By Katey Cheung
Last year in February 2020, a Singaporean student called Jonathan Mok was attacked in Oxford Street. He was told “we don’t want your Coronavirus in our country” by a group of boys.
After the incident, Jonathan Mok posted photos of his injuries on Facebook. The injuries included a swollen eye, fractures to his nose and cheekbones which required stitches and surgery.
In January this year, a 16-year-old boy was convicted of racially aggravated grievous bodily harm and sentenced to 18 months of youth rehabilitation, ordered to wear an electronic tag, given a curfew, and had to pay £600 to the Singaporean student.
In a more recent case in February earlier this year, a University of Southampton lecturer called Peng Wang was attacked while jogging. Four white men shouted at him to “go home’, before punching and kicking him to the ground. He said they yelled racist slurs at him, and when he shouted back, they got violent. He was left with a bloody nose and mouth, and injuries to his face and elbow.
At the time of writing, a 23-year-old man has just been arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated assault, and the local police force are appealing for witnesses to come forward.
I have also experienced both covert and overt racism, even before Covid. However, I have heard and experienced a noticeable increase in racism since Covid-19 became a part of our lives.
Early last year, when I was out and about shopping in Guildford town centre, I noticed that people were looking at me a lot more, and when I made a purchase at Primark, the cashier tried to avoid touching my hands to give me my change. Skipping forward in time to about mid-November, I was spat at on my way home from my placement by an older man walking past me.
To me, this seemed very obvious that it was racially aggravated, as the person turned his head to the side specifically to spit on my face in the gap of my face mask. However, once I had reported it online to the police, I was told that my case had to be closed as the CCTV cameras were all facing the wrong direction at the time, despite the incident happening in the evening on a road full of shops. I was really hoping that London would be less racist, given that it is such a multicultural city, but I was disappointed with the police’s response.
My disappointment with the police in this case is not uncommon. As reported in an article by Diana Yeh, East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) racism is dismissed as humorous and not as serious as it really is. According to Adamson et al., the police do not see the crime as racially-aggravated, and they often do not provide enough support for victims of racism. This leads to a lack of trust towards the police and an under-reporting of racist hate crimes.
I’ve seen various posts in Facebook groups in which people have talked about being hypervigilant, feeling unsafe in non-Asian dominated spaces, or feeling uncomfortable leaving the house.
As you might have heard, Asians are not standing for this disrespectful treatment any longer. In February last year, an Indian lawyer stood up for her Chinese friend in Birmingham when a man shouted abuse at her. In March 2021, an elderly Chinese woman beat up her attacker with a plank of wood in retaliation for being punched in the eye while waiting at a zebra crossing in San Francisco.
To be an ally, things you can do to support Asian victims of hate crime include; donating to support victims and their families, learning victims’ names, signing petitions, buying from British Chinese small businesses, reading about the history of Asians in the UK (e.g. Chinese immigrants living in Liverpool in the 20th century), learning about the model minority myth, sharing mental health posts in different languages over social media, or simply calling out family members and friends for making racist jokes and comments.
Here are some other resources to check out too:
We are not a virus: why East Asian representation is more important than ever (campaignlive.co.uk) Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19 – Tuesday 13 October 2020 – Hansard – UK Parliament How British east and southeast Asians are fighting racism during the pandemic | The Independent Anti-Asian Attacks and Hate Crimes on the Rise Worldwide | Time A self-care guide for those impacted by racism – The Mix @besea.n | Linktree RESOURCES | CARG