More than a year on from the UK’s first Covid lockdown, racism directed at east and south-east Asian people during the pandemic is still a huge problem. The Stop Asian Hate movement, combating the rise in anti-Asian hate crime, has been backed by Gemma Chan and Henry Golding. Here’s how you can help keep its momentum going.
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As the coronavirus pandemic made its way into every corner of the world, east and south-east Asian (ESEA) people found themselves in the crosshairs of racism. Despite being more than a year since the first lockdown in the UK, the racism heightened by Covid-19 has clung to us the way smoke clings to hair.
The figures are stark. In the UK, the ESEA community has experienced a threefold rise in hate crimes in the past year, with many reporting feeling unsafe while being out in public due to fear of verbal and physical racist attacks. In the US, reporting centre Stop AAPI Hate revealed that in March 2021 alone, the number of anti-Asian hate incidents nearly doubled from 3,795 to 6,603.
Data from Stop AAPI Hate suggested that at the beginning of the pandemic, Asian-owned businesses suffered the brunt of racist abuse. However, as lockdown measures begin to lift, reports of racism directed towards individuals in public places have begun to rise.
As the UK emerges out of lockdown, many people in ESEA communities feel apprehensive about returning to society given the hatred and racism they’ve seen or experienced over the past 14 months.
Mai-Anh Peterson, co-founder of the non-profit grassroots organisation Britain’s East and South East Asian Network (besea.n), says there are several things allies can do to help the ESEA community amid Covid-related racism.
The most important thing is to educate yourself and understand the historical inequalities ESEA people face. “Anti-Asian hate is not unique to Covid – and it’s important to be aware of historical drivers behind inequalities such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment, Filipino exclusion policies in the US, deportation of Chinese merchant sailors settled in the UK, the British government’s deliberate dispersal policies for Vietnamese refugees, and so on,” says Mai-Anh.
Finding ways to challenge discrimination when you see it and be an active bystander, are also crucial to help someone being racially abused in public. “For people who don’t belong to the marginalised group, there is a duty to say something,” she tells me. “Silence is complicity – and being uncomfortable or awkward is a small price to pay for a step in the right direction towards positive change.
“This could be call outs or call-ins to friends, family members or colleagues, or it could be something as simple as reporting media bias or submitting feedback to companies whose practices are not inclusive,” Mai-Anh adds.
Being a mindful consumer and supporting POC-owned businesses is also a great way to show solidarity.
“Mindfully diversify your bookshelf and the films you watch – get out of your comfort zone,” said Mai-Anh. “Take a look at the books you’ve read lately. Is there a lack of titles by women, POC, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people and so on?”
Lastly, if you can afford it, consider donating your money and time to organisations or causes that support ESEA and other marginalised communities. You can do this by making regular donations, or recommending resources to friends. Here are seven practical things you can do to support the ESEA community now, as we come out of lockdown, and in the future.
7 practical things I want to see people doing to support my community
Self-education is vitally important to becoming a more understanding ally to any marginalised community. Mai-Anh from besea.n suggests watching free webinars hosted by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Centre which “unpack a lot of this history” behind anti-Asian hate and historical inequalities.
besea.n has also curated a comprehensive reading list of ESEA authors you can look through and learn from.
Mai-Anh also recommends American author Rachel Cargle, who’s platform, The Great Unlearn, lists hundreds of resources highlighting academics of colour. You can become a Patreon member to access reading lists and live lectures from experts and academics on her platform.
Support the launch of ESEA Heritage Month in the UK
Launched by besea.n, this campaign aims to establish an annual ESEA Heritage Month in the UK. The group is seeking recognition from the UK government to create a month-long observation and celebration of the history, heritage and social contributions of the ESEA community in the UK – some of whom arrived in the UK as early as the 18th century.
According to besea.n, an ESEA Heritage Month would “not only foster community cohesion among ESEAs themselves”, but also bring the community’s culture and heritage “to the forefront of narratives around a diverse modern Britain”.
Donate to GoFundMe’s Stop Asian Hate campaign
Backed by celebrities, including actors Gemma Chan and Henry Golding, GoFundMe has created a community fund to “ensure [ESEA] communities in the UK are protected”. According to figures on the campaign page, there was a 179% increase in hate crime in London at the start of lockdown in the UK.
All donations will go towards organisations working to empower the ESEA community, with the aim of mobilising a coalition of organisations across the UK to fund a grassroots network.
The fund was announced by Gemma Chan on Instagram following a spate of violent anti-Asian attacks in the US. She revealed her own parents, who live in the UK, have been “followed and subjected to a number of verbal assaults since the beginning of the pandemic”.
She said: “There is an urgent need for increased awareness and support so I am proud to help launch this fund, which will provide grants to grassroots organisations supporting ESEA and broader communities.”
Buy charity cookbook Recipes Against Racism
Supper club duo Claire Sachiko Fourel and Lex Shu Chan, known as Sachiko & Shu, have put together 20 recipes from London’s best Asian and Asian-influenced restaurants and supper clubs. All proceeds from the cookbook, Recipes Against Racism, will be donated to two non-profit organisations in the UK: Stop Hate UK and End the Virus of Racism.
The donations will help the organisations maintain a 24-hour hate crime reporting hotline, which is available in different languages, and provide mental health support and legal aid to ESEA people.
“We believe food is more than just about sustenance – it tells a story. It can be a source of comfort, a gateway of discovery beyond our own cultural identity, or a way to take us home,” say Sachiko & Shu. “Most importantly, food can be a vehicle for social change – it can broaden world views, break down barriers and bring people together.”
Sign a petition to implement harsher punishments against those found guilty of racist hate crimes
In April this year, a 19-year-old female Chinese student was physically attacked while returning home from shopping in Sheffield city centre. In response, a Change.org petition has been set up urging the UK government to give harsher sentences to people found guilty of committing racist hate crimes and address issues faced by the Chinese community in the UK.
The petition says the incident “highlights how dangerous the current environment is for Chinese students and generally for people of Chinese and Asian descent living in the UK”.
In her account of the incident, the student says it has left her “afraid to go out alone” and she considered buying “a helmet or body armour” in case something “worse” happened to her.
Buy prints from PaperBoy’s ‘Must Be Nice’ campaign for Stop Asian Hate
Card mailing app PaperBoy has launched a special collection of charitable art prints in support of stopping Asian hate. The app has worked with illustrators from across the world to create the collection.
PaperBoy was launched by British-born Vietnamese Matt Nguyen in April alongside co-founder Peter Gelder, as a way to champion diversity and inclusion. It’s one of the only arts initiatives pledging money towards the ESEA community and it’s also a chance to support independent ESEA artists, who receive a full royalty for any prints sold.
There are 19 colourful prints from artists such as Lena Yokoyama, Aga Giecko, Debbie Tea and Wendy Wong. The designs range from illustrations inspired by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film, In The Mood For Love, to a celebration of Korean cooking ingredients and traditional Chinese ceramics.
The profits from the prints will go towards organisations working to support ESEA communities affected by racism and xenophobia, including besea.n, End The Virus of Racism and Hackney Chinese Community Services.
Donate to Protection Approaches
Protection Approaches is a charity delivering programmes and training to prevent identity-based violence. In December last year, alongside the Chinese Welfare Trust and Newham Chinese Association, it launched an emergency project to support a nationwide network of 21 British Chinese and ESEA community organisations to respond to rising levels of hate crimes.
The training is crucial to help organisations better support victims of hate crime and abuse, as well as provide counselling to the London-based members of the network.
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Images: Getty, Mai-Anh Peterson, Sachiko & Shu