Why racism against Asian-Australians points to something larger

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Miia Matala-aho

Australia, this is not good enough. 

Where there is fear, there is blame. While a virus sweeps around the world, another invisible sickness is infecting our community. 

We’ve seen Donald Trump insist on calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”, endless verbal and physical abuse towards young Asian women in our streets and shopping centres, a student from Hong Kong punched in the face for wearing a mask in Hobart, multiple Asian family homes graffitied with abusive messages in Melbourne and Sydney, and many more instances of race-related abuse. 

In its first two weeks in April, a reporting database for anti-Asian racism in Australia received over 170 responsesI could continue to light this article up like a Christmas tree with more links to even more examples.  
I could tell you about the microaggressions that haunt me and my friends daily. How people cough directly towards us, how they look at us with genuine fear in their eyes, or how my little sister who works in a bakery is subjected to snarky and menacing comments while she politely bags sourdough loaves.  

Or how my government-approved daily walk is not a breath of fresh air, but an anxiety-fuelled, heart-thumping experience – something I endure rather than enjoy. I keep my eyes angled 45 degrees downwards, a fixed lift of the outer corners of my mouth in place; a subdued acknowledgement of my deference. Ridiculously, I sometimes wear sunglasses to see if it disguises my Asian-ness. 

This period is hard on all Australians, and that’s without the added heat of racism. But the daily abuse and resentment being hurled at us is undoing the work that so many Australian-born Chinese citizens have had to do to unlearn their internalised racism. When hatred is literally spat in your face, it’s hard to ignore.

But this sudden increase of discrimination points to something more sinister; Australia is still a racist country. The racism that’s been amplified during this pandemic just highlights how common race-related discrimination and violence is towards Muslims, Africans, and First Nations peoples – or anyone with dark skin or ‘exotic’ features. Basically, anyone who isn’t white, or white-passing. 

This doesn’t end when this virus is over. What we need is a united stance condemning racism in all its forms – from mocking people’s accents to hurtful passing comments, to ‘funny’ banter. It’s not ‘just a joke’. Any laughs garnered from such comments just reinforce the disparity between the treatment of white Australians and, well, other Australians. 

Start with your own social circles. Check your friends’ behaviour or a family member’s inappropriate vocabulary. 

Stand up, call it out and be an ally. While it is potentially dangerous for racial minorities to defend themselves, it might not be for you. If you don’t feel safe to physically intervene, you can offer support to the person who’s been abused.

Arm yourself with resources and information. Do your Googles and don’t rely on members of minorities to do the hard work for you. Racism. It Stops With Me is a good starting point.

We’re better when we’re united. Racism is a toxic, festering thing and has proven its ability to destroy communities. What we need is empathy, kindness and a little love.

A friendly hello or a smile to someone on their daily walks goes a long way, too. You never know, you could be making someone feel just a little bit safer. 


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