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Screenshot of video from Coronawareness project showing illustration of a woman in east London ;

Who to trust in a pandemic? Ten findings from research projects in London, Stuttgart, Milan and Dhaka

Chris Tang and John Eade

Lecturer in International Education & Applied Linguistics, King's College London; and Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Roehampton

22 November 2022

In early November 2022, the Centre for Language, Discourse & Communication at King’s College London gathered researchers from London, Stuttgart, Milan and Dhaka to explore some of the responses that minority ethnic groups developed in the face of government action during Covid-19.

Discussing projects undertaken between 2021 and 2022, the presenters provided a range of interdisciplinary perspectives (anthropology, sociology, sociolinguistics, vulnerability studies and applied linguistics), perspectives on UK government policy and practice (Runnymede Trust) and from within specific diasporic communities (Bangladeshis in the UK, Peruvians in Italy and Turks in Germany) and other nations (Bangladesh). Each in their own way, they discussed the inequalities which the pandemic had highlighted and exacerbated.

Watch the talks from the event >

The conversations and knowledge exchange led to the articulation of 10 crosscutting key points that researchers, policymakers and practitioners should consider when developing policies and practices that engage with diverse minority ethnic groups and communities.

1. Covid-19 was a unique phenomenon in terms of the breadth and depth of impact on daily life and thus drew out pre-existing inequalities and problematic discourse around national identity, race, gender, religion in a concerted and specific way – a tendency observable on social media sites like YouTube (for an example of this in Bangladesh, see Shaila Sultana's talk: 'Digital Space in Bangladesh during COVID-19: Space of Creativity, Criticality, or Bigotry?'). It follows that approaches to developing resilience need to adopt an intersectional lens (see Mahbuba Nasreen's talk: 'Building resilience, a gendered and intersectional discourse' on how this was done in Bangladesh).

2. Covid-19 generated emotional scars, especially for those that lost loved ones. These persist despite the desire to move on. Communities were both restricted in their expression of shared grief (e.g. in accordance with religious practices) and conscious of their own heightened vulnerability – a vulnerability for which in some cases state actors were seen as being culpable.

3. Minority ethnic experiences of the pandemic involved an intersection between the local, national and transnational and were shaped by differences in nation-state regulations with regard to citizenship and belonging.

4. There was a misalignment between the representation and communication of information in official guidance and capacities, preferences and proclivities for information access, seeking and sharing in particular communities. Information was in a language that not everyone could understand easily (e.g. English in the UK) or written in language that was hard to penetrate (e.g. in “legalese”).

5. Social media was a site for resistance to official discourse through misinformation and ‘anti-vax’ suspicions generated by the distrust of powerful elites.

6. Meso-level operations and operators between state and community (e.g. faith organisations, third sector, community activists, local health practitioners) were critical in mediating engagement with support services and building trust in state recommendations (e.g. vaccination and social distancing), and as part of an urban culture of cooperation.

7. These operations and operators were essential to make up for shortcomings in information accessibility and in terms of providing economic and legal support. The need for information and support to be mediated meant the heightened vulnerability of minority groups was compounded by delays in the uptake of measures. On the other hand, there was a strengthening of community ties through actions that built community resilience.

8. The idea that minority communities were ‘let down by the system’ is something that drove responses at a local level and is in the public consciousness. There is a need to reposition conversations about ethnicity and health around equity.

9. On a local level, Covid-19 has made us reflect on what community and home is and how they relate. There is a need to understand home lives and sense of home beyond the dwelling space – e.g. neighbourhood planning in diverse communities needs to account for how different people have a different sense of ownership over where they live.

10. The specificity of minority experiences demands a more refined approach towards ethnicity and equity since this specificity is shaped by both local and trans-local ties. A bottom-up approach is needed which builds on collaboration between researchers, practitioners and community researchers and activists.


Learn more by catching up on the recordings >

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Chris Tang

Chris Tang

Lecturer in International Education & Applied Linguistics

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