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Racism in the Time of COVID-19

Source: NYT

In Australia, racism is often talked about as if it were an issue of the past. We like to pretend that we solved racism in the 20th century and that it isn’t a 21st-century problem. Whilst we’ve indeed come a long way, we still have so far to go.

As an Asian-Australian and a proud person of colour, I can tell you that racism is well and truly alive in Australia - I’ve had to deal with it all my life. I’ve been punched, kicked, and excluded. I’ve been called every name under the sun, from gook to chink to jap. I’ve been abused and discriminated against my entire life because of my racial identity.

If you’re not willing to take my word for it, just have a look around you. So many Australians have jumped at the first opportunity to harass Australia’s Asian community, with reports that Asian-Australians have been punched, spat on, and verbally abused in response to COVID-19.

Some will make the argument that racism isn't a major issue because only a small, fringe minority engages in racist behaviour. However, is racism really just a fringe idea if it's rife even within our parliaments? Josh Frydenberg openly mocked Australia's Hindu community in a speech to parliament, Peter Dutton called Lebanese immigration to Australia a “mistake”, and the Liberals demonised Sudanese immigrants as part of their campaign strategy during the 2018 Victorian state election. These are just a few examples of racism, not from the far-right, but one of Australia's two mainstream political parties.

Australians look to their elected officials for guidance on what behaviour is acceptable. For far too long, the Liberals and their allies in the far-right have actively supported racism by making discriminatory comments and attempting to repeal and amend legislation that protects people of colour against racism.

To those Australians that continue to refuse to acknowledge the destructive consequences of racism, I beg you to imagine what it's like. Imagine what it's like to be told by society that you don't belong, that you're inferior, and that you should go back to where you came from, even though you call Australia home. To be physically and verbally assaulted for the colour of your skin, which isn't something you choose.

Over time, continued exposure to racism has an impact on how you see yourself. It can make you ashamed of your identity as if it's something you should hide. Personally, racism has had a huge impact on my mental health, and my identity is something I still struggle with to this day.

The soul of our nation is scarred by many racial injustices, so it won't be easy, but the first step to solving Australia's racism problem is accepting that we have a problem in the first place. That means acknowledging that White Australia is built on a foundation of colonialism and attempted genocide, dealing with the fact that it was an Australian that massacred 51 Muslims in Christchurch, and atoning for our inhumane treatment of refugees.

In the short term, Australia's Asian community is facing one of its darkest times, and we need all the support we can get. The struggle against racism isn't one that can just be won by people of colour - we also need our allies to stand not for us, but with us. If you see anyone, whether they be Asian or not, being racially vilified or discriminated against, call it out. If you see or hear people using harmful language, like calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus", call it out. Check on your Asian friends and support them in any way you can. Everyone is hurting with the current crisis, but our Asian community is hurting more than most. Any gesture you make, however small, can make a difference for a community that is suffering.

However, if we want to beat this before it gets out of hand, we need our leaders to stand up and fight against anti-Asian racism. That's why a group of prominent Asian-Australians has started the #UnityOverFear petition. This petition calls on the government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to send a clear message to the Australian people that any form of racism against Australia's Asian community is unacceptable.

Please sign the petition and share this article if you believe that the Coalition must protect the Asian-Australian community and not abandon people of colour like they so often have.

“Racism is not only unethical, it is antithetical to the values which underpin democracy. That is why our rejection of racism, of prejudice, of discrimination and of hate speech must be uncompromising.” - Penny Wong

Luka Harrison is the University of Newcastle Students' Association (UNSA) President and a Hunter Young Labor member. Twitter


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