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By Anna Chan
At the beginning of the pandemic, Anti-Asian racism and violence rose across the world, including the UK - reported hate crimes increasing by 27% against East and Southeast Asian people from 2018-2021.
Communities and grassroots organisations rallied together to combat the continuation of xenophobic and violent acts towards the East and Southeast Asian community, from hate crime support and reporting services, to first of its kind parliamentary debate on Covid-19 racism against East and Southeast Asian people. Two years on, has anything changed? How can we continue advocating for the East and Southeast Asian community?
An introduction to the East and Southeast Asian community in the UK: A glimpse into history
Anti-Asian racism is not something new in the UK. There are a number of historical events which show the impact of East and Southeast Asian peoples’ contributions to wider society and yet many were met with hostility and violence.
A prime example of this is of the Chinese merchant seamen who contributed significantly to the war effort during the Second World War. Many of the seamen settled in Liverpool, starting new lives, marrying local British women and raising their children.
In 1945, a file was opened by the Home Office’s aliens department for the “Compulsory repatriation of undesirable Chinese seamen” setting into motion the forcible removal of the many Chinese men, including those seamen in Liverpool. They were rounded up and sent back to China without notice or communication to the wives and families that were left behind. It was only recently that this information had come to light and been brought to public knowledge.
Another example is within the Filipino community, many of whom had moved to the UK to support the healthcare industry. Most notably, in the 2000’s, thousands of Filipinos moved to the UK following the governments efforts to attract nurses and healthcare professionals. The first ever vaccine for the Covid-19 virus was administered in the UK by May Parsons, a Filipino nurse. And yet there was a juxtaposition of the treatment of the Filipino healthcare workers: nearly 40 Filipino NHS workers died from contracting the virus. “Filipino nurses comprise 3.8 per cent of the nursing workforce but represented 22 percent of NHS nurse deaths.”
These are only a few examples of the lived experiences of those in the East and Southeast Asian community. Not to mention racist stereotypes and tropes being used to represent East and Southeast Asian people, from the character Fu Manchu, The Ivy Asia restaurant, and the story of Brian Wong by David Walliams.
However, there have been movements around spreading awareness and moving towards changing the narrative for East and Southeast Asian people in the UK.
Movements for change: representation in the UK
Protests were organised around the country to raise awareness of the increased hate crimes and attacks during the pandemic in London, Birmingham, and Newcastle organised by Stop Asian Hate UK. With speeches and public displays of Anti-Asian Hate messaging, these protests rallied support from East and Southeast Asian people and allies. In conjunction with the #StopAsianHate campaigns in the US, the campaign for #StopESEAHate was started in the UK. Supported by the likes of Gemma Chan, Benedict Wong, and Zing Tsjeng, the GoFundMe donations have surpassed £100,000 and will be donated to a number of East and Southeast Asian organisations in the UK.
Conversations are more prominent around Anti-Asian hate and the representation of this community in media and our everyday lives. The publishing house, HarperCollins are rewriting the story of Brian Wong in The World’s Worst Children books because of the problematic narrative after community conversations by podcaster Georgie Ma (aka Chinese Chippy Girl) and Asian Leadership Collective were held.
There was even the first ever East and Southeast Asian heritage month with over 70+ events being run to celebrate and highlight ESEA joy.
These are only a few highlights of the work being done by East and Southeast Asian people in the UK which is thriving and growing.
However, triggering incidents and violent acts have been relentless. In 2022 alone the reminders of “otherness” are never far away, from racist depictions of BTS at the GRAMMYs, the deaths of Asian women in New York, and the 1 year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings.
As many are still navigating the ongoing Anti-Asian racism surrounding East and Southeast Asian people around the world, there are some ways to continue advocating for equity and change in combating Anti-Asian racism:
Supporting the East and Southeast Asian community
Especially small businesses and those doing the work in these spaces already. Check out the ESEA online community hub for projects and organisations near you.
Call out and hold accountability for racist rhetoric
Having conversations is important to hold accountability for sustainable change, especially for allies to amplify the lived experiences of the communities being harmed.
Allowing for joyful movements for community healing
Check out #ESEAEats and #VeryAsian hashtags on Instagram for joyful vibes around food, memories, and culture! It is important for allies to not only take part and support these movements, but to amplify and champion others as well!
Anna Chan is a 2nd generation British born Chinese woman currently based in London. She is the founder and director of Asian Leadership Collective, a social enterprise business advocating for increased East and Southeast Asian leaders within workplaces. Find Asian Leadership Collective on Instagram, Twitter, website.
Hate crimes towards East and Southeast Asian people spiked by 27% at the start of the pandemic. Two years on, has anything changed? Anna Chan, Founder and Director of Asian Leadership Collective explores
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