The current pandemic has been accompanied by a disturbing resurgence of another associated virus – anti-Asian racism.
Dissecting the various pathologies of the Anglo-majority nations (namely, the United States, Australia and Britain) is almost a full time occupation. The white ethnocracies are the majoritarian spawn of English colonialism. This implantation of Anglo nationalism in the Asia Pacific region has produced its own virus – anti-Asian racism. The latter is the monstrous twin of the current Covid-19 pandemic. But racially motivated paranoia is not unique to our times.
Professor Tim Soutphommasane, political theorist and professor, has written that anti-Asian racism is not a new development in Australia, but arises from preexisting conditions and prejudices. This kind of pandemic racism exposes not only the kind of society we are, but also the problems of racism we collectively need to overcome to construct a new social order.
Blaming China – and by extension, Asian peoples – for outbreaks of disease is neither accurate nor original. Racially motivated hysteria regarding pandemics has a long and ugly history in Anglo-majority societies. In the early part of the twentieth century, Asians were singled out for blame following an outbreak of the plague in Honolulu, Hawaii. Despite the fact that Asian Americans were among the plague’s victims, authorities set about burning down the Japanese and Chinese quarters of the city.
What did that course of action achieve? The rats, responsible for spreading the plague-causing bacteria, were driven out by the fires. They served as a vector for the plague, taking it across the city.
While current lame-duck US President Donald Trump did his best to promote a racialised interpretation of the Covid-19 outbreak, he is not the first – and definitely not the last – to engage in Sinophobia. The Australian political class has a long history of anti-Asian racism, and 2020 provided a stark continuation of anti-immigrant xenophobia. As news of the novel coronavirus hit the airwaves in Australia, anti-Asian racism reared its ugly head.
Reports compiled by Australian universities and Asian Australian advocacy groups have documented a disturbing surge in anti-Asian attacks, racial incidents and discrimination. For instance, academics at the University of Melbourne compiled an extensive report into the eruption of anti-Asian racism, directed mostly at Asian Australians, but also targeting culturally and linguistically diverse suburbs of Melbourne.
Let’s also focus on the dissemination of anti-China Covid-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation. Social media has allowed the formation of toxic ecosystems of hate and conspiratorial fear-mongering, recycling harmful stereotypes of Asians as spreaders of disease. Criticism of Beijing’s policies has quick transformed into Sinophobic mud-slinging, especially in the context of China’s response to the pandemic.
Evaluating the effectiveness of China’s response to Covid-19 is one thing; portraying the Chinese – and Asians in general – as a uniquely cunning, manipulative foreign enemy ‘penetrating’ Australia is nothing short of racist paranoia. Australia’s effort to blame China – the so-called ‘Chinese virus’ – is the latest manifestation of a long-standing practice in targeting ethnic minorities for their alleged culpability for our problems.
It is easy to find foreign scapegoats for the current economic and social problems afflicting Australia. Blaming China is a convenient diversion, distracting us from the problems of our own socioeconomic system. The Covid-19 virus was first detected in China – its origin however, is still subject to dispute. This has not stopped the conspiracy theories – and attacks on Chinese dietary habits – from circulating harmful misinformation that only serves to undermine public confidence in the competencies of health authorities.
Shaoquett Moselmane, NSW Labour Party MP, praised the response of the Beijing government to the Covid-19 pandemic, and denounced the resurgence of ‘yellow peril’ stereotypes in Australia’s media characterisations of Asians. He was suspended from parliament, and was subjected to slanderously false accusations of being a ‘Chinese agent’. Returning to parliament some months after his trial-by-media, he has never actually been charged with any wrongdoing. So far, the same media which rushed to judgement has never issued a formal apology to Moselmane.
Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, sociologist at the University of Technology, Sydney, writes that while it is all well and good to praise the multiculturalism of Australian society, that is no protection against outbursts of deeply-ingrained racism. He writes that:
Carrying a torch for multiculturalism is no guarantee of anything to do with defending the rights of slandered minorities. Instead, it reveals something about the way multiculturalism under the current government has become a shield for advancing ethnocracy’s prerogatives.
Upholding the meritorious contributions of migrants and refugees to Australian society is commendable on its own merits. However, this approach does not tackle racism head-on. We require institutional policies and cultural changes to confront the pandemic of anti-Asian racism. Racism is not only a harmful ideology, but a tool of exploitation. While the Covid-19 virus will be brought under control, we need to create anti-racism strategies now to confront the simmering residue of racial paranoia.