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Asian Australian feels impact of racism from North America to Australia Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer

As an Asian Australian living in the US, I hold many concerns over the racism coming out of COVID-19 affecting both Asian Americans and Asian Australians. Being exposed to both types, I can say that the magnitude of the hate in both countries can be almost mirrored. Having personally experienced COVID-19 related racism in both countries, one thing it has made me realize is that no matter where we are located in the West, we will always get scapegoated and treated as perpetual foreigners.

Racism itself is not new to both Asian Americans and Asian Australians, and I am sure this is the same for other Asian diasporas. It is insidious and it never goes away. The history of anti-Asian racism for the USA and Australia is the same in that it started back when the Chinese traveled to both countries in search for gold during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. In the present day it has manifested itself in the anti-China rhetoric with COVID-19 related racism being a symptom of the bigger issue.

Just two days ago, we saw the racism coming out of President Trump at a White House press briefing. CBS reporter Weijia Jiang asked him a question regarding COVID-19 testing and why he (Trump) is making this sound like a global competition considering thousands of Americans have already died from the virus. Trump dismissed her question and said “Ask China”. These two words have major racial ramifications for not just Asian Americans but also for Asian Australians and other Asian diasporas. No matter what we all think about Trump, unfortunately, his words extend beyond his borders and so does his racism. This is why I felt compelled to write this piece to share with everyone that like Asian Americans, Asian Australians are experiencing a disturbingly high number of COVID-19 related racism.

In saying all this, the advocacy group I co-founded, Asian Australian Alliance, has collaborated with Osmond Chiu, who is a research fellow at Per Capita to launch the “COVID-19 Coronavirus Incident Report”, which is a survey for Asians/Asian Australians to share their COVID-19 related racism experiences in a bid to try to track the numbers and collect data on what is actually happening. This project was partially inspired by the work many Asian American advocates and organizations have been doing in trying to track these numbers and collect data in the US.

Like the US, Australia has seen a huge jump of anti-Asian racism coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our survey was launched on April 2nd, and in just over a month, we have recorded close to 350 reports of racism, ranging from the casual racial slurs to actual verbal threats and physical attacks. In terms of the racial slurs some of the stories we have read state that the perpetrator mentioned Trump as a way to validate the racism. What this shows is that as a “global leader” he has enabled and normalized racism at this time. Other racial slurs included using terms like “Chinese virus” etc – words which have also come out of Trump’s mouth.

It is also worth noting that these reports do not include the incidents which Australian mainstream media have covered or those which have gone viral over social media. For a population of just under 25 million, close to 350 reports of anti-Asian racism in just over a month is a staggering number. In other statistics coming out of the survey:

  • Over 65% of survey respondents were Asian females;
  • Close to 40% of the incidents have happened on a public street or sidewalk and almost 23% happened in a grocery store/supermarket
  • Online racism was also rising with almost half coming from Facebook – with respondents saying they either received messages or were subjected to racist comments on their posts on this topic or on a public post they commented on
  • 61% of respondents stated that the COVID-19 racism they experienced were in the form of racial slurs, with almost 15% stating that their experience included physical intimidation
  • Around 90% of respondents stated that they didn’t report their incident to the police

In terms of stories, we have read many disturbing ones. There are 2 which have stuck in my mind till today.

The first one was a son reporting the incident on behalf of his elderly mother who has little to no English speaking skills. She was taking a walk in her local area, when the perpetrator blocked her path and started to blame her and “her people” for the virus, told her to “stop eating bats and dogs”, and finally telling her to “go back to China”. There were other horrible words yelled at her whilst her path was blocked. This lasted for 2 minutes. Luckily, bystanders confronted the racist and escorted her back home and told the son what happened. When the son spoke to his mother about the incident he wrote that “she started to cry because she didn’t understand everything, but knew it was racist and felt useless”.

The second incident was one which happened on a public bus. With Australia almost shutdown, public buses are almost empty. The respondent stated that she works as a nurse and was on the bus going to work. It was just her, the driver and another passenger – the racist. She wrote that she was sitting in the middle of the bus when the racist person started to swear at her and call her “disgusting and virus ridden”. She ignored it and moved to the back of the bus. The racist followed her and started in again calling her “dirty” and saying that “her people don’t belong here”. The racist breached social distancing rules and was almost close to her face. She had to point her umbrella towards him to get him to move. She ended up getting off the bus before her stop to get to work, and waited for the next one.

All in all, these stories provide a clear picture that in Australia, we are seen as perpetual foreigners – the same feelings which many Asian Americans have expressed amidst the pandemic and even prior. The results from our survey grow everyday, and there is no view that these incidents will stop. Even with our close to 350 reports, hundreds more remain unreported. Our plan is to use this data to release periodic reports on the results,observations and analysis, but to also engage with Government, media, industry and the not for profit sector in Australia to take this issue of anti-Asian racism in Australia seriously. Right now, Australia is acting as the lapdog for the USA/Trump and scapegoating China for the cause of the virus. Like in the US, this will create the next wave of anti-Asian sentiments, and all of us need to remain aware and vigilant.

If you would like to check out our survey please click on: COVID-19 Coronavirus Incident Report

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