Opinion: What does Covid-19 and racism have in common?
This week is national Hate Crime Awareness Week and ironically, the first debate dedicated to racism against East and Southeast Asian people, took place in Parliament on October 13.
In South Yorkshire, racially motivated hate crimes have accounted for the majority of total recorded hate crimes in the past few years - in 2018/19, this was 69 percent according to the Office for National Statistics - but figures may be much higher due to under reporting and the way race is classified.
Sarah Owen, Labour MP for Luton North, took part in the debate addressing Chinese and East Asian communities’ experience of racism during the Covid-19 pandemic, where she talked about her own experiences growing up as a person with both Asian and British heritage.
She said: “From an early age, it was made clear I was seen as different.”
“It was only in my teens though that I felt my racial identity meant my safety was threatened,” she added.
This is something I can certainly relate to being British Chinese myself.
I’ve had the name calling and snide comments and when I was younger this upset me so much that I just wanted to be White.
As I got older, I grew a thicker skin and became more accepting of who I was.
I’ve lived between two cultures all my life so I’ve never felt like I truly fit in anywhere - I’ve had criticism from both sides.
However, never before have I felt so indifferent than when the pandemic started.
Luckily I only had one comment at the beginning, but many people from my community have suffered a range of horrific racist attacks, totally unprovoked.
The issue being discussed in Westminster Hall indicates the scale of the problem.
The debate reached Parliament as the result of a petition asking media outlets to stop using East and Southeast Asian related imagery when discussing Covid-19, something Sarah described as adding ‘fuel to the fire’.
Much of the East and Southeast Asian community would agree that they have been made the ‘poster image’ of coronavirus, amounting to increased levels of racism.
Speaking of the six women who started the petition, Sarah said: “Their work has revealed that some 33 percent of images used to report Covid from the British media has used the image of someone who looks like me, completely unnecessarily and unrelated to the story, and this problem has been compounded by our underrepresentation in the UK media generally.”
Sarah wants Government ministers to condemn racism and to give communities a ‘seat at the table’ - that goes for all individuals from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
It is undeniably true that those from a Black, Asain or minority ethnic group have suffered disproportionately from Covid-19.
I agree with Sarah in that mainstream media outlets and social media companies should be held accountable for what they allow to be published.
The Online Harms bill also needs to focus more on the comments section of news outlets because I know this incites a lot of hatred, not just where race is concerned.
Kelly Tolhurst, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government told the House that work will be done.
However, at the end of the hour-long session, Sarah questioned the commitment of Conservative Government members, none of whom attended the debate, aside from the Minister.
She said: “What message does that send to our communities? It sends a really really damning message.”
I became a journalist because I wanted to break stereotypes - I’m not white and I’m dyslexic. I wanted to increase representation but not in this way at all.
Covid-19 has made my job more difficult, draining and less enjoyable at times, as part of me feels ashamed at being a part of what has contributed to coronavirus related racism. At the same time, I also feel massive responsibility in trying to stand up for the communities I work with, but the media and social media are things that cannot be easily monitored without help from those higher up.
Everyday there are still racist jokes being shared on social media, media outlets are still using irrelevant pictures of Asian people in masks alongside coronavirus articles, then there’s the online comments that accompany these - the sad reality that people have got used to seeing but cannot ignore.
In Sheffield just last month, Green party councillor Kaltum Rivers was racially abused outside a shop.
She came face to face with her abuser as part of restorative justice, however, every person who experiences racial abuse does not report it, nor do they want to meet his or her attacker again.
I set upon writing something on this a few months ago but members of Sheffield’s East and Southeast Asian community were sceptical of contributing, even anonymously, so what does that tell you?
Many of the community are too afraid, some feel it will make matters worse speaking about the issue and some are oblivious. Others think it is ‘just something you have to get used to’, that it will make no difference reporting it. This is typical amongst the older generation from all groups, however, the younger generation are starting to change that narrative.
So what does Covid-19 and racism have in common? - neither will go away anytime soon unless appropriate action is taken.
For more information on how to report hate crime, see here.