Reports of racism have been coming in thick and fast from around the world, fuelled by the coronavirus panic.
What’s the nature of the complaints — and where are they coming from?
Discrimination lodged with the Human Rights Commission
While representatives from the Human Rights Council don’t generally release information on the specifics of complaints lodged, Crikey understands there has been a spike in coronavirus-related complaints.
In February, one-third of complaints to the Human Rights Commission under the Racial Discrimination Act were in regard to the discriminatory treatment of Chinese people in relation to COVID-19.
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On the ground, medical staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne have reported being racially profiled, with one family telling a doctor they weren’t comfortable with their child being treated by a staff member due to risk of COVID-19
Fake health warnings have also emerged online: One designed to look like it came from Queensland Health warned people to avoid travelling to areas with a “ratio of 1 to 3 non-Chinese Australians”, while another from the fake “Department of Diseasology Parramatta” advised NSW residents not to eat rice, fortune cookies, onion rings, Mi Goreng noodles, Lipton ice tea, Yakult, Chinese Red Bull and wagyu beef.
Racism hasn’t been limited to Australia. Violent outbursts and tirades have been recorded across the US, with a hotel owner refusing to rent rooms to Chinese nationals. Some restaurants in Vietnam, Japan and Italy are also refusing to serve Chinese people.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) has backed calls for the establishment of an anti-racism strategy and campaign, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese saying Australians must “stand up and speak out” against racism.
Business as usual for investors
Fortunately, discrimination hasn’t hit investors, a spokesperson from the China Australia Trade and Investment Council told Crikey.
“We haven’t received much in terms of complaints. There have been some personal stories, but not many, and no formal complaints,” she said.
While there’s been a slight easing on trading activity, the spokesperson said confidence is still there. “It’s just everyone waiting for the situation to ease up to carry on … Everyone is still looking at the changing market and thinking about strategies.”
While members of the council haven’t reported being greatly affected by discrimination, family-run restaurants are feeling the pinch. Some restaurants in NSW have reported a 70% drop in business since the outbreak, with a restaurant in Sydney’s north-west advertising in Chinese characters that the business has been “sanitised”.
But this drop in customers might not be malicious, Tim Harcourt, an economist at the UNSW business school, tells Crikey.
“Chinese restaurants heavily rely on customers from China,” he said. “And a lot of Chinese patrons are stuck in China due to the virus.”
Headlines fuel the flames
Tens of thousands have taken offence to News Corp’s coverage of the virus, with sensationalist headlines causing a stir. More than 86,000 people signed a petition on Change.org calling for an apology from both the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph for headlines on January 29 which read, respectively, “China Virus: Pandamonium” and “China Kids Stay Home”.
A similar complaint has been lodged to the Australian Press Council by Colour Code, an activist group established by GetUp. The complaint referenced the same headlines.
While apologies were published in both papers, with editors explaining the headlines were “in no way intended to offend Chinese people”, representatives from Colour Code have called the response “superficial”.
“The superficial apologies issued by the editors were insufficient — failing to take responsibility for the negative impacts on the affected communities, or make commitments to better standards in future,” Colour Code’s complaint read.
The Australian Press Council did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment by deadline.
Racist headlines aren’t limited to Australia, either. Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (publisher of the infamous Muhammad cartoons in 2005) recently ran a cartoon featuring the Chinese national flag with viruses in place of the five stars. French paper Le Courrier Picard came under fire for publishing the headline “Yellow alert”.
The headlines have angered Chinese opinion columnists, with the South Morning China Post publishing a piece titled “The West unleashes a new strain of racism in the name of coronavirus prevention”.
Another article states “the multiculturalism and racial tolerance many Western countries profess to practise are no more than a facade … my long-held suspicion [is] confirmed by reports of racism.”