It’s Time to Address Asian-Australian Hate

Written by Yasmin Poole

Over recent months, the Stop Asian Hate movement swept across the United States. Crowds mobilised across the country to push back against a series of violent attacks against Asian-Americans.  

It’s high time Australia has this conversation too. 

When COVID-19 first emerged, Asian-Australians quickly began to experience an uptick of discrimination. The Asian Australian Alliance also received hundreds of reports of COVID-19 related racism, with most reports being lodged by Asian-Australian women.  

Subsequent research shows that eight in ten Asian-Australians have experienced discrimination since COVID-19 began.  

To understand why this all happened so quickly, it is useful to look at our history. 

Discrimination against Asian-Australians is not new. When Australia became a federation in 1901, its first piece of legislation was the Immigration Restriction Act. The Act, otherwise known as the White Australia Policy, banned non-white migration.  

The origin of this law traces back to the migration of Chinese Australians in the Gold Rush. European settlers perceived this group to be a direct threat, especially when they began to accumulate gold. Parliament intervened, and the White Australia Policy was born. 

This policy remained in place until the 1970s – seven decades.  

The damage has been enormous. Alongside obvious forms of racism, subtle discrimination shapes our institutions and systems. Asian-Australians, despite being 12% of the population, hold less than 2% of leadership roles. Fear of the Asian ‘other’ continues to permeate collective mindsets. 

Instead of having the platform to discuss these issues, Asian-Australians are continuously spoken for. On one side, we see racist narratives that reflect the legacy of the White Australia Policy. Pauline Hanson, for instance, sparks fear about an Asian-Australian invasion, arguing that “they form ghettos and do not assimilate”. 

But there is also another dangerous side – denialism. Scott Morrison repeatedly claims that Australia is “the most successful multicultural nation in the world”, speaking over the voices of people of colour who continue to highlight that there is a serious problem. 

As feminists, it is essential that we are inclusive in our advocacy. As we push for the transformation of institutions, structures, and the decision-making table, we must be intersectional in our practice. Asian-Australian women and non-binary individuals experience discrimination based on the combined effects of gender and race – from political selection processes, to casual discrimination on a morning commute. 

To move forward, we must give a platform to diverse Asian-Australian individuals to discuss these realities.  

Alongside this, I also think there is far greater scope for grassroots action. The Stop Asian Hate movement reflected a major community effort – protests were quickly organised, and it was clear where to donate. Asian-Australians should create more spaces to connect with each other and develop a strong advocacy network that can quickly mobilise against racism. 

We must divorce ourselves from the White Australia Policy once and for all. As we undergo a period of rapid change, it is time, more than ever, to strive for and demand better. 

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