by Issah Nalzaro
It’s March of 2020 and I take my daily commute to work. Stepping into an elevator, a family takes a quick glance at me as they slowly cover their noses. They isolate themselves into a corner of the lift. Confused as I was initially, a sudden realisation sets, and my biggest nightmare turns into a reality.
When COVID-19 struck, the virus wasn’t the only fear streaming through our communities, it was also the racist acts that came along with it. The microaggressions, the stereotypes, the racial abuse.
In the midst of it all, I was not only worried about the virus, but also facing the racism that I and many eastern Asians knew we would have to endure.
Starting life in the UK
Growing up in a small town in Norfolk was exciting and full of adventure. The beaches that stretched for miles, the openness of its picturesque views, and even the fresh scent of forest air. However, as a minority I battled through narrowmindedness and microaggressions that still haunt me to this day. From mimicking Asian stereotypes, to generalising our languages, to being told to ‘Go back to your country!’
I felt conflicted with my identity when peers at school would suggest that I speak good English, or that they did not see me as a Filipino. Ridiculing my Filipino school lunch and suggesting it is ‘smelly’ and ‘disgusting’, pulling and squinting of the eyes, or the mocking of Asian-language stereotypes were all too common. The build-up of shame surrounding my culture slowly became a removal of my identity, to the point where even I resented my heritage.
Rather than this behaviour being called what it was, the stereotypes that Asians are submissive and non-aggressive enabled people to mask their racism as humour. By doing so these microaggressions could, at best, be swept under the rug and, at worst, be trivialised and encouraged. As first-generation immigrants, my siblings and I were not prepared for the racism we endured. And have continued to endure ever since.
Anti-Asian racism is on the rise
In fact, anti-Asian racism has become even stronger in light of the pandemic. In America, racial related crimes have rapidly sharpened, with the United Nations detailing “an alarming level” of racially motivated violence and other hate incidents against Asian Americans.
Cases include a 61-year-old Filipino American being slashed on the face with a box cutter in his commute on the New York subway. To the extremes of an 89-year-old Chinese woman being physically abused and set on fire by two people in Brooklyn, New York.
Following a number of these horrific cases, the outpouring of support has taken social media by storm. #StopAsianHate and #AAPIHate (Asian American and Pacific Islander) have come to the forefront to raise awareness, followed by footage of these hate crimes being displayed.
“We exist but do we matter?”
This was the question posed by Asian-American fashion designer, Phillip Lim. It feels like matters relating to Asian communities have well and truly been swept under the rug, and our voices are not being heard. Lim suggests the last US administration’s approach towards Asian communities, using phrases like ‘kung-flu’ and the ‘China virus’, has further manifested hatred that’s resulting in violence in our communities.
This spans throughout all generations, in public, online, schools and behind closed doors. “It feels like ‘open season’ to take out our frustration on the Asian community,” Lim said.
This is not just an American problem, it’s a British one too
It’s tempting to think this is exclusively a contemporary American problem, and that’s how British contributors to the hashtag have tended to position it. However, deep rooted racism is not a unique problem to America. It also manifests here in the UK too. Hate crimes against East and South East Asian (ESEA) have recently rapidly increased in the UK. According to the End the Virus of Racism group, there has been a sharp 300 per-cent rise in hate crimes against people of Asian heritage since the pandemic started.
University lecturer, Peng Wang, was brutally attacked by four men while jogging near his home in Southampton - sustaining injuries to his face and elbows. In March of last year, a Singaporean-Chinese student was severely hurt after being beaten while walking down Oxford Street by a group of men shouting: “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.”
Even our Asian healthcare workers are falling victims to these acts. A Filipino NHS nurse working in the East Midlands revealed that he was verbally abused by a patient.
Things need to change
It feels as though our voices are not being heard nearly enough. Particularly in how we’re being represented, and how seriously we’re taken when we call out racism against our communities. The effects of the ongoing racism towards us have felt so belittled over time - as though it’s abuse we can deal with or that we can brush off. However it’s putting Asian communities in danger in more ways than one, and this has never been more apparent than recent times.
The exposure of all prejudices towards Asian minorities are realities we should all continuously speak about. We should strive to engage in these conversations, and let the voices of minorities be heard. Not temporarily to adhere to a season or a ‘trend’, but for the long-term. These forms of discrimination will not go away after COVID-19; they will be a representation of every-day life for many, until we make real change.
The familiarity that once was dread, has now been painted with fear.
How can you help?
- Sign and share petitions.
- Watch, read, and share articles/videos on the rise of anti-asian violence in the recent weeks.
- Reposting, retweeting or sharing information with your followers can motivate others to take action.
- CBS: Asian Americans Battling Bias
This documentary produced by the CBS News Race and Culture unit, highlights the discrimination faced by Asian Americans in 2020. Following the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Asian Americans have faced high unemployment, business boycotts, and racist attacks caught on video.
- A police funded website in the UK, True Vision, is available to report instances of Anti-Asian assaults and hate crimes.
- To report an incident to the police by phone, call 101
If you can’t hear or speak on the phone, you can type what you want to say: 18001 then 101
For further support with hearing and speaking difficulties. You can use Relay UK with an app or a textphone. There’s no extra charge to use it.
- If your facing difficulty reaching to the police, or getting the needed response. For further support and information. You can go directly to Citizens Advice Bureau.
FOLLOW COMMUNITY LEADERS + ACTIVISTS
- besea.n is a network created by six east and southeast Asian women in Britain, a grassroots movement with goals to challenge negative stereotypes and promote positive media representation of the Asian community in the UK.
- Support End The Virus Of Racism, and donate to fund the UK’s first nonprofit dedicated to addressing racism towards people of East and Southeast Asian heritage.
- Crowdfunding page of End The Virus of Racism
AAPI to follow to diversify your Instagram feed: