Racism related to Coronavirus makes some people afraid to go out in public places. (Unsplash: Kate Trifo)
ABC has asked readers to share their personal experiences about racism during the coronavirus pandemic and the response was extraordinary.
- Respondents reported coughing, being insulted, and spitting in public
- Many people report racial incidents in supermarkets
- Some say political rhetoric and lack of media diversity play a role in racism
Hundreds of people from all over the country wrote to inform us that they had witnessed or been involved in racial incidents in supermarkets, on the streets and in their cars during the lockout period.
They say they have coughed, been hit and insulted in public places.
Many are truly alone when attacks occur – others are surrounded by people who sometimes try to defend them.
Some say they are now too afraid to go shopping alone, or even take a walk around the block in their own neighborhood.
The Federal Government asks Australians to call racism when they see it, and report racist attacks to the authorities.
Here’s what you say about racism related to coronavirus.
Supermarket is not a safe place
One of the most common locations where respondents say they have experienced racial harassment is supermarkets, one of the few places that Australians are allowed to visit during locking.
Sometimes the harassment consists of dirty looks or derogatory comments made at low volume, but loud enough for the person to hear it – at other times it’s more striking.
Dyxi Mohammed from Melbourne described being verbally abused by a man at the deli in the local Coles.
“All of a sudden I just heard a man on the side shouting about Asians,” he said.
“I was just surprised, and then I kind of looked at him and I was like ‘what did you say to me’, and he repeated himself again.”
Ms Mohammed said she walked towards him to face him, and he took a big step back and told her to stay away from him.
‘[He said] “something about the virus, started ranting furiously and swearing … I thought I asked him if he would apologize, because that was okay,” he said.
“People walk, see he just yells at me, and don’t come and say anything or see if I’m okay. They make eye contact with me and don’t do anything.”
A young Coles female employee finally intervened and stepped between Ms Mohammed and the man, staying until Ms. Mohammed finished her shopping because the man refused to leave.
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Louis from northern Sydney had a similar experience in the toiletry aisle at his local supermarket, while shopping with his small child.
“When I see things on a shelf, I hear this [woman] getting louder, and I hear words like ‘China’ and ‘Judgment’, “he told ABC.
“I think when he realized that I was turning my head, he began to speak very loudly … ‘This is all their fault for the virus’, basically.”
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Louis – who is a Filipino – said the woman became increasingly agitated but walked very fast when he turned to confront her about his comments.
He said other buyers in the aisle who had witnessed the incident talked to him about what happened after the woman left, the observer’s response which he said was very helpful.
“I think confession [from witnesses] after the facts are really very supportive – it allows us to just put it aside and move on, “he said.
“I think there should be information given to general members of the public who witness acts of discrimination, and what they should do.
“Generally people in my community want to support minorities who are subject to racial harassment. They just need to know what to do.”
Targeted on roads and sidewalks
Some people feel discouraged when racism is not strongly criticized. (Unsplash: Rosalind Chang)
Some respondents described being harassed by other drivers on the road and in the parking lot, and many said they had racist abuse shouting at them from people who had driven in the past.
People illustrate that things are thrown at them on the road and harassed by other pedestrians while walking near their homes.
Eli from Melbourne had a terrible experience when he was in his car waiting at a red light.
“This white commodity with a green P-plate on it and four people in the car started throwing eggs and burgers as well as wrappers and items into my car,” he told ABC.
“They just shout ‘go home’, ‘go back to your place of origin’, ‘you dirty-word, you dirty monkey’.”
Eli’s partner was talking to him on the speakerphone at the time and could hear what was happening. He tells her not to get involved with the men in the car.
“But they were there, right next to me, throwing things in my car, so I finally lowered my window,” he said.
He asked the men what their problem was, but they continued to racially harass him until the lights changed.
“They honestly started laughing when they saw my face – I think that was the worst part,” he said.
“There is something very surprising [about] having strangers fully show personal things about you.
“I didn’t realize I was crying, so they all started laughing, then they left, then I stopped round the corner to cry. Then I washed my car and went home.”
Julie, who also lives in Melbourne, described being verbally abused by two different groups of people while walking around with her 16-month-old daughter.
“Where we live there is a small river and bridges and footpaths where you can walk,” he said.
“I paused just to show [my daughter] a few ducks and then I just heard someone screaming at me ‘go, go down, go down’. “
Julie said that a pair of elderly people started shouting at her, asking her to stay as far as three meters away from them.
“They are like ‘you shouldn’t be here’, ‘you should wear a mask’, ‘stay away from us’,” he said.
When he moved from a couple with his daughter, he said a man who appeared to be in his 30s also joined in and started shouting at him.
“It was very confrontational when a group of people just shouted at me when I was there with my daughter,” he said.
While he initially thought the incident might have been solely about fear of the corona virus, after he moved from there, Julie said he saw the old couple stop to welcome another older man who was walking with his dog.
“And they might be less than a meter from each other … so that’s when I thought ‘oh, okay, I understand now’,” he said.
Since then, Julie said she was reluctant to leave home.
“If someone walks past me, I jump a little, I’m a little nervous … I avoid people now because I don’t know. That has changed me,” he said.
What needs to be done to combat racism?
Coronavirus has triggered a number of well-known racist attacks in Asia-Australia. (ABC News: Jarrod Fankhauser)
Respondents provide a variety of suggestions for what can and must be done to overcome racism.
The rhetoric used by Australian politicians is a problem that arises repeatedly. Many people wrote that they hoped that politicians would be more careful about how they talked about China.
There are concerns that politicians do not make it clear that their criticism of the Chinese Government has nothing to do with Chinese-Australians or Chinese citizens living in Australia.
Many respondents also said they thought mainstream media coverage from the Chinese Government – including by ABC – also failed to make that distinction quite clear.
Asian-Australians report being caught up in a political shootout when it comes to criticism of the Chinese Government. (Reuters: Jason Lee)
Julie from Melbourne pointed to the recent comments by Member of Parliament Victoria Tim Smith about Prime Minister Daniel Andrews, calling him “Chairman Dan”, in clear reference to Chinese dictator Mao Zedong.
“We are watching the news, we see our politicians have aggressive behavior like this towards China, but people do not distinguish China and the Chinese Government with Chinese people, or Asians – they see everything the same,” he said.
“Explain that it is not Chinese, not Chinese-Australians or Asian-Australians who do this.”
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Smith told ABC that public concern about using the word “chairman” was “absolutely ridiculous”, stressing it was a reference to a communist regime that used power, and “there were no racial aspects at all”.
He said he was always clear that his criticism was directed at the Chinese Communist Party, not Chinese or Australian-Chinese citizens, and said he condemned the recent escalation of racist attacks.
“I condemn racism completely and completely – there is no place in modern Australia,” he said.
Survey respondents suggested further education about multiculturalism was needed. (ABC News: Tim Swanston)
Others say there needs to be more education in schools about multiculturalism, including the contribution of migrants from Asian countries to Australia.
Some said they believed the higher fines would help overcome racist abuse, but there were fears the police would not fully investigate alleged racist incidents when they were reported.
Stella from Lower Templestowe in Melbourne said she was disappointed with the response she got from Woolworths and the police when she reported racist messages written on signage on her local supermarket.
Someone had written “F ** Asian” in large letters on a laminated notice, left on an empty shelf in the paper towel section.
While Stella said the store manager apologized to him for the sign, he said he was told that the shop would not be able to investigate who wrote it – and when he contacted the police, he said he was told that they too could not do anything.
“The current system is not good enough … There is a public racist act now that is outside the mechanism that we have [in place] to deal with them, “he said.
He said he thought a special hotline for reporting racist incidents would help, as well as a special police task force dedicated to investigating the incident.
Your question about coronavirus answers:
A Woolworths spokeswoman reiterated that they apologized to the customer and immediately removed the signboard from the store.
“We want everyone to feel welcome in our store and sincerely regret this is not the case on this occasion,” they said in an email.
“Our code of conduct explains to all members of our team that discrimination is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our business. We expect the same from our customers.”
Another theme that emerged was the problem of representation in the media: Many respondents felt that if Australians with Asian backgrounds were more visible on television and in the media, there would be less racism in society.
Speaking to ABC’s Conversation Hour program on Tuesday, chairman of the Multicultural Commission Victoria Vivienne Nguyen said while the coronavirus pandemic was likely to lead to a surge in racist incidents, it was part of a broader problem.
“Racism existed before COVID-19 and will exist after COVID-19. It is a matter of how we as a nation, as a society, consider the seriousness of the problem – the impact it has on victims – and as a nation determine what we need to do,” he said.
“And I’m not sure if we are at this point fully clear and agreeing on what we need to do about it.”
What you need to know about coronavirus:
Additional reporting by Erin Handley
Share your racism story with us
We know that the incidence of racism has increased anxiety in Asian communities throughout Australia and more and more people are now looking for solutions.
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