I’m Scared to Leave My House — But Not Because of Coronavirus
Before the Coronavirus pandemic came along and fucked up everyone’s lives, I was living a pretty normal one. I had a full-time job that took up most of my time, I shopped at my local Woolies for groceries every week, and often, my friends and I made plans to hang out, get dinner and catch a movie. Besides some “quirky” interests, I’d say I’m your average run-of-the-mill 20-something-year-old Aussie girl.
Recent events, though, have shown me that no matter what I think or feel, I will always be considered different here. Why? Because I don’t look like your typical Aussie girl — and despite Australia priding itself on being a multicultural and accepting society, apparently, that’s a problem.
No matter where we turn at the moment, we cannot get away from COVID-19 news. Amongst articles on death tolls rising and young people dying, there are more and more reports about the increase in hate crimes and attacks against anyone who looks vaguely Chinese. In stories and social media posts from a lot of my fellow Asian buddies, I’ve also noticed a trend in the increased amount of racism they’ve been encountering in public recently.
From being called a “chink” at the supermarket to being refused from an Uber based on appearance, these experiences all resounded with me. Being Asian-Australian myself, I’ve dealt with public racism in the past, but attacks seem to be on a much larger and more open scale right now. People are using the virus as an excuse to be much more open about their pre-existing prejudices, and they’re looking for someone to blame, someone to point the finger at.
Although the government has advised us to stay indoors unless we need something essential, I am genuinely afraid to leave my house right now — but not because of the virus. I am afraid people might make me or my family the target of their bigotry and xenophobia. I’ve instructed my mother not to wear a mask in public, over fears it will make her a bigger target. I’ve even told her I’m not comfortable with her going out without me by her side — just so I can be there to protect her in case we have an “incident”.
My mother is from Shanghai, and she came to Australia over 30 years ago as a student in search of a better life. She tells me interesting stories about where she was during the Tiananmen Square massacre, about the cultural revolution, about Communist raids in her neighbourhood and, interestingly, that the first television shows she watched were from Soviet Russia. I’ve always found mum’s past fascinating, because growing up in Australia, I was so privileged that I honestly can’t imagine living a life like that. However, China is a distant past to my Mum now, as she’s an Aussie citizen who has now lived here for the majority of her life.
Through no fault of my Mum’s, growing up, I hated being Asian. It’s difficult to admit, but even as a child I was conditioned to think I wasn’t as good as the other kids because I didn’t look white. The bullying I faced in school about my appearance — I was called “slanty eye” and “ching chong” — caused me to reject my Asianness to the point that I refused to learn or speak Mandarin, and I claimed to hate Chinese food. I faked being sick so much to avoid school, and started to wish I could just fucking look white so I could fit in with everyone else. I felt like I didn’t belong in the only country I had ever called home.
Looking back now, it makes me think – why were kids of primary and high school age so judgmental? How was it possible for children so young to have such radical views to the point that it made me wish I was a different race?
When we see media reports about public displays of racism, or we watch viral videos of people getting harassed on the train or bus, it’s easy to peg the offenders as a minority. We dismiss them as being “bogan” or “uneducated”, but the reality is that racism starts at the top and trickles down. Just as many “educated” people have been dropping subtle (or not-so-subtle) anti-Asian sentiments since long before this pandemic, treating immigrants like faceless nobodies who hoard baby powder and are solely responsible for the state of the Australian housing market. This is a prime example of how racism has always run rampant in this country — it’s just harder to notice if you’re not personally exposed to it.
I get that, right now, everyone is scared, but at this stage, does it even matter where COVID-19 came from? Is pointing the finger at the Chinese really the only way we can process and deal with the threat of the virus?
Unfortunately, this is not a problem I see going away anytime soon. While public attacks may drop once COVID-19 is eliminated, the negative views towards Asians will not go away when the situation is over. Why? Because racism has always existed, and people will continue to find random issues they want to blame the Chinese for. And look, this definitely isn’t an exclusive problem Asians face — it’s shared by all people of colour living in western countries. It’s just more prominent against Asians right now.
I’ll admit, I have major problems with the Chinese government, but blaming every random Asian person on the street for COVID-19 and making bat-eating jokes is not the answer. While I implore everyone to practice social distancing right now, it’s possible to do that without being a fuckhead — and it’s certainly possible to go about your own business without worrying about the language others speak and what their faces look like.
For me, self-acceptance has been a long journey. These days, I embrace my Chinese heritage, and have learned to surround myself with amazingly open and accepting people who have taught me to value myself. I’ve travelled to destinations where nobody gives a fuck about where you’re from — they’re just happy to share their culture. I praise my mum for being as brave as she was all those years ago, to come to a foreign country by herself and make a life on her own.
But some people here will never see us as equals — and that’s hard for me to accept, because Australia is my home. Some people won’t ever see how hardworking and kind-hearted my mother is, because they can’t get past her slight accent. Some people will never consider me Australian because, despite the fact I was born here, I look different.
It’s sad to say I’m more scared of leaving my house at the prospect of being attacked for my race than I am of a global pandemic, but that is the appalling reality of the world we live in.
Cover by Gabrielle Henderson