Stunned, I responded, “Racism is not ok, also please grow a brain.”
Since the pandemic began, there has been an appalling level of increased hatred directed at Asian people, blaming them for “starting the pandemic”. This hate has not just been directed at people from China for starting “the Chinese virus” as Donald Trump called it. Now anyone from any Asian nation is being blamed for the current state of the world.
It’s gotten so bad that many people including Asian entertainers such as Olivia Munn, Sandra Oh, Daniel Dae Kim and Chrissy Teigan have lent their support to the #StopAsianHate campaign. I too now feel I need to speak up and draw attention to this issue.
Hateful, racist comments directed at Asian people are sadly nothing new, although growing up in suburban Brisbane I actually experienced very little racism. This was despite the fact that when I first moved to Australia with my family at nine from South Korea, I could barely speak English.
Other Asian friends had eggs thrown at them and were mocked for their Asian school lunches, but I escaped unscathed. Perhaps it was luck, perhaps it was being surrounded by good people, but it wasn’t until I got older that I began to really feel the full force of racism.
Once when I was in my early 20s, I was walking around with my boyfriend – now husband, Noah - in a shopping centre. We were speaking to each other in Korean. A woman came up to us and screamed in our faces, ‘Speak English! Why don’t you go back to your own country?’
After I won X Factor in 2013, the racist commentary on my social media escalated. Trolls wrote things like, ‘Why is this Chinese person on Australian TV?’, or ‘Why did a Chinese person win the show?’ and ‘Why doesn’t she go back to China’. The assumption that I was Chinese because ‘Asians all look the same’ and the vile spirit of the comments was highly distressing.
In another instance, I posed with an Australian singer at an event and he posted the picture to social media. His fan base was totally different to mine and slowly trolls inundated the post with racist comments that were degrading and disgusting. It was so bad my manager asked for the post to be taken down.
Thankfully in the years since, I’ve had far fewer racist comments directed my way. The vast majority of people are lovely, supportive and well informed, which I’m greatly appreciative of.
However the challenges of COVID-19 have now brought the insidiousness of racism for myself and many Asian people to the forefront again in the most hurtful way.
Having lived in Australia for more than 20 years now, I can’t believe how ignorant some people really are. What’s also been hugely concerning is that many physical attacks on Asians abroad particularly in the US, have been directed at elderly people.
According to NYPD data, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen by 1,900 percent in the past year. There have been more than 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from 47 US states from March to December last year. More than 7 percent of those incidents involved Asian-Americans aged over 60 years old.
My mum has since told her Asian friends in Brisbane to ‘lay low’ and ‘not go out as much’. They all agreed to just accept the situation as it is and not draw attention to themselves in public spaces. It makes me feel sad that they just shrug their shoulders because that’s what people of their generation have been used to doing all their lives – hiding away from hate.
However, I feel that it’s up to people of my generation to stand up and say ‘this is not right’. Like many people, the pandemic hit me hard. As a touring artist, I lost all my gigs and income. I get it – people’s lives have been up-ended and they’re angry and frustrated. But to shift the blame for what’s happened onto an entire category of people is unhealthy and divisive. Everyone in the world has suffered.
Blatant abusive messages are one thing, but the ongoing speculation as to ‘who’s to blame’ on forums and so forth hasn’t been helpful either as there is subtle racists undertones to much of this.
Australia is such an amazingly diverse country with a melting pot of ethnicities. People need to be open to different cultures and ideas and we need to educate our children to do the same. What I’m hoping now is that out of the ugliness, we will now be quicker to call out those people who condemn others. The #StopAsianHate movement needs to continue – not just throughout the course of the pandemic – but for all the years beyond.