The Racism Against Asians in the UK
Writer: Veronica Yung
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer: Betty Zheng
TW: mentions of racial violence and slurs
Anti-Asian hate crimes as a result of COVID in the USA have been widely reported. However, there are still countless instances of racial violence against East and Southeast Asians (ESEAs) that have been under-reported in other parts of the world, especially the UK, that did not receive the same attention it had gotten in the US. One of the main contributors for such rises in Anti-Asian hate crimes is the people buying into the stances of American politicians who have called COVID-19 the ‘Chinese virus.’
There has been a large increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes across the UK. According to statistics released by the Metropolitan Police, there has been a 173% increase in race-related hate crimes between March 2019 and March 2020, particularly those in which victims' appearances are considered to be ‘Oriental’ (pointing to East and Southeast Asian) people. While the increase in statistics is a significant problem, the categorization of ESEAs as ‘Oriental’ itself is a problem, as it uses a word which is not only outdated, but also has significant roots in colonialism. In addition to that, a poll done by Ipsos MORI suggests that 1 in 7 people in the UK will avoid people who they racialize as Chinese.
There are many reported incidents of these hate crimes. In March 2020, Yan Xie’s business, Halton Lodge Supper Bar in Runcorn, was repeatedly attacked by a group of about 10 teens’, injuring multiple staff members. Prior to that, on 16 February, Yan Xie’s mother and aunt faced violent assaults by these same teenagers. On the 25th of February, 2020, a Singaporean student named Jonathon Mok was attacked in Oxford Street, London, and sustained an injury to his eye. In November 2020, a woman named Wei Saik was physically assaulted by teenagers in Edinburgh whilst taking an evening walk with her children. The teenagers repeatedly shouted ‘COVID’ at her, and one of them proceeded to smack her on the head. On 23 February 2021, Peng Wang, a lecturer at the University of Southampton, was attacked by four white men while he was out jogging. He received facial and elbow injuries and was left with a bloodied nose and mouth. In addition to that, Wang said that they had ‘shouted at [him] using racial slurs.’ Most recently, on 25 April 2021, a 19-year-old student was attacked outside a Boots pharmacy in Sheffield, where she was hit in the face and had her hair pulled. Prior to the attack, the perpetrator had demanded to know if she was Chinese.
Many ESEAs in the UK have experienced some form of racism as a result of COVID-19. According to a video from the BBC, verbal abuse is a common occurrence, with many ESEA people having had experiences being referred to as ‘COVID’ or the ‘Chinese Virus.’ The actress Gemma Chan had mentioned experiences of verbal abuse her parents had faced since the start of the pandemic, despite her mother having worked for the NHS for many years. In addition to that, Aldarico Jr Velsco, a Filipino NHS nurse, had been called a ‘f*cking Chinese c*nt.’ Many children have also experienced various forms of racism; some recounted being sworn at, and said that the pandemic ‘made the comments worse’ than it had been before; others admitted having fear of even ‘walking around [the] school grounds.’
There are many more ESEAs who have experienced hate crimes as a result of COVID-19, but do not report it to the police due to mistrust, as many have had experiences of not being taken seriously, which has no doubt led to the under-reporting of these hate crimes. They have also been under-reported by many major news companies, including BBC, which do not push these stories to the forefront of the news, allowing such incidents to go unnoticed in Britain.
Racism against Asians in the UK is not new; many Asian children have felt excluded due to race, or have been stereotyped as being smart and quiet as a result of the model minority myth. Racism against Asians grew when Chinese people began immigrating to the UK in the late 19th to early 20th century. When Chinese laundries were opened, many of them were attacked, such as the attack of 20 Chinese laundries in Cardiff during the riots in 1911. In 1908, many opposed cheap Chinese labour, which caused British seamen to purposefully stop Chinese men from being a part of their crew. During World War 2, many Chinese seamen were recruited to be a part of the Royal Navy, but were subsequently deported because they were an ‘undesirable element’ in British society.
There have been some actions taken against racism towards ESEAs in the UK. The most prominent one is a fundraiser by Gemma Chan for ‘Stop East + Southeast Asian Hate’, which is also backed by other British-Asian actors, including Benedict Wong and Henry Golding. It managed to raise funds to achieve its goal of £50,000 in two days. There was also a campaign by End the Virus of Racism that raised £59,453 to establish their nonprofit, which aims to discuss and advocate against the systemic racism ESEAs face in the UK.
To help fight back against these race-associated crimes and hatred, you can raise awareness in the UK by sharing the stories of ESEAs and intervene whenever you see someone being hurt or assaulted, whether physically or verbally. And, most importantly, know that racism against ESEAs exists in various parts of the globe, even if the media does not report on it.