WITH reports of anti-Asian hate crime rising in staggering numbers across the world, particularly in the West, Malaysians living abroad have also found themselves at the receiving end of racist abuse targeting the Asian community.
The reasons behind this behaviour are multifaceted; it is primarily driven by ignorance and stigma linking the Covid-19 pandemic to China and Asia, xenophobia, and anti-migrant attitudes.
A New York City-based creative director, Jiar, has experienced a range of discrimination from micro-aggressions to being yelled at on the street and told to “go back to China”.
The 32-year-old Malaysian admits to feeling more uneasy now in the current climate because of the unpredictability of the racial aggression.
“You just don’t know who, when or where it could happen to you. I’ve just been feeling a lot of grief, anger, and sadness that this is happening to the Asian community in America. Personally, I’m more aware than usual of my surroundings, ” she tells Sunday Star.
These experiences are not limited to the United States. Newcastle University undergraduate Sze Qi, 21, has also been a target of anti-Asian hate while studying in the United Kingdom.
She recalls an incident while walking past a group of teenagers when one of them fake-coughed and said “coronavirus”.
“Uber drivers have asked me if I am from China or have been to Asia recently before allowing me to get into the car. My peers have also defended the usage of the term “Chinese virus” on the university’s confession page, ” she says, referring to the unofficial page for students to anonymously post confessions.
“I’ve been chastised in public, on a busy street with many other people, for ‘not maintaining social distancing’ despite having a mask on. I apologised but the person went on to verbally abuse me. This individual did not have a mask on and could have opted to walk further away, ” she recalls.
In April last year, a Malaysian student and her Singaporean friend were violently assaulted while out buying groceries in the Central Business District of Melbourne, Australia. The attackers punched, kicked, reportedly shouted “coronavirus” and hurled death threats at the two women.
Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng, better known as his persona, Uncle Roger, was also attacked by a stranger in London in October last year. The aggressor punched Ng in the face during the incident, which Ng believes to be racially-motivated.
Just last month, a Malaysia-born man was assaulted outside a New York City subway station; the incident is being investigated by the New York Police Department’s hate crime task force.
These are only a few of the many episodes of violence towards the Asian community, with many attacks targeting the elderly and women. In July last year, an 89-year-old Chinese American woman was slapped and had her shirt set on fire in New York by two strangers. In January, Thai American Vichar Ratanapakdee, 84, died after being shoved to the ground in San Francisco. When 75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie was physically assaulted in San Francisco by a 39-year-old man, she fought off the assailant and sent him to the hospital on a stretcher.
One of the most horrifying violent acts against people of Asian heritage occurred in the US city of Atlanta on March 16 when eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the attack targeting spas and massage parlours.
The 2020-2021 National Report by the coalition Stop AAPI Hate recorded 3,795 incidents from March 19,2020, to Feb 28,2021, in the United States. AAPI is the acronym for Asian American & Pacific Islander communities. Just this year, there have been 503 incidents recorded so far. Worryingly, the numbers only represent a fraction of what is happening as most cases go unreported.
Another report based on police data by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States increased by nearly 150% in 2020, mostly in New York and Los Angeles.
The situation is also worrying in United Kingdom. Advocacy group End the Virus of Racism reports a substantial increase in hate crimes towards people of East and South-East Asian heritage (ESEA) in the UK since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. By May of last year, UK’s Home Office found that the hate crime directed at south and east Asian communities in the country had increased by 21% during the coronavirus crisis. London’s Metropolitan police statistics between January and June 2020 recorded 457 race-related crimes against people of “Oriental” ethnicity, a term which in itself is widely considered to be derogatory.
In response, the movement #StopAsianHate has gained momentum online with physical rallies being held across the United States, Canada and Taiwan to raise awareness. United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has also expressed his concern over the rise in violence against Asians, and people of Asian descent, during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.