During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been wonderful stories of people supporting each other to get through hard times.
But we’ve also seen reports of Asian-Australians and Asian people in Australia experiencing rise in racist incidents. This has led to fear, anger and worry among these communities.
The lasting impacts of racism on social and emotional wellbeing are well-documented. It’s important that people who don’t have an Asian background are aware of the affect this racism has, and that the victims of racism know where to go for support.
“When the pandemic started, a Hong Kong international student got punched at my local supermarket because he was wearing a mask,” says Jennie, a Taiwanese-Australian with permanent residency.
“I got really scared because I wondered, ‘If I wear my mask, will I get punched too?’”
“I think, right now, people dismiss these attacks as just fear of the pandemic, not racism, so they think it’s okay. But it hurts and it’s dangerous.”
“I’ve had friends assaulted and I’ve been verbally abused. Both my partner and I have experienced racism in the past, but it’s been more frequent during the pandemic and we’ve talked about it a lot more.” As well as fearing attacks like these, Jennie has to deal with people’s irrational fear of her because of her race.
“When I first wore my mask into work during the pandemic, my colleagues would ask, ‘Do you have COVID-19?’”
“People don’t understand that, in Taiwan, everyone wears a mask – it’s good practice and can reduce community transmission.”
“With other Australians, I’ve mentioned I celebrate Chinese New Year and they got worried. I had to explain I didn’t travel to China recently and I’m not even Chinese.”
Not just the pandemic
Jennie experienced racism before COVID-19. She’s built a rewarding career as a social worker yet, in a previous job, her supervisor wouldn’t even use her name, instead referring to her as ‘the Asian girl’ when she was in the room with other colleagues.
He also constantly introduced her to people as being Chinese, despite Jennie regularly correcting him that she was from Taiwan. Regardless, she found it uncomfortable being labelled as different in this way.
When she lodged an official complaint, a committee made the supervisor write a letter of apology, but decided his actions hadn’t disadvantaged Jennie in any way.
“They had a committee of white people, who have never experienced racism, deciding whether something is racist or not.”
Experiences like these often leave Jennie feeling frustrated and unheard.
A better environment
Thankfully, Jennie is in a more diverse and supportive workplace now. She believes speaking English as a second language helps her in this role.
“If I’m with someone from a culturally diverse background, I can understand the difficulties they face. I also work with a lot of kids on the autism spectrum, and some who are hearing impaired, and it helps me relate to them because I realise how exhausting it can be if you don’t understand something, or people don’t understand you.”
For her own wellbeing, Jennie uses a counselling service and attends a peer support group, where she can talk about the challenges she faces.
She also focuses on raising awareness in the community and sharing her own experiences through public speaking.
Spreading the word
Jennie has a message for people experiencing racism or racist abuse: you are not the problem.
“I’d tell anyone who is being made to feel unwelcome that it’s the community that needs cultural awareness training, not you. You have the right to be here and the right to feel safe.”
She also wants to speak to those who have racist attitudes towards migrants and people from other backgrounds.
“Anyone who isn’t Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a migrant – we’re just the people who came here later. You might want to call me a migrant, but I’d be happier to call you my friend, because we’re all Australian.”
“And as far as COVID-19 goes, I’m not the virus. We’re all human and the virus can come from anywhere. We need to cooperate now, most of all, because the world is in this together.”
If you are from a diverse community and need support for your mental wellbeing, Beyond Blue has information and translated resources on our website, or you can google the ‘transcultural mental health service’ for your state or territory.
If you have been a victim of racism or discrimination, you can find out how to report it here.
And you can find information on managing your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in languages other than English here.