Fighting the Stigma of Ebola - dummies

By Edward K. Chapnick

An ugly part of the hysteria and overreaction to Ebola is stigmatization (assigning disgrace) and xenophobia (having an unreasonable fear of someone or something that’s foreign). These words describe the ways in which some people are acting toward others in the face of the Ebola health crisis.

West Africans, African Americans, and Africans in general are facing serious discrimination as part of Ebola outbreaks. Here are some ideas to stop the stigmatization:

  • Help anyone who is spreading untruths or holding unsubstantiated beliefs get educated. Most people don’t have the facts about Ebola. You can help stop discrimination by speaking up and correcting them the next time you hear something you know isn’t accurate.

  • Be a role model. Welcome and show private and public support to people who have returned from the affected and surrounding areas. Don’t be afraid to touch, hug, or show them respect and affection.

  • If someone is being discriminated against by a business or other public entity, speak up. Go in with an open mind and try to educate the offender. He honestly may not realize what he is doing. But if that strategy doesn’t work, then ask to speak to a manager, stand with the person who is being discriminated against, and even offer to leave the establishment (or not leave, as the case may be) as a show of support and public education.

  • Be a support for your kids. Kids can be scared (and, through lack of knowledge and experience, mean, too). You can talk to your kids to find out if they have any questions or concerns about Ebola and then make sure they have the basic facts. You can also ask if they have discussed it in school. If they haven’t, or if there seem to be any red flags (like your child mentions she and some friends were teasing another student about having Ebola), talk with the teacher right away. Maybe you could even volunteer to do a quick presentation for the class.

  • If you get asked to leave work because of your nationality, stand up for yourself. Most, if not all, places of business aren’t allowed to discriminate against people in the workplace based on nationality. If your boss or coworkers pressure, threaten, or demand that you take time off temporarily or permanently, contact HR. If HR doesn’t respond, contact the ACLU.

  • Remind people that folks do have Ebola, and they need help. Sometimes, people get way too caught up in the drama of their own lives and just like to stir up trouble. You can remind anyone who is being combative or ill-informed about the Ebola outbreak that they can do something productive, which is to help the people in West Africa who really need it.

  • Embrace and support survivors. Reports from the field indicate that some survivors have come back to their homes and communities, only to be shunned for having contracted the disease and bringing it into the area. Survivors are banning together and community leaders are reminding people that now is no time to turn people away from compassion.