A muted fight back against racism

The results of the latest report into racism against Asian-Australians reveal that perpetrators of racist attacks could be emboldened by the belief that there will be no consequences for their actions

24 July 2021 | Marcus Reubenstein

“Yeah, I spat on you, what are you going to do about it?” This was what an Asian-Australian standing outside an ALDI supermarket was told after reportedly being spat at by a young Anglo-Australian woman. 

It is just one of 541 incidents over the past year, chronicled by the Asian Australian Alliance in its 2021 COVID-19 Racism Incident Report Survey. This initiative launched last year is a register where victims of racism can provide specific details of incidents.

85 percent of victims of racial abuse and attacks over the past year did not report the incident to Australian authorities.

Statistically it is a safe bet that perpetrators of racist attacks on Asian-Australians will not face any consequences for their actions.

Says Melbourne lawyer, and Victorian Convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance, Molina Asthana, “The bar for criminal prosecution to prove racial vilification is very high. The burden of proof, when it’s shifted to the person being abused, is too difficult. Where are you going to get the evidence if it happens in places where there were no witnesses, or if there were, they were strangers.”

“We know the Human Rights Commissions and the state-based bodies only rely on conciliary powers [to address racial vilification] rather than a mechanism to impose sanctions.

“I think we really need strengthen our system, and some of the governments have started to do that, but we need a lot more to be done for this to effectively work.”

Sobering numbers

This report points to significant anecdotal evidence that it is not just targeting of individuals of Asian ethnicity. It appears a majority of victims appear to be those physically unable to fight back, who are abused in circumstances where the perpetrators are unlikely to be held accountable.

More than 60 percent of victims were women and the overwhelming majority of incidents occurred in public places where perpetrators could quickly and easily leave the scene without being identified.

Nearly nine out of ten reported victims did not know the person, or people, abusing them.

In June, three Asian students were viscously attacked by a group of youths in Brisbane, one of the victims was a young woman dragged by her hair to the pavement and then kicked and beaten by two of the perpetrators whilst lying defenceless on the ground.   

In this case the perpetrators filmed their own violent and racially fueled crime and then posted it on social media. They screamed anti-Chinese obscenities at their victims who were of Vietnamese and not Chinese origin.

In March, a group of three teenagers filmed themselves abusing and spitting at staff in a Chinese-Australian owned café in the Canberra suburb of Dickson. The perpetrator of this attack filmed the abuse as did one of the café staff members.

It was later reported the parents of one of the abusers sought, and was granted, a court order against the ethnically Chinese victim who had filmed her own abuse.  

Also in March, a young Asian-Australian woman was confronted on a Sydney train and racially abused by rap singer Torian Agnew who performs under the name Flecks City.

He later deleted the post and apologized for his behavior blaming it on his consumption of a large volume of alcohol and prescription drugs—that was only after he was arrested and charged later that day for an unrelated incident, where he attacked staff in a bottle shop.   

Torian Agnew apologized for racist tirade against a young Asian-Australian woman after being arrested on different charges later that day

The Asian Australian Alliance report cited a genuine belief amongst a number of Asian born Australians that they are not entitled to equal rights because they were not born in this country. Others felt the consequences of being seen as a “troublemaker” for complaining about racial abuse was greater than the damage of the abuse they had suffered in the first place.

Those on temporary visas often felt if they complained about being physically or verbally attacked by Australians they would have their visa cancelled.

Not a Chinese problem

Even though far and away the largest proportion of reported incidents of abuse involved verbal abuse relating the targets being Chinese half of the victims were not of Chinese ethnicity.

52 percent of respondents identified as Chinese, with Australians of Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian, Filipino, Indonesian and Japanese origin also reporting they’d been abused.

The report found one in four people surveyed said they had been victims of online racial abuse.

The survey found, “There had already been a steady rise in anti-Asian sentiment in Australia. This, coupled with anger and blame for the virus being wholly placed on anyone who looked Chinese/Asian, led to a rise in incidents of anti-Asian racism which was reflected in the high response rate to the survey.”

Situation only getting worse

There has been a sharp contrast in the enforcement of Sydney’s current lockdown between the affluent eastern suburbs and the city’s southwest, now the major COVID-19 Delta variant hotspot.

As reported by ABC online, under the headline of Why Sydney’s COVID-19 response could be a tale of two cities, Shiva, a Fijian-Indian Australian resident of Liverpool, said, “It’s that idea that we’re ethnics, we’re lawless. There’s never mediation, just enforcement.”

According to the Asian Australian Alliance, “Sadly, there is a sense of dejavu with the latest outbreak in Sydney, of lessons not learnt from the Melbourne experience. There are fears that blame for the current wave, due to the Delta variant which originated in India, could be misdirected towards the Indian community, just as it previously had been with the Chinese community.”

Says Erin Chew, National Convener of the Asian Australian Alliance, “COVID-19 has amplified the issue of racism that is deeply rooted in Australia. This comprehensive report has not only demonstrated that the issue of racism hasn’t improved, but is becoming worse, with personal safety of Asian Australians as one of the basic human needs is at threat.”