Saturday, 24 July, 2021

Avoid Biased Labels

Dixya Poudel

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has decided to designate coronavirus variants with Greek alphabet names in order to stop the associated discrimination and stigma. Prior to this decision, there had been outrages over the labelling of variants of concern according to their country of first discovery. The WHO's historic decision is gearing to have a significant influence on curbing the prevalent virus stigma.
Ever since the former US president Donald Trump called coronavirus a "China virus", there have been outcries over such labelling. As such, India had vehemently opposed the use of the term "India variant" in the media and had even requested the social media sites to remove such discriminatory usage. Additionally, people of Chinese descent worldwide have had to face stigma not just in the online platforms but also in real life in form of violent attacks, raging discrimination and racial slurs.
It is inherent in human nature to categorise events, things and even people. Human mind prefers to clump information in clusters according to similarities as it simplifies most situations. However, often it can lead to wrongful and stigmatising labels. People tend to assign stereotypes mostly to strangers who are different from them. Generalisations, oversimplifications and prejudices can only lead to negative labelling.
Particularly in the radicalised Trump era in United States, there were quite a lot of labelling and stereotypes recklessly thrown about in media. People of colour were vastly discriminated and often a target of violence, even from the police who are supposed to be the epitome of law. It further led to disgrace due to increasing hate crimes and speeches that incited hatred and violence in the masses. However, it isn’t all dismal.
For example, social movements today in fields such as racism are widely circulated and acknowledged thanks to the huge social media campaigns, awareness and celebrity endorsements. The support from the entertainment, print and social media throughout the currently trending social movements such as #blacklivesmatter has led to a more educated, tolerant and aware youth. Likewise, on a global scale, there have been revolutionary outcomes and conversations on matters of gender inequality and classism.
Still, there is a lot to be done. People of various nationalities, ethnicity and race continue to face some forms of stereotypic discrimination. Closer to home in Nepal, people too tend to subject strangers to stereotypes. Often those from different regions of the nation label each other with their characteristic traits.
Likewise, there are gender based discriminations too in both personal and professional lives. Then there are unfair stigmatisations that particularly affect people who belong to lower castes and minorities. To counteract such discriminations, workplaces should encourage people of varied backgrounds to apply for diverse positions in government and private sectors. Educational institutes too must grant financial aids and scholarships to the marginalised people.
When a person is labelled, it brings about stigma, disrespect and hurt. It shatters the individual's self-esteem leaving in its place a feeling of being wronged. When people confront their conscious and subconscious biases and beliefs, they tend to see the world with an empathetic perspective. The new protocol of WHO to assign Greek alphabet names to virus variants is a laudable and welcome step. In these trying times, it shows solidarity, respect and inclusivity towards a more humanitarian world.