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By Ella Paine
Picture this: you and your family made the move to sunny Australia 10 years ago with hopes of a better life. You came expecting nice weather, laid-back people and a multicultural society. Yet now, the media has stereotyped and persecuted your race over all news outlets and social media platforms. And since the eruption of the corona virus pandemic, things are only getting worse. Your family is viewed as unhygienic, contagious and the cause of the disease. Now, in the country that you have come to call home, some people think that you and your family deserve to die. Having already experienced three attacks this week, is the graffitied sentence ‘COVID-19 CHINA DIE’ on the door of your garage not the last straw to make you think, maybe Australia isn’t the home I was told it was?
As terrible as this scenario is, it is not a hypothetical situation. A Chinese-Australian family was sought out and attacked in April last year in Melbourne, in the exact way I have just described.
But racism doesn’t exist in Australia, right?
Hiu Yen Yong would disagree. Hiu Yen, a Chinese-Malaysian woman who has lived in Australia since she was four years old, believes not that racism has recently appeared out of nowhere, but rather that people in Australia are now ‘more comfortable showing it.’
While Hiu Yen says acquaintances have reached out to show their support following these attacks, such messages often feel like hollow platitudes…or double-edged swords.
‘People are going out of their way to show me how much they support me,’ she said.
‘It’s like they think they are being so virtuous by saying they don’t think the virus is my fault.’
In the past, Hiu Yen’s experience of racism was much more direct. She was forced to contend with consistent ‘classic school-ground taunts’ where other children would pull back their eyes, call her food ‘weird crap’, and tell her to ‘go back to [her] own country’, as well as ‘a surprising amount of ching chong bling blong.’
Nisa Raihan, an 18-year-old Malay from Singapore, echoes Hiu Yen’s sentiments, saying she has often felt uncomfortable in Australia as a hijab-wearing Muslim.
After the 2019 Christchurch bombings and the Sydney Café shootings, Nisa and her family ‘tried as much as possible (to) stay inside’ and avoided taking public transport due to the worry that ‘people would blame [them]’ or ‘confront [them]’.
‘I don’t understand how there are some people involved in politics, such as Pauline Hanson, who fuel their policies based on racial prejudice and hatred,’ Nisa said.
‘By projecting these views onto other people, a toxic and hateful environment is created. These people should not have power in society.’
Whilst Nisa says that she hasn’t experienced any racial attacks since moving to Australia some 13 years ago, she states that she thinks this is because ‘when [herself and her family] first migrated, [they] stayed in high Malay and Muslim communities like Broadmeadows and Dandenong.’
When it comes to her safety as a hijabi woman in broader Melbourne, Nisa explains that her parents are more concerned than she is.
‘When I was applying for jobs, my mum was worried I wouldn’t get past the first interview because of my hijab,’ Nisa said.
‘Racism most definitely still exists within Australia. Not only towards Asians but it also extends towards the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Black communities, as well as other minorities.’
‘We can do so much to reduce the racism rates, but the bottom line is there will always be a small percentage that will be racist whether they’re aware of it or not.’
As Hiu Yen and Nisa have demonstrated, ingrained stereotypes and biases of this nature are damaging to people of colour. Various studies cited in a Guardian article, in fact, have indicated that unconscious racial bias can negatively lead to poor health outcomes, and create barriers that lower the quality of students’ tertiary education.
2020 has been a year of onslaught and terror for most regions of the world following the coronavirus pandemic, but nothing has caused a bigger revolutionary uprising than the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter campaign, often shortened to BLM or #BLM, was founded in 2013 by cofounders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. According to the official Black Lives Matter website, the three women created the political cause with hopes to spread the word about ‘violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.’ The need for justice, freedom and liberation influenced many others in the United States to stand by these women and their cause.
Following the recent breakout of protests, strikes and calls for racial equality after George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, many Australians have taken to media platforms to voice their gratitude for not living in a racist society like America. However, multitudes of research and personal stories from people of colour living in Australia show that we also have our own issues with racism that we need to address.
In an Essential Poll conducted by The Guardian, almost 80 per cent of Australians surveyed believed that the United States’ authorities have been ‘unwilling to deal with institutional racism in the past’ which has ultimately led to incidents such as the death of George Floyd. Yet, when asked if the same institutional racism existed in the Australian police forces, only 30 per cent agreed that this type of authority-based racial hierarchy existed in their own country.
Australia’s racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is evident through the historical abuse and mistreatment of people and lands, demonstrated through a lack of treaty as well as the stolen generations. However, what many people are not informed about is the 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991: deaths for which nobody has been convicted. The lack of awareness and accountability for this horrifying statistic affirms how relevant BLM is in Australia too.
Australia is an incredibly multicultural country. Since 1945, almost seven million people have migrated to Australia. The 2016 Census found that Australia is home to more than 1.2 million people of Chinese ancestry. Chinese Australians have done so much of building Australia into the country it is today – from the 1850s Chinese migration for the Ballarat gold rush, to Melbourne’s Chinatown existing as one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world.
So why does Australia still hold these stereotypical, prejudiced and racist views?
In a perfect world, Nisa says that ‘racism will never exist,’ but she does not believe this is realistic in Australia’s near future.
‘But hopefully, we will get to a point where everybody, regardless of their race, ethnicity or nationality, can feel safe in Australia.’