A different kind of Covid spike: UCD students note significant increase in anti-Asian racism since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Image Credit: Sinéad Mohan

Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, there has been a marked increase in incidents of anti-Asian racism, in Ireland and around the world. Speaking to The University Observer, Asian students across UCD have relayed their experiences of and reaction to racism they have encountered since the outbreak of Covid-19.

“In February [2020], I experienced some hatred from some students on campus in Belfield. They called us ‘Coronavirus’. They accused us of carrying the virus and called us ‘stinky Asian’. That’s the first time I’ve experienced anti-Asian racism,” recounted Student A, who asked to remain anonymous.

“The second time was when I went to Dicey’s on Valentine’s Day. We tried to get a cab back home at the gate of the club and there was a woman, I’m not sure where she was from but her accent [was] not an Irish accent. She started calling us the carrier of the virus. We almost got into a fight with her. The security guard had to separate us”. 

Student B, who also wished to be anonymous, recalled walking along the River Liffey