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CARG Contribution to Parliamentary Briefing Note

Parliamentary Debate on “Chinese and East Asian communities’ experiences of racism during the covid-19 pandemic”, 4.30 pm Tuesday 13th October

The YouGov Poll on Racism in the UK interviewed 1270 BAME adults between 10-17th June 2020 on the experiences of racism today compared to 30 years ago. The findings showed that ‘virtually identical numbers of people believe racism exists in the country today (84%) as believe it existed 30 years ago (86%).

76% of Chinese (the highest figure) had a racial slur directed at them compared with 64% for all other BAME respondents.

Discrimination against Chinese, East and South East Asians in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic has been disproportionately high compared to the demographic, from the 300% [1] increase in hate crimes reported to the 900% increase in hate speech on Twitter and 70% increase in cyberbullying [2], indicating deep-seated systemic racism within British society against this ethnic group, ranging from habitual attitudes of low level racism to extreme acts of violent racist attacks, prompted by fears created by the pandemic.

To illustrate the poll results, these are real examples of BESEA (British East and South East Asian) life experiences, showing the extent of the language and behaviour that is used to segregate this ethnic group in society:

“I've had a subtle question about why a lot of these diseases seem to originate from China. It wasn’t asked from a place of malice, rather it’s a reflection of a lack of understanding, that many farming practices in general, including in the West, has produced swine flu, BSE etc. So really, it’s an issue with media and how they like to tell the story.”

“Earlier this week, I stopped to have a drink of water whilst cycling. . An old man came out, crossed the road and spent the whole time I was drinking water, staring at me. I assumed he was a busybody; he never said a word. But the staring felt threatening, and if I didn't think I could take him on in a fight, I might have been scared. When I got home, I thought ‘What if that had happened to my nanny?’, she would have freaked out and assumed he was a pervert or a racist. There was no one else around at the time. I don't think he was trying to be creepy, but his behaviour could have been construed that way. Staring at a lone woman on an empty road for several minutes is at best weird and at worst, scary. I am trying to think the best of people. Otherwise, it can drive you crazy speculating.”

“My colleague was telling me that in her area, when Chinese neighbours walk around, she can sense other people’s ‘accusing eyes’ burning into them, to the point it’s uncomfortable because they are being blamed for coronavirus. Probably doesn’t help with Trump saying ‘It’s a Chinese virus’ all the time.”

“I asked a colleague to look at something from Hong Kong. They read it with a Chinese sound. I said ‘Why did you do that?’ and she replied ‘Oh, isn’t that how it’s read? I just assumed you read it with this accent.’ Racial profiling at its best.”

“I had a comment like that in the use of a ‘Chinese accent’ about 15 years ago from a friend, but it stuck in my mind.”

The acts of racism against this community pervades every area of daily life, affecting the young to the elderly. It is clear that comments and experiences above show the extensive racial profiling and covert and overt racism that affects our community - as well as many other ethnic minority communities - both intentional and unintentional (made worse by the unawareness). This deep-seated issue with racism and discrimination affects our community, as I am sure many other ethnic minority communities, in its persistent casual nature to the point to normalisation and expectation of the same, which by any reach of the mind is wrong on all levels. It is no co-incidence the rise of far right presence in anti COVID19 rallies in the UK and other parts of Europe and as reported in the GuardianFar right using coronavirus as excuse to attack Asians, say police’ on 29 August 2020 in attacking our community has reached such shocking levels with the figures recorded above.

In tabling this debate, Parliamentarians must focus on the substantive issue and its objectives:

  1. To raise awareness of racism, acts of violence, extremist groups and institutional racism, it’s necessary to tackle not only Hate Groups online, but also our education system. The lack of understanding about the social makeup of British society, the history of colonisation and the migration of immigrants shows that it is essential to improve our educational curriculum and broaden knowledge in the next generation. This is applicable to all immigrant communities. Only by the normalisation of immigration and how this arrived in the UK due to our colonial history, will we begin to make an impact on the true diversity in our society and create a culture of respect and acceptance.

  2. The government needs firm actionable policies in place and commitment in funding to research and analyse the types of hate incidents, identify vulnerable groups and track both the frequency of hate crimes and geographical hotspots, in order to support and protect the communities affected.

  3. A commitment to funding research in how these hate crimes and incidents have affected victims and our communities, looking in particular at the perception of the victim and community as a whole, and where this impacts confidence in the public sector and future engagement in civic society. This must also be considered in line with how much BESEA communities have contributed to the UK, both in commerce but also in the extensive voluntary, charitable and community-led projects, which plugged the gap when public services failed to deliver.

The following needs to be considered in any serious look for solutions:

  1. The role of the media in using inappropriate images to illustrate Covid-19 news. These include the disproportionate use of BESEA imagery for racist scapegoating, such as an East Asian man in a mask for the online article of the Daily Mail on 8 April 2020: ‘PM facing weeks out of action’, instead of a photo of St Thomas’ Hospital where he was being treated. The media needs to look at responsible reporting and conduct impact studies on hate crimes generated by their language content and imagery used.

  2. The demonising of China by political leaders and media, leading to Sinophobia in the public and thereby encouraging racist behaviour. For example, an article in the Daily Express by Luke Hawker on 5 April 2020: ‘China must pay Britain £352bn in coronavirus damages – report calls for UN to step in’. Political leaders and public authorities have a responsibility to safeguard all British citizens, regardless of ethnicity. Another example includes early guidance notes on the Novel Coronavirus in March sent to state schools, which was headed ‘Wuhan Virus’ as it was also referred to on UK Govt. website pages, against WHO guidance on naming emerging diseases. Such use of language early on, undoubtedly had a lasting impact on wider society.

  3. Challenging COVID-19 racism should be cross-party, one recommendation would be the setting up of a BESEA All Party Parliamentary Group to mirror or steer the proposed Cohesion Commission.

  4. BESEA anti-racist advocacy groups such as CARG (COVID-19 Anti-Racism Group) and EVR (End the Virus of Racism) should be recognised as ‘trusted flaggers’ by social media platforms, the broadcasting complaints authority OFCOM, and the press complaints authority IPSO, so that the 900% increase in hate speech online against the Chinese can be quickly and efficiently dealt with.

Public confidence in the ability to report any crime or harassment, regardless of severity (be that racial, gender etc) is undermined in the community by the multiple issues listed above. One can only address the issue on a level playing field when migrant communities are accepted, not just tolerated. This is an important point to stress. Tolerance keeps prejudices at bay until an event, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, overspills into expressions of hate. Regardless of severity, we did not see this level of hate happen during the Mexican / American swine flu pandemic of 2009, thus making the issue of the COVID19 pandemic on the BESEA community a vitally important debate.

The lack of recognition for our community, the lack of education as well as the lack of accountability for media misrepresentation and fake news online are the keys to change. We call on parliamentarians and the government make a firm stance to counter this systematic racism with tangible positive outcomes for our community.

[1] Met Police, The Guardian, Sky News

[2] L1GHT (monitoring online toxic behaviour). This study was covered in the FT article, ‘Waking up to the realities of racism in the UK’

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