A Ukrainian soldier walks past a building that was destroyed in a battle with Russian forces on the outskirts of Irpin. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Opinion

Lessons learned from COVID-19 and the Ukrainian crisis

If we do not end this infuriating cycle of prejudice, it is only a matter of time until the table turns and we find ourselves belonging to the persecuted group.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/davidmun1234/" target="_self">David Mun</a>

David Mun

July 11, 2022
Since late February, media portrayal has consistently depicted the graphic violence and desperation of soldiers on both sides of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. More recently, news networks have shifted focus to the global economic sanctions against Russia.

Unfortunately, they have paid the barest attention to the collateral damage Vladimir Putin’s unilateral decisions have caused: Increased anti-Russian sentiments, especially against those residing beyond their hostile leader’s borders.

According to The Straits Times, since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, Russians have faced rising discrimination in all aspects of life. Russians residing outside their homeland are flooded with hate emails at work, insulted at school and even denied medical service, finding themselves the ultimate targets for the actions of their political leader, over which they have no control.

Does this situation sound familiar? Surely you remember the initial months of COVID-19.

According to The New York Times, after the spread of former President Donald Trump’s infamously coined “Chinese virus,” Asians reported increasing hate crimes, parallel to what Russians are experiencing now. In both cases, innocent people are being blamed for merely belonging to a group that includes those responsible — Russians to Putin and Asians to China’s now-notorious Wuhan province.

But, why do scapegoating cycles like this keep happening?

The answer lies in the misapplication of social categorization. According to Britannica, social categorization encompasses selectively prioritizing group membership over individual identity, genericizing unique individuals as interchangeable parts. Done right, individuals learn teamwork and achieve more than the sum of their individual talents, truly a rare feat of the unit.

As more commonly occurs, unfortunately, social categorization also explains the discrimination that Asians and Russians face as they are no longer seen as persons with emotions and thoughts but merely members of their respective groups; in other words, viewing people predominantly as groups rather than as individuals rids us of basic decency.

When even that is gone, the cycle of begetting division, promoting discrimination and inciting violence launch another round, one of pain, resentment, and misdirected blame.

Social categorization is ingrained in all of us, but we have the power to consciously harness it for good. Instead of focusing on groups that divide us as people, we must realize that at the core, we are all members of one singular group: the human race and thereby held responsible by social categorization for each other’s actions.

In this sense, our fate is intertwined, and if we do not end this infuriating cycle of prejudice, it is only a matter of time until the table turns and we find ourselves belonging to the persecuted group, wondering why others are just as unwilling to take the steps that we haven’t taken yet.