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.