Last month’s shootings at three massage parlors in Atlanta were a reminder of the problem of hate crimes against Asian people in the United States. But on the other side of the Atlantic too, hate crimes have been on the rise in the United Kingdom during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to UK police data, hate crimes toward East and Southeast Asians, including Chinese people, known collectively as ESEAs, soared by 300 percent in the first quarter of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019 and 2018.
UK-based advocacy group End the Virus of Racism says the trend has continued since then.
Voice ESEA is another newly-founded advocacy group in the UK, aiming to eliminate racial discrimination against ESEAs.
Its representative Nisa Yang said the Atlanta killings, where six of the eight victims were Asian women, made the group bring forward its launch date.
Voice ESEA was officially launched on Instagram on March 20, four days after the Atlanta tragedy, and a petition it initiated, aiming at funding additional support for victims of COVID-19 racism and anti-racism programs, had been approved by the British parliamentary website.
By March 30, the petition had reached its first milestone of 10,000 signatures, calling on the government to better protect communities, including ESEAs, by not only condemning recent racist attacks, but providing supportive funds for impacted individual and business victims as a result of racism fueled by COVID-19, as well as organizations tackling racism.
Voice ESEA was formed by 12 people from various professional backgrounds, including the law and financial services, with the majority of them being ethnic Chinese who were either born, raised or are working in the UK, or from Canada, but have studied or worked in the UK.
Yang said most Voice ESEA members have experienced some form of racism, prejudice or discrimination.
“We felt that being silent was no longer an option,” she told China Daily.
According to a report released in the UK in January, racial abuse has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, as, like in many other countries, people have apportioned blame for the disease on China and anyone who is racialized as Chinese.
Last February, an Ipsos Mori poll found that one in seven people would avoid those of Chinese origin or appearance to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.
Voice ESEA plans to create awareness and educate the public on what is happening in the communities, dispel myths with data and facts, and also share tips on how to be an ally.
While violent attacks are a significant issue that must be addressed immediately, there is also other work that needs to be done around the daily counts of seemingly small issues that are still extremely harmful to the community, Yang added.
“For example, we need to educate others on why the term ‘oriental’ should not be used; that ‘yellow fever’ is a serious issue and is not a matter of ‘preference’; that shouting ‘ni hao’ or ‘konnichiwa’ to an ESEA-looking individual on the streets is wrong, and so on,” she said.
“Most of these people may not have any ill toward ESEA individuals, yet they are unconsciously fuelling prejudices that fuel racism.”
Extreme forms of racially-motivated violence do not appear out of nowhere, she warned. They have been cultivated and allowed to fester from a wide ranges of sources, including but not limited to: distorted media content portraying Asians as the main source for the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent disruption; dismissive attitudes that do not acknowledge racism against ESEAs; normalized jokes that make fun of Asian culture; and a lack of representation in senior positions in the private and public sector, and a lack of representation in the media.
The UK must address the root causes of the problems and work together with different stakeholders and organizations who aim to combat racism, she urged.
The StopAsianHate campaign has also happened in some other parts of the world, such as the Netherlands.
Lyu Can, a student from China who launched the event in Amsterdam, said: “After the shocking Atlanta shooting happened in the US … I saw some of my Asian friends in the Netherlands post their experiences of being discriminated against. I feel like it is time to speak up and start to do something about StopAsianHate.”
Can has lived in the Netherlands for six months and never experienced discrimination herself. “But it does not mean discrimination does not exist. Keeping silent is (encouraging) violence,” she told China Daily.