Asian-Australians have been physically harassed, threatened with weapons, spat at and told they can’t enter premises because “Asians need to stay indoors”, according to a community survey that tracks racist incidents related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Launched on 2 April by community group the Asian Australian Alliance, the survey received 377 reports of racism in the two months to 2 June – an equivalent of 47 a week.
A preliminary report released on Friday shared the experiences of people who had been attacked, threatened with a knife, and discriminated against at work and in housing.
Women were overwhelmingly the most frequent victims (65% of respondents), 40% of racist incidents happened on a public street, and almost 60% of incidents involved physical or verbal harassment.
One 23-year old woman from Perth told the survey that a group of men walked past her in the street and told her: “You’re fucking Asian, go eat bats and die alone. Don’t come to Australia.”
A 19-year old Vietnamese Australian woman from Sydney said she was threatened with a knife and spat at.
“[I was] told that it was my people who brought the virus over here,” she said. “[They] attempted to kick me. Called me an Asian slut and an Asian dog. Told me to go eat a bat. Threatened me with a knife. Spat in my face, getting spit in my left eye.”
The racist abuse was committed by a stranger in 84% of reported cases, and 90% of people did not report the incident to police.
Survey organiser Osmond Chiu said that media reporting of racist attacks usually portray it as a rarity, but that the survey’s data showed anti-Asian racism to be more common, especially casual racism.
“The clear majority of victims reported as female, and the perpetrators are strangers,” he said. “And ‘Chinese’ and ‘Asian’ are being used interchangeably by perpetrators, which shows the importance of solidarity”.
A 36-year-old woman from Melbourne, who is Chinese-East Timorese, said she was discriminated against at work.
“A customer refused to be served by myself or other staff of south-east Asian appearance, stating we were ‘sick’ even though none of us had any signs of sickness,” she said. “He waited to be served by staff members of a different complexion for over 10 minutes.”
A 34-year-old woman from Perth said she took her child to the GP, but another patient walked up to her, stopped her from entering, and told her “Asians need to stay indoors due to the spread of Covid-19.”
Organisers said that racist attacks were fuelled by media reports, including hoaxes that Asians were hoarding food, and the overuse of photographs of East Asian people in news stories about face masks and Covid-19 generally.
Chiu said one media report that a factory in Melbourne was “hoarding goods to export to China” was shared over 90,000 times on Facebook, but when police investigated, they found no evidence.
“Covid-19 has brought this to the surface but clearly something existed previously, and that needs to be delved into far more,” he said.
“There were common themes [to the incidents], references to eating habits, Asians being the carriers of diseases and hoarding, and that echoes some of the historic anti-Chinese narratives”.
He added that overuse of East Asians in news photos contributed to “the unconscious bias that this is a disease primarily carried by people of East Asian appearance”. “That is a concern raised by a number of groups, but unfortunately it has not led to significant change,” he said.
In June, Anti-Discrimination NSW said it had recorded a surge in anti-Asian racism and its president, Dr Annabelle Bennett, said: “Unfortunately, these statistics do not tell the full story of what is happening across the state”.
Erin Wen Ai Chew, the national convener of community group the Asian Australian Alliance, who organised the survey, said that imprecise tabloid reporting against the Chinese government had contributed to an increase in everyday racism against Asian people.
“The idea of being anti-China or anti-Chinese is no longer considered being racist, and is quite normalised,” she said. “We have seen in the tabloid media and the global tabloid media how they push that.”
Chiu said that reporting racism should not be seen as being pro-Chinese government, and not used as a “geopolitical wedge”.
“Racism that happens against Asians in Australia does not diminish what happens in the People’s Republic of China,” he said. “It’s important to push back against racism to show the strength of Australia’s democratic character. That is why we should have these conversations”.
Molina Asthana, the Victorian convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance, said the report recommended the federal government create a new national anti-racism strategy.
“The police, relevant state anti-discrimination bodies and the Australian Human Rights Commission should collaborate to invest in improving data collection on racially motivated incidents”.
She also said that the government should create a “one-stop shop” to simplify the process of reporting racism.