Asian community stands up to escalating COVID-19 racist violence

Two young Asian women were walking in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, near the Victoria Markets on April 15, when they noticed they were being followed by two white women, who started screaming abuse at them.

They turned to look at their stalkers calling out “Fucking Chinese”, and were attacked. “You fucking immigrant,” one attacker screamed as she punched and kicked one of the Asian women. She stopped only when a white male bystander intervened.

This was just one of a recent spate of violent racist attacks on people of Chinese appearance.

The victims of this assault were international students from Korea. The incident was filmed by a bystander and has been widely shared on social media. Victorian police are investigating. One of the racists received bail on April 19.

Another video that has gone viral depicts a white man outside the Chinese Consulate in Sydney repeatedly cracking a stock whip close to people at the entrance. He too was screaming anti-Chinese and anti-communist abuse and threats.

“We know it’s deliberate. Five million people left your country and spread that filthy fucking disease worldwide ... You’re all wearing your masks and you know why you’re wearing your masks? You knew about it!”

When this first emerged, the media reported that the New South Wales Police had no knowledge of this incident. However, as the story went around on Twitter, it became clear that the matter had been reported.

Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong told Green Left that when she later contacted the NSW Police, they confirmed that the perpetrator had been detained.

A third incident that spread like wildfire on social media took place in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Marrickville. Two young Asian women about to cross a street were abused by two young white women, one of whom spat at one of the Asian women and called her an “Asian dog”. A local resident filmed the incident from a window in a house across the street. “Asian bitch. You brought corona here. Eat a bat again you dumb whore,” the attacker screamed.

Racists outed by social media

These are just three of a growing incidents of COVID-19-related racist violence in Australia.

Queensland police have stated that 22 people have been charged over such incidents in recent weeks and, in March, a man was jailed for punching an international student from Hong Kong. The attacker shouted “You've got the virus” and “Go back to your country”.

In the discussions on social media, many other unreported attacks have surfaced. One international student in Melbourne reported that she was getting harassed every time she stepped out to get groceries. Another person said her aunt, who is a nurse, had been abused while at work in a hospital and is now too scared to go to work. Bus drivers, doctors and other essential service workers have reported similar racist abuse.

An April 8 open letter by prominent Australians of Chinese heritage protested “a marked escalation in racial abuse towards Asian Australians” and called for unity against racism.

“As Australians of Chinese heritage, we have been shocked by footage of the vilification of Asian Australians that has circulated globally across social media with many of the victims targeted because of their Asian appearance. These instances are not isolated.

“In February, the Australian Human Rights Commission reported that one in four people who lodged racial discrimination complaints in the past two months say they were targeted due to COVID-19.

“Australians are being targeted because of their Asian heritage or appearance and we cannot allow this disturbing trend to continue unchallenged,” the open letter said.

The open letter is now an online petition and has since gathered thousands of signatures.

Another important response from the Asian community is a specialised COVID-19 racism online reporting tool initiated by activist and writer Erin Chew, the media outlet Being Asian Australian and the advocacy network the Asian Australian Alliance.

Chew told Green Left that by April 17, the tool was charting the alarming growth of “COVID-19 racism”.

“This is both a good and a bad thing”, she said. “It is good in that our COVID-19 racism tracker is being utilised by Asians/Asian Australians and that it is an avenue for them to know that they are not alone in this fight. The bad thing is the fact that in just around two weeks we have had 180 or so reports, and the number continues to grow shows that this issue has been underreported and that the magnitude of incidents is a major issue.

“I have noticed that it has woken up many members of the Asian community in Australia to this issue, and that some of those who were previously silent are now feeling more courageous to talk about their experience on their social media and talk to the media.

“Even taking the step to spend 10 minutes to complete their report on our tracker requires a lot of courage, and this shows how our community has grown from this.”

Empowerment

Chew sees the empowerment of Asian communities to speak out against racism as one of the objectives of the project.

“One reason for us starting this was because we were receiving messages from Asian Australians in our email and on our Asian Australian Alliance Facebook page telling us about their incidents of racism, and that they didn't know where else to report it.

“This is what really prompted this project.

“For someone to relive their recent racist trauma and report it into our tracker shows that they felt empowered enough to add to our project.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison belatedly spoke out on the escalating racist attacks on April 15. But that was only after the Asian communities took steps to call it out.

“When this pandemic was first reported in Wuhan, the racism had already started,” Chew said. “Countries like Australia spent that early period pointing fingers at China instead of worrying about the health risks in their own backyard.

“In late January, we already saw sensationalist headlines in tabloid media outlets like the Herald Sun calling it the ‘Chinese/China virus’ and senior federal ministers like Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton blaming Asian tourists for hoarding and panic buying.

“The first travel entry ban on Chinese nationals was itself racist as it was a knee jerk reaction to moves the United States had made. But when the pandemic hit Italy and Europe it took the government a week or more to place its entry ban. The double standards are obvious.

“In addition, the first lot of Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from Wuhan were all transported onto Christmas Island. I was in Wuhan in 2018, and I hardly saw any non-Chinese Australians travelling around Wuhan. I even asked locals about this and they told me that it’s because it was not yet a ‘Western tourist’ area like, say, Beijing and Shanghai are. So we know the majority who were placed on Christmas Island are people of Chinese background.

“We later found out that the Australian government has alternatives [to quarantining people on remote Christmas Island], so why were these ‘alternatives’ not used at the start?

“Then we had Chinese international students not being allowed to return to Australia due to them not being citizens or permanent residents,” Chew said.

Even though the PM has said that racist attacks on Asians are “just so wrong”, Australia continues to discriminate against international students. While they are exploited as cash cows for the nearly $32 billion-a-year boost they bring to the country’s GDP, they are still being deprived of emergency income support during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Australian government is also falling in behind the Trump administration’s attempt to blame China and the Word Health Organization for its own deadly mishandling of the pandemic. Shamefully, if not unexpectedly, the Labor opposition is offering its bipartisan support.

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