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. 

YWCA Australia wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, live and play and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We recognise First Nations people as the custodians of the lands, seas and skies, with more than 60,000 years of wisdom, connection and relationship in caring for Country.

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