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Biggest stumbling block to tackling racism is politics

Racism is being treated as a political issue in Australia rather than a human rights issue, advocates campaigning against Asian hate have said.

Jenny Leong MP, state member for Newtown, believes Australia is “flawed” in the way it handles issues of racism.

“Racism is not something that is about the left or the right of politics,” she said.

“Racism and discrimination is something that impacts on all of us and on our society, and how we work and function in the community.”

Ms Leong is concerned this approach could lead to more dominance from the dominant race.

“Our democracy is dominated by white men; now that is a race issue,” she said.

“It’s a race issue that is a problem for our society because it doesn’t reflect the diversity of our society.”

Erin Wen Ai Chew, founder of the Asian Australian Alliance, has seen this play out even amongst the Asian community.

“A lot of Asian groups will kind of look at it and say, ‘Well, yes, we know it’s an issue but it’s better that we let somebody else talk about it because if we talk about it, it’s too political for us,’” she said.

“I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks is how that term racism, and how the issue of racism, is perceived.”

A recent report from the Centre for Resilient and Inclusive Societies, an Australian and international think tank, found that four in ten Asian Australians experienced racism during the pandemic.

However, only 3 per cent of them reported the incident to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Ms Chew believes that many people shrug off racist attacks, claiming they are not serious enough to be reported or that no appropriate action will be taken.

But she would like to encourage people to report these incidents to the police.

“Even if the police decide at the end it’s not serious enough in their books to investigate, it actually contributes to their numbers,” Ms Chew said.

“These kinds of statistics really add factual and statistical data beyond anecdotal evidence that racism is an issue.”

A racist attack occurs whenever one’s cultural background is negatively highlighted, she said.

“As long as you feel that you have been discriminated against, and or picked on, because of your cultural background, then it is racism,” Ms Chew said.

“If someone just spits or sneezes at you intentionally, and you look around and you know that you’re the only Asian person there, the chances are it is a racist attack even though it’s not necessarily verbal.”

In March this year, shootings at massage parlours in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, left eight people dead, including six Asian women, and led to several anti-racism rallies being held in the US and globally.

However, Ms Chew, who is currently working in the US, believes there are several differences between the US Asian community to Australia.

“There is a lot more advocacy around the issue in the US than in Australia,” she said.

“There’s a lot more mobilisation, among Asian Americans, and even among Asian American celebrities; they’re a lot more vocal on the issue.”

She believes there are several lessons Australia can learn from the US approach to the issue.

“There are certain actions that have been done in the United States that can also be duplicated in Australia, such as funding arrangements,” Ms Chew said.

The state of California, for example, set aside $1.4 million earlier this year for research on hate crimes against Asian Americans, allowing the state to track incidents of harassment.

For people interested in advocating for this cause, she suggests they start by talking to their friends.

“Have a conversation about racism issues, whether they are people who do face racism or they don’t face racism, have that conversation,” Ms Chew said.

“If you see articles of importance, share it over your social media … share those articles because then you’ve initiated some awareness and education to your own network.”

However, there is still a long way to go for Australia to get to where the US is, she said.

“There is still a long way to go, but we see that there are seeds of change,” Ms Chew said.


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