Combating Xenophobia in the Covid-19 Pandemic: The Importance of Health Literacy

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A global pandemic is often characterized by an abundance of information, the race for a vaccine, and a focus on preventing others from contracting the disease. However, the socio-cultural ramifications of such an event are oftentimes overlooked. Groups become stigmatized and targeted due to the spread of xenophobia –– the fear and dislike of foreign others –– and the ability to interpret information to make accurate health choices becomes difficult. An increase in health literacy –– the ability to understand and apply health information –– can help mitigate such consequences. In particular, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has spread rapidly across the globe, with xenophobia ultimately affecting the way Asians and Asian-Americans are treated and perceived in the United States. This paper focuses on the ways in which health literacy can be used to combat xenophobia in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. This is achieved by providing background information on health literacy and the rhetoric used to describe coronavirus, several examples of xenophobia driven by the virus’s presence, and an analysis on the ways in which improved health literacy can equip people with the skills needed to sort through information and ultimately mitigate xenophobic behavior. Through the examination of these topics, it becomes evident that an improvement in health literacy can help suppress misguided notions and consequently shape the socio-cultural landscape of America during the coronavirus pandemic.


This paper was supported by the USF Asia Bridge Junior Fellowship Program under the mentorship of Dr. Christopher Laurent.