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When Fear Goes Viral: A Cultural and Legal History

When Fear Goes Viral: A Cultural and Legal History


Long before COVID-19 spread across the globe, cultures that viewed themselves as enlightened and just chose to scapegoat those affected by biological pathogens. This program explores the unconscious historical biases that lead the public to choose scapegoats in a maladaptive attempt to quell fear of the spread of disease.

New Yorkers view ourselves as enlightened but the panic that followed the appearance of COVID-19 revealed a less flattering side. From racist attacks on Asian people to a false narrative that a Westchester County synagogue was the epicenter of COVID-19 infections, fear of a new virus brought to the surface unconscious bias of Asian Americans as perceived foreigners and repeated a shameful history of falsely identifying Jews as the source of plague.

Reactions to COVID-19 brought attention to the forgotten reality of stigmatization and otherization of those affected by infectious disease. The most educated among us can give in to the delusion that infections are spread by communities that the majority see as the “other”. Long before the arrival of COVID-19, the LGBTQ+ community was uniquely affected by a panic reaction to HIV/AIDS and even now is viewed as more likely to spread the virus than the general population.

As we face the risk of infection from COVID-19 we must learn to resist temptation to believe we are not vulnerable because we are not a member of a particular community. Perhaps more important as lawyers is that we learn to serve these “otherized” populations in the way that they deserve without discrimination, rejection or fear.

Fear of COVID-19 has already led to discrimination against those who have survived the new virus. Once immunity status can be determined the potential for discrimination based on non-immune status could follow. Now more than ever we need to examine our cultural and legal history to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.


Anne L. LaBarbera, Esq. – Thomas LaBarbera Counselors At Law PC

Mercedes Colwin, Esq. – Gordon & Rees, LLP

Non-Member Price: $150.00
Published Date:
  • June 11, 2020
  • Online On-Demand
Product Code:
  • VHT91
Diversity, Inclusion & Elimination of Bias Credit(s):
  • 1.0
Total Credit(s):
  • 1.0
Recorded Date:
  • 50min