Are there members of the University who are of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent suffering in silence from escalated racial abuse from members of the public during the pandemic, asks Qualitative Researcher Suzanne Ii?
The recent shootings in Atlanta, Georgia were a horrifying reminder that hate crimes, violence and racist behaviour are directed towards people of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent, as well as people from Black African and Caribbean communities. Racism against Asians is sadly not new nor is it only prevalent in other nations. Racism against East Asians and Southeast Asians exists here in the UK but has become exacerbated during the pandemic and fuelled by social and political discourse and behaviour. As a woman of Japanese descent and an ex-pat from the US, my family and I have experienced anti-Asian racist behaviour and violence, through WWII and the incarceration of Japanese Americans and I, myself experiencing anti-Asian sentiment 50 years later by being called ‘Jap’ by other schoolchildren. Upon arrival to the UK nearly 10 years ago, the racist behaviour was to prove that having a different face or skin colour was not welcomed and did not belong. Young people yelling, “Go back to your country!” or even once, being greeted in Chinese by teenagers and then rubbed with stinging nettles over my hands to be told it was “a gift for you”.
Since the pandemic started, hate-filled sentiment and attention that East Asians and Southeast Asians face has worsened in the US, and also the UK. Members of the public yelling “Corona” early in the pandemic was an initial surprise for me. I was angry and in disbelief after realising I was the target of the abuse. More recently, “China flu/virus” is mentioned in passing like a greeting; people give dirty looks and glares just by being in the same room with them. Unsurprisingly, I have not experienced racist abuse when I am with my partner, who is White British. Having realised I have a buffer when I am with my partner, the anxiety and sense of vulnerability that I experience when I leave the house alone is a routine ritual now. That same anxiety has now crossed over into my work. When I interact with members of the public for fieldwork, whether online or not, I feel that twinge of fear. I am just one employee in the University, and this is the experience I have had, but there may be other members of the University who are experiencing a similar situation and are suffering in silence, as I have for the past year.
There are potential routes the University can take to support people who have experienced racial abuse from members of the public. The first would be to acknowledge that this type of racism is happening to people of Asian descent and to build awareness that people may be suffering. The most worrisome aspect is by suffering in silence, work is negatively impacted, perhaps preventing achievement of objectives or goals and hindering career trajectory. There needs to be awareness that it does not take physical racial violence to affect a person’s psychological and physical state. Racial abuse is just as effective in producing trauma, anxiety and most of all, fear.
The second route would be to encourage inclusivity, multiculturalism and ensure that people from all walks of life are heard, supported and empowered in the University. Encouraging people who have experienced racism to talk and for others to listen is an important step; we can gradually shift our frame of reference to understand the exclusion that people feel and address it going forward.
The third route would be that if people are experiencing harassment and abuse from members of the public and it is near the workplace or takes place during work hours, that employees can talk to Harassment Advisors or access external counselling services to debrief from a traumatic experience. Training could be developed for Harassment Advisors to provide appropriate skills to address people’s experiences of racial abuse in a supportive way. Employees should be able to debrief in some form in a safe space.
The Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences is committed to ensuring our workplace is inclusive and diverse, and we are taking steps to tackle racism. We also want to support each other better – if you have been impacted by the contents of this blog please do talk to your manager/group lead, a friend, or a harassment advisor. If you have more suggestions for what can be done to tackle racism, you can provide feedback here
Thank you so much for writing about this experience Suzanne - I feel appalled and ashamed that this would happen to you in Oxford. Since I read your draft piece I have been much more conscious that people of east Asian ethnicity may be subject to this type of behaviour. I think that telling others about what you have experienced is a brave and honest thing to do and I'm sure I'm not alone in this department in wanting to help tip the scales in favour of the welcoming and diverse environment I want us to live in. One really small thing that I notice I have started to do since reading your piece is that I now smile at and greet people who appear to be from an East or South east Asian background when I pass them in the street. It's a tiny gesture but one that I hope helps to ease some of the tensions you describe, when people have no idea who on the street is a potential ally.