(This article is prepared by Henry Ng, council member of WA Chinese Chamber of Commerce, for our eNewsletter dated 11 June 2020. Fill in the form at the bottom of our main webpage to subscribe for future eNewsletter)
Since the beginning of this year, there has been a steady stream of reports on COVID-19 related anti-Asian racism incidents in Australia. These include incidents of verbal or physical abuse, harassment, graffiti and property damage. Such reports, which are widely circulated through mainstream and social media (often internationally across multiple languages and platforms), heighten social anxiety and tension.
It is difficult to gauge the extent of racism in Australia. There is little official statistics and, notwithstanding the efforts of various government and private groups to collect such data, many incidents remain unreported. To complicate matters even more, different people have different perceptions on what constitute racial discrimination. Often these perceptions are shaped by their own personal experiences and the collective attitude of those within their close circle. Debates on the degree of racism in society can sometimes drown out more meaningful studies on specific incident.
Racial discrimination is nothing new. One of the factors that led to WA Chinese Chamber of Commerce’s formation in 1987 was to establish a uniting voice to speak out against extreme anti-Asian sentiments at that time. Nor is discrimination limited by geography or targeted only towards Asians, as shown by recent tragic events in the United States, and its corresponding mass demonstration here in Australia against mistreatment of indigenous citizens.
In a recent ABC news article, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan proposed a more systematic approach to collect data about racism as a cornerstone of a national anti-racism strategy. This is a well thought out proposal, worthy of our strong support. The information in such database provides an authoritative record and serves as a motivator to Australians for generations to come. Put simply, Australians can look at the racism picture painted from this data, and ask the crucial question of how we can do better from here.
How can we do better?
Taylor Swift sang “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate” in one of her hit songs. There will always be hateful individuals in any society who see nothing wrong in bullying or being mean. Whilst this is unfortunate, we can be thankful that they are in the minority. It would be next to impossible to stamp out low level incidents committed by random rouge individuals. The primary focus of police and other authorities should be to prevent and prosecute violent or destructive activities, particularly when they are organised and large scale.
Acceptance of individual intransigence does not imply inaction. As an ordinary person, we can all do our part in combating racism through the following initiatives:
1. Strengthen Your Resilience. If you are an unfortunate victim of racism incident(s), don’t allow it to diminish your self-worth. Confront the event and recognise that you are not at fault. Seek counselling if required. Speaking out or sharing your experience assist in the healing. This is another reason to support a racism database – documenting a hurtful incident may bring solace.
2. Assist Others. Add your voice and speak out against racism. Consider lending your support to Commissioner Tan’s proposal. Consider coming to the support of racism victims, whether during the actual incident (subject to your own personal safety) or afterwards. Knowing you are not alone is a great source of comfort.
3. Self-Reflection. You may belong to a minority group, or you may even be a past victim of racism, but you are still capable of being mean or hurtful to others. Confront your inner beliefs and examine whether you hold aggressive views towards certain groups. Are these views prejudice in disguise? Don’t be a Hater!
Henry Ng is a council member at the WA Chinese Chamber of Commerce. The views expressed are his own and may not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber or other council members.