

Today, I present a visual ethnography of my experience at a mass vaccination site in Sydney, which took place from late-July to mid-August 2021. Ethnography is the study of people’s behaviour and organisations in their everyday setting. My analysis draws on two ethnographic methods: participant observation and visual sociology.

Participant observation involves watching people, objects, a physical environment, and texts in their natural setting (that is, outside of a lab).8(pp109-120) Researchers can assume various roles to carry out this analysis, from a complete participant who joins in, and records, all activities, to complete observer (someone who watches, but does not join).9 Since I reflect on my own vaccination here, I am closer to the complete participant end of the spectrum. I documented my impressions of the environment, and the procedures used to organise the public through their vaccination.

I also used visual sociology; a methodology for collecting visual data to analyse social phenomena.10 In this case, I took photos and short videos of my experience in line while I waited to be vaccinated, but I did not directly film other people or staff. I did not record audio, personal data, or any other material that would be identifying.

The aim of this visual ethnography is to provide behavioural insights on how the mass vaccination process might be improved. Behavioural insights is the application of social and behavioural sciences to improve delivery of policy, programs, and services. I discuss some of the behavioural barriers in the mass vaccination process, especially things that could potentially contribute to people delaying coming back for their second dose. I also discuss how improved behavioural cues and messages could enhance the vaccination experience.

Continue reading How to Improve COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Experience

Lockdown, Healthcare and Racist Ableism

Medical centre with chairs and police tape blocking off front desk

In Episode 4 of our Race in Society series, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I spoke with three health experts to unpack how racist ableism drives the management of lockdown and healthcare during the pandemic. Ableism is the discrimination of disabled people, based on the belief that able-bodied people (people without disability) are superior, and the taken-for-granted assumptions that able-bodied experiences are “natural,” “normal” and universal. Racist ableism describes how ableism intersects with racial discrimination (unfair treatment and lack of opportunities, due to ascribed racial markers such as skin colour or other perceived physical features, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, or immigrant status).

In “Lockdown, Healthcare and Racist Ableism,” we explore the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disabilities can be better supported in the health system, how to establish cultural safety during the pandemic, and what an anti-racist response to healthcare might look like.

First, we spoke with June Riemer, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the First Peoples Disability Network. She discussed the Network’s advocacy on the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, and the impact of COVID-19 on Aboriginal people with disability. Second, Associate Professor Lilon Bandler is a Principal Research Fellow for Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education Network. She spoke about cultural safety and the imposition of heavier restrictions on racial minorities during lockdown. Finally, Dr. Chris Lemoh is an infectious disease expert and general physician at Monash University Health. He discussed his advice to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, after the Department put nine social housing towers in Melbourne under heavily armed police lockdown. The majority of these residents were migrants and refugees. No other neighbourhood was policed in Melbourne in the same way.

These patterns are now being repeated in Sydney. Eight multicultural suburbs have been put into a “hard lockdown,” including visits by police and military personnel. To see how our guests’ work still resonates in the current context, watch our video, and read a summary below.

Continue reading Lockdown, Healthcare and Racist Ableism

Policing Public Health

A person walks in the distance inside Central Station in Sydney. Two COVID posters say: 1 "help protect staff," and 2) "returning from overseas?"

Without warning, on 3 July 2020, the Victorian Government placed 3,000 people living in nine social housing towers into a police-enforced lockdown. They aimed to contain the spread of COVID-19 infection by targeting disadvantaged migrants who were in a dependent relationship with the state (social housing tenants live in buildings owned by the Government). Ultimately, this racial targeting did not work. The entire state of Victoria was still placed into lockdown, which lasted almost four months.

The Melbourne example shows police-enforced segregation of multicultural communities is an ineffective public health model. It is therefore profoundly concerning that such recent history is currently being repeated in Sydney almost exactly one year later.

Announced suddenly on 30 July 2021, police and the military have been deployed into eight multicultural suburbs in South West and Western Sydney, to enforce lockdown through door-to-door visits. Military personnel are not mandated to be vaccinated. This show of state force was not used in previous outbreaks involving white, middle class people in the Northern Beaches, or at the start of the present lockdown, in Bondi.

Heavily policing public health in places where Aboriginal people, migrants and other working class people live sends a damaging message to those communities. There are potential health risks with this plan, including to mental health and safety.

Let’s reflect on some of the lessons from Melbourne, and then explore how racist ableism is operating in the current “hard lockdown” of select multicultural suburbs in Sydney.

Continue reading Policing Public Health

Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

Entrance to a supermarket. Stickers on the ground say "please stand here." Workers are busy in the background

This is post was previously published as part of my previous blog, Media Representations of Race and the Pandemic.

Three states in Australia are presently under a strict COVID-19 lockdown: New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. New South Wales is experiencing a major Delta variant outbreak, which is highly contagious. It has spread to the other states through working-class workers, who do not have the luxury of working from home. Similarly to what happened in the harsh Melbourne lockdown in 2020, residents in migrant communities have been placed into a tougher lockdown relative to others, even as they are required to continue working, and submit to COVID testing every three days (“surveillance testing”).

Public discourse about the COVID-19 outbreaks continues to be racially coded in media articles and in press conferences. This contributes to a moral panic about racialised people. Blame is placed on multicultural communities for not listening to public health messages, even though the majority of cases originate in ‘essential’ workplaces that are not required to shut down. As some communities remain confused about public health messages, state responses have been heavily criticised for not promoting culturally-appropriate public communication campaigns, while targeting migrants with a heavy police presence.

