In Spain, Scapegoating Spikes During the Pandemic – SAPIENS

Importantly, the moral panic about Rroma families’ alleged recurrent rule-breaking starkly contrasts with some conservative political actors’ disregard for public health and resistance to comply with the Spanish government’s pandemic policies and safety regulations. From the pandemic’s start, conservative Partido Popular leader and Madrid region President Isabel Díaz Ayuso contested the restrictions and introduced more lenient rules. She claimed her decision was based on a desire to protect Madrid’s hospitality industry, people’s freedom, and the right of individuals to have a beer in a bar at the end of a long day. In August 2020, right-wing and upper-middle-class anti-mask protesters and COVID-19 deniers rallied in the streets of Madrid, gathering 2,500 people.

Sadly, Spanish Rroma’s distressing accounts of scapegoating and abuse during the pandemic are similar to those of other minorities worldwide. Police records in the U.K. revealed a skyrocketing increase in reported hate crimes toward Chinese people at the beginning of 2020. The Asian American community also experienced a striking rise in hate incidents since the onset of COVID-19, especially following former President Donald Trump’s repeated use of the term “China Virus.”

In New York City, a Black man was violently arrested for not social distancing. Concurrently, police graciously distributed free face masks to mostly White, maskless New Yorkers who were sitting in a park.

In a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers measured the prevalence of COVID-19–related discrimination in all major racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Using data from the COVID-19’s Unequal Racial Burden (CURB) survey, researchers found that minorities reported experiencing more COVID-19–related discrimination than White adults. The groups who reported the highest number of discriminatory acts were Asian, American Indian, and Alaska Native people. Individuals identifying as Latinx, Pacific Islander, or Hawaiian also experienced a greater amount of discrimination.

Moreover, the historical record reveals a pattern of blaming minorities for the spread of contagious diseases. During the Black Death in the 14th century, Jews in Europe were believed to intentionally disperse the plague by “poisoning wells, rivers, and springs.” In 1900, Chinese people were unfairly vilified for an outbreak of the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown. In the 1980s, a gay Québécois man was blamed for carrying HIV/AIDS to the U.S.

There is a systematic correlation between large-scale health crises and the rejection of minorities, which fractures societies when social cohesion is most needed.

In the face of adversity, Spanish Rroma activists and politicians have mobilized against hate and discrimination. On December 14, 2020, Spanish Rroma MPs Ismael Cortés, Beatriz Carrillo, and Sara Giménez led an ongoing initiative to create a “national pact” focused on anti-Gypsyism that seeks to provide an effective apparatus to protect Rroma against discriminatory actions. In Spanish politics, a national pact is a long-term agreement between parties represented in Congress that provides a general framework to address priority issues. National pacts must be complied with regardless of political party.