news

'People wait for the next lift to avoid me.' I'm being racially-abused because of coronavirus.

During my most recent shift at work, I met a new colleague for the first time. After being around her for a few minutes, she blurts out, “Now we’re all going to die from coronavirus!

I wanted to tell her that out of the 15 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Australia, eight people have recovered and no one has died.

I wanted to tell her in an average year, around 3,500 people in this country die from the flu – a higher number than the current global death toll of COVID-19.

I wanted to tell her she’s not going to catch the virus and die just because of my Chinese heritage.

Listen: Is Coronavirus making people racist? Post continues below. 

But I didn’t tell her any of those things, because I felt isolated. I remembered the degrading comment about Chinese food my boss had made a few weeks before. I knew I wasn’t going to be supported.

At my doctor’s appointment earlier this month, I quietly signed myself in and slipped into the corner of the waiting room. An East-Asian-appearing man came into the medical centre and was immediately bombarded with questions. The receptionists demanded to know when he last visited China.

I wanted to ask the receptionists why none of the other patients had been questioned.

I wanted to tell them to stop treating every Chinese-appearing person as a carrier of the virus. But I stayed hidden, because I was exhausted. I had just walked kilometres in the rain to avoid using public transport.

Last month, after I told a friend I wasn’t taking the bus anymore, he asked me: “Is it even that bad?”

I wanted to tell him that in the past few days, all I had been thinking about is the schoolboy who was cornered by classmates demanding to test him for the virus, and the teenager who sat in a bus while other passengers chanted, “it’s coronavirus!”

I wanted to read him the replies to my friend’s tweet about racism and coronavirus, saying: “you deserve every bit”, “people don’t want China virus”, and “it’s not racism, it’s fear”.

But I didn’t, because I felt too overwhelmed to recount it all.

That night, a Chinese man died in Sydney after bystanders reportedly refused to perform CPR on him as they assumed he was infected.

Racist tweets
One of many tweets I saw that day. Image: Twitter.
ADVERTISEMENT

The news reports about the man’s death cited fear as the reason behind the bystanders’ refusal to assist him. Many marginalised communities who’ve lived through outbreaks of other racialised diseases know the prevailing reason.

It’s the same reason why Chinese restaurants are reporting up to 80 per cent loss in business. It’s the same reason why we see viral false media releases about avoiding areas of high Chinese populations and the virus being detected in popular Asian foods.

As with the SARS outbreak, the COVID-19 panic highlights the pervasive racist ideas that deem Chinese and Chinese-appearing people to be inherently foreign, unhygienic and diseased.

coronavirus racism
A Melbourne nightclub’s “Corona Chinese New Year Special”. Image: Facebook

Incidents of racial harassment targeting Chinese people and people of Chinese-appearance have spiked amid the COVID-19 crisis. But the emergence of the virus is only amplifying the racism and xenophobia that our society was built upon.

On 26 January this year – a date that marks the start of genocide and colonial dispossession of the First Nations people of this land - the Herald Sun's front page read "Chinese virus pandamonium" and the Daily Telegraph's headline read "China kids stay home”.

From the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897, to the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007, discourses of ill-health have long been used to implement numerous violent colonial systems, both in terms of justifying colonial intervention and in order to restrict migration.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s no surprise, then, that the COVID-19 tragedy hasn’t been met with sympathy.

It has instead been used as a punchline and as a prime opportunity to treat Chinese people, Chinese diaspora and the Chinese Communist Party as a monolith to be demonised and denounced.

It’s also no surprise that the media is generating hysteria, emboldening people to disguise and excuse racism in the form of health concerns and intellectual critiques of the Chinese government.

Between the outright racism, the humiliation, the unwanted stares and seeing people wait for the next lift to avoid me, I am again reminded that we aren’t seen as humans.

I want to say that I believe things will change. But I feel hopeless. I know I will soon be told to go back to where I came from, again. I will be accused of being divisive for pointing out the divisive nature of racism and xenophobia. I will likely experience more racial harassment. But this is a reality that I share with many, and it’s a reality we all need to acknowledge and address.

Feature Image: Getty

00:00 / ???