Continue reading Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

Media Representations of Race and the Pandemic

Sign saying 'stop the spread' with Chinese writing. In a background is a playground

The companion analysis to this is now in a separate post, “Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

In Episode 3 of Race in Society (video below), Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I lead a panel about how mainstream media create sensationalist accounts of the pandemic, and the proactive ways in which Aboriginal people and Asian people in particular lead their own responses. We spoke with Dr Summer May Finlay, a Yorta Yorta woman and Public Health Researcher at the Universities of Wollongong and Canberra. In our video below, she details how Aboriginal community controlled health organisations have effectively dealt with COVID-19 using social marketing campaigns. We also chatted with Dr Karen Schamberger, an independent curator and historian. She covers the history of Australian sinophobia (the fear of China, its people and or its culture), and how anti-Chinese racism plays out in media reports on racism and the COVID-19 pandemic. This issue remains pertinent, given that the suburbs currently under strict lockdown in Sydney have relatively large Asian populations.

Even though we filmed this discussion 10 months ago, the commentary illuminates the current COVID-19 crisis.

Continue reading Media Representations of Race and the Pandemic

Public Sociology and the Pandemic

Oil painting of a subway sign about COVID-19. It shows an imprint of two hands. The message reads: have you washed your hands?

It’s been a long while! Over the past couple of months, in my paid work, I’ve been co-leading a large randomised control trial in public health. Hoping we can publish results in the new year. Our team is also busy researching issues of technology and safety. In my personal research, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I wrapped up series 1 of Race in Society. We covered media representations; the lockdown and ableism; intersectionality; policing; and economics. I’ll bring you write ups of other episodes soon, or head to our YouTube to watch the videos.

In case you missed it, here are two interviews I gave earlier in the year, on the sociology of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the topics of moral panics and misinformation remain relevant.

Continue reading Public Sociology and the Pandemic

Indigenous Sovereignty and Responses to COVID-19

People march during the Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney. One man holds up a sign. Another person holds up a large Aboriginal flag

In Episode 2 of Race in Society, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I are joined by Jill Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), who are leading COVID-19 pandemic responses in Victoria. She discusses how the pandemic amplifies existing health and social inequalities. Also on the panel is sociologist, Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, who is Professor of Indigenous Research at RMIT University, and author of countless critical race books, including, The White Possessive‘. She demonstrates how her theorisation of Aboriginal sovereignty disrupts how the pandemic is currently understood. Finally, we also speak with sociologist Dr Debbie Bargallie, Senior research fellow at Griffith University, and author of the excellent new release, ‘Unmasking the Racial Contract: Indigenous voices on racism in the Australian Public Service.’ She talks about how Aboriginal people are excluded from social policy, which has compounded poor decision-making on public health during the pandemic.

Continue reading Indigenous Sovereignty and Responses to COVID-19

Using sociology to think critically about Coronavirus COVID-19 studies

The lower two-thirds is an oil painting style photo of an older woman with grey hair. She has her back to us and is reading a piece of paper with a magnifying glass. The top third is the title to this post

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of public sociology because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. What follows has been in the works for a couple of months. As previously promised, I’m now coming back to this because of the ongoing need to increase public awareness about the science of the pandemic.

Earlier in the year, I worked with some colleagues on an early literature review scoping policy responses to the pandemic, and I’ve provided feedback on evolving policy research. As an applied sociologist, my focus has been on how race, culture, disability, gender, and other socioeconomics impact how people understand and act on public health initiatives, as well as ethical considerations of COVID research “on the run.”

Since then, I’ve been keeping up with both the research and media coverage of public health responses. I’ve been providing summaries of unfolding information on my social media (primarily Facebook and Instagram stories, as well as Twitter). This started partly to address some of the misconceptions I was seeing amongst my friends and family and I’ve kept this up as it’s been the most efficient way to help people in my life better understand what the restrictions mean for them, or to correct confusing reports.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation. People are hungry for practical advice, but don’t know who to trust (they don’t know where to look for credible resources), or they feel overwhelmed with too many conflicting directions. This is known as information overload, and it leads to poor decision-making.

One of the patterns that has been especially concerning are people writing social media posts, op eds and even setting up consultancies to profiteer from COVID-19 without any health training or policy experience. This contributes to public distrust, conspiracy theories or poor discussion that is not based on evidence. People are choosing to confirm their pre-existing beliefs, rather than engaging critically with scientific information that challenges their perspective. This is known as confirmation bias. It stops people from considering new information and different points of view that might be helpful to their wellbeing.

Reading original scientific journal articles is not always possible as there is often a paywall. Plus, science papers are, by definition, published for the academic community. The language is technical, and the principles can be hard to follow for people who are not subject matter experts. This makes it more important for scientists who have access to write about science research in an accessible manner and to share findings through different communities.

While data on COVID-19 are evolving, and no one can claim to be a definitive COVID-19 expert, the best sources to trust are official sources, such as state Health Departments, epidemiologists, virologists, health practitioners who are providing front-line services (such as Aboriginal-controlled health organisations), and policy analysts who work on COVID-19 responses. Additionally, reliable news sites include the ABC News Australia live blog, Croakey and individual health researchers, such as epidemiologist Dr Zoe Hyde (University of Western Australia) on Twitter.

If you read about a study, how do you know if you can trust the conclusions? What’s the best approach if you wanted to write about a study’s findings for a broader audience, whether it’s your friends and family reading your Facebook feed, or an article in a major news site? Today’s post gives tips for how to read a study using critical thinking principles from sociology, and things to consider if you want to write about, or share, studies that you read about.

Continue reading Using sociology to think critically about Coronavirus COVID-19 studies