Story at a glance

  • An NBC report documents incidents of discrimination against Asian passengers among ridesharing drivers.
  • Online and in person, drivers are allegedly expressing fears of catching the Wuhan coronavirus from an Asian passenger.
  • Previous reports suggest that racial and ethnic discrimination is not new in times of disease and virus outbreaks.

Ridesharing passengers with Asian heritage are reportedly experiencing discrimination from drivers over fears of the coronavirus spreading, according to an NBC report

The report states there have been high incidents of racism aimed at Asian passengers, particularly those of Chinese heritage, during Lyft and Uber rides. 

In a Facebook group with an estimated membership of more than 12,000 Lyft and Uber drivers, one member stated that there are at least five posts per day that discuss the virus. The member said that among the group of drivers, there is a general reticence to pick up passengers of Asian descent. 

NBC tells the story of Lilian Wang, who called a Lyft at the San Francisco airport. When the car arrived, the driver reportedly refused to open the door. Wang was only permitted into the vehicle when her friend, a white CNBC producer, said she requested the ride.

The two passengers allege that the driver asked if the two women were returning from China. When they responded they were returning from Mexico, the driver reportedly said, “OK, so not China.” The driver eventually said he had turned down rider requests from users with “Chinese-sounding names.”

Two other incidents of racism over fears of catching the Wuhan virus were chronicled in the article.

Lyft spokesperson Dana Davis responded to NBC, stating that the company takes “any allegation of discrimination very seriously,” and that the company is “monitoring official updates on the global outbreak closely, and taking our cues from international and domestic public health experts.”

Paranoia and stigmatization against races and ethnicities associated with virus outbreaks are not new, and it’s particularly felt around the coronavirus. Studies have been authored in the aftermath of the similar SARS outbreak that examined discrimination in Asian American communities. 

One such study, authored in part by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noted that, when surveyed, about 10 percent of callers on a CDC hotline expressed “concerns related to fear, stigmatization, and discrimination,” with some of the major concerns being fears of working with Asians, living with Asians, going to school and communal spaces with Asians and purchasing Asian merchandise. 

The 2004 CDC article recommends ways to handle discrimination during the next disease outbreak, quoting Dr. Mitchell Gralnick Weiss as saying: “Preventing fear and stigmatization depends on controlling or treating the target health problem, countering tendencies of those who stigmatize others, and supporting those who are stigmatized through emotional support and social policies.”

Published on Feb 04, 2020