Britain-born East and South East Asians (ESEA) are speaking out against racism after violent anti-Asian hate attacks in the UK.
Among the latest to do so was Crazy Rich Asians actor Gemma Chan, who along with other celebrities is helping promote the #StopAsianHate crowdfunding campaign to raise money for community groups. The call for cash met its initial £50,000 (US$70,000) target in just two days.
Other supporters of the campaign include actor Benedict Wong, Chan’s Crazy Rich Asians co-star Henry Golding and model and fashion designer Alexa Chung.
“Whilst much of the focus regarding anti-Asian attacks has been on the US, we know the problem is global – including a disturbing rise in hate crimes against people of ESEA appearance in the UK,” Chan wrote on her Instagram page.
The British-born actor said that her own parents had been subjected to verbal abuse since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Her mother worked for the National Health Service for many years.
“Whilst I’m relieved that these attacks didn’t become physical, unfortunately that is often not the case.”
A recent attack on a female Chinese student in the city of Sheffield happened in broad daylight in front of witnesses. The April 25 incident was also captured on video and posted on social media.
The 19-year-old was physically assaulted after a woman reportedly demanded to know if she was Chinese, before pulling her to the ground by her hair.
Video of the attack showed an unidentified woman throw an object on the ground next to the Chinese student, as passers-by attempted to intervene. Glass could be heard smashing.
No one has been arrested for the assault, which local police were treating as a hate crime.
“The girl was attacked on the ground,” witness Chen Xiyu told ShefNews. “The attacker held her head and kicked her face and slapped and punched her.”
“I didn’t know she was a Chinese girl, but I said ‘no way a girl should be attacked’,” said Chen, who was among those to intervene.
The teen victim spoke about the attack to a University of Sheffield journalism student.
“I was talking to my parents on the phone just a few days ago and they suggested I walk around more. I never imagined such a thing would happen to me. I don’t dare to tell them about the attack.”
Also in April, a Chinese student from the London School of Economics was physically attacked on a London Underground train by two white women. A video of the incident showed a woman making a slanted-eye gesture and hitting the victim in the face.
In March, 23-year old Singaporean student Jonathan Mok was assaulted on Oxford Street in London after he reacted to a group who were making comments about his race.
In February, Chinese university lecturer Peng Wang made international headlines after he was badly beaten by a group of white males in Southampton who shouted at him “Chinese virus, get out”. Two men have since been charged with the assault.
There was a 300 per cent rise in hate crimes against East and South East Asians in the first quarter of 2020, compared to 2019, according to reports of UK police data. In London alone, hate crimes in March 2020 rose by 179 per cent compared the previous year, according to the Besea.n. campaign group.
“If we don’t do anything about this, in five years’ time we will be like America,” said Jerry Cheung, a Hong Kong-born property businessman and community leader in Sheffield.
In the United States, a dramatic increase in attacks against Asian-Americans has prompted congressional action.
“Still at this point it is much better coming to the UK than the US. If we face up to it, it’s a manageable problem,” said Cheung, who has also been abused in public.
“I was walking behind a guy, keeping two metres apart, and the man in front of me turned around and then walked towards me and put his face in my face. My first thought was: ‘Am I going to get Covid?’ Then he started screaming and moving his hands like Bruce Lee.”
The man backed away after Cheung, who is trained in martial arts, said he stood his ground.
“Imagine what I would have felt like if I had been a girl far from home,” he told the South China Morning Post.
Cheung said he was convening a round table with police, University of Sheffield, media and local politicians to address pandemic-related hate crimes.
Police have told Cheung that they are taking “very seriously” the assault on the 19-year-old Chinese student in Sheffield and that it had been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for review.
Meanwhile, Chinese community groups like London Chinatown’s Chinese Information and Advice Centre have stepped up their victim support programmes.
“While it is true that political rhetoric in the US has unfortunately had a knock-on effect on anti-ESEA racism in the UK, we must remember that this form of racism has always existed here,” said Arnold Ma, founder of Every Asian Voice, a digital platform set up to promote discussion and awareness of issues faced by the ESEA community.
“All of us have personal experiences of racism growing up in this country and are not willing to let the same traumas we suffered be experienced by the next generation.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has yet to publicly address hate crimes against Chinese, even as the UK government offers millions of Hongkongers a path to citizenship under its controversial British National (Overseas) visa scheme.