7 Books That Challenge COVID-19-Induced Xenophobia

There have been some reports of people being less-than-favorable toward Asian-Americans following the spread of the coronavirus.  While the attitude against these people is incredibly unfounded, it speaks to the continued problem of xenophobia and the sort of misunderstandings that people have in order to reinforce such awful ways of thinking.  To help counter all kinds of xenophobia during these troubling times, here are seven books that help to inform readers about different cultures and to avoid viewing them as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’.


Written by Tahereh Mafi

image via amazon

1. a very large expanse of sea

Shirin, a sixteen-year old Muslim girl, finds herself caught in an extremely turbulent political time.  After the events of 9/11, she finds that more and more people are resorting to rude stares, degrading comments, and even physical violence,  all because of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day.  She finds some solace in music and dancing with her brother, but she still feels the need to have an emotional wall up to protect herself from others.  She then meets a boy named Ocean who is genuinely interested in getting to know her, and she is conflicted over whether or not she should put down her emotional wall.



Written by Marjane Satrapi

image via amazon

2. the complete persepolis

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s childhood and adolescence within her family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.  She faced constant battles between her private and public life in a country then plagued by political upheaval.  She faced the trials of adolescence in her high schools years in Vienna, far from her family at home, until she is forced to face her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland.  Satrapi provides an accurate depiction of key events that have shaped Iran from the years leading up to the revolution to the present day, capturing elements of contemporary Iranian society in the process. You learn of the personal battles, the government’s resistance to the people, the struggles of the youth of Iran, and more, to gain a better understanding of this part of the world.


Written by George Takei

image via amazon

3. they called us enemy

They Called Us Enemy is a graphic memoir recounting George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II, long before he became an icon in Star Trek as Hikaru Sulu.  This is a story of him as a four-year-old boy finding his own birth country at war with his father’s—and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.  Takei revisits his haunting childhood in American concentration camps, as one of over 100,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II, in an effort to show the other side of this harrowing story.



Written by Erika Lee

image via amazon

4. america for americans: a history of xenophobia in the United States

In this book, Erika Lee shows how an irrational fear can cause mass movements of xenophobia such as the German ridiculing, the Irish anxiety, Chinese exclusion, Japanese incarceration, and Mexican deportation, happen in our country.  Forcing us to confront this history, America for Americans explains how xenophobia works, why it has endured, and how it threatens America.  It’s a necessary corrective and spur to action for any concerned citizen even during these times.


Written by Azadeh Moaveni

image via amazon

5. guest house for young widows: among the women of isis

There are books that try to understand what gave rise to ISIS, but not many of them give voice to the women in the organization.  Responding to promises of female empowerment and social justice, and calls to aid the plight of fellow Muslims in Syria, thousands of women emigrated from the United States and Europe, Russia and Central Asia, from across North Africa and the rest of the Middle East to join the Islamic State.  The voices of these thirteen women debut in chapters that expose not only their decisions for joining ISIS, but shows their reality that their choice to join wasn’t as black and white as people think it is.  The chronicles of these women reveal the religious propaganda and exploits the increasing involvement and pressure of social media that affected many of those who joined.



Written by Eli Saslow

image via amazon

6. rising out of hatred: the awakening of a former white nationalist 

Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism.  His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet, and his godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard.  By the time Derek turned nineteen, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show.  When he went to college, Derek was used to being home-schooled, and thus hadn’t encountered diverse perspectives other than his own.  At New College of Florida, he secretly broadcasted his radio show until he was caught and exposed by a student.  The following uproar and protests against Derek forced him for the first time to reconcile his ugly beliefs.  Others reached out to him and though forming new and different relationships, his previous world view was challenged.  Rising Out of Hatred tells the story of how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the saga of Derek Black, who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe – at a tremendous personal cost.



Written by Katy Upperman

image via amazon

7. the impossibility of us

In this young adult novel, we follow the story of Elise, whose brother’s death in Afghanistan forces her family to move from San Francisco to a sleepy coastal village.  It’s there that Elise meets Mati.  Both quickly discover that they have a lot in common, with Mati also being new to town, visiting the U.S. with his family.  Over the course of the summer, their relationship blossoms into romance from friendship, but their families don’t look on their relationship as a good thing.  Elise’s family unfortunately focuses on the fact that Mati is Afghan.  This new couple must face the racist challenges Elise’s family is imposing, and whether or not that will bring them together or drive them apart.


featured image via flickr

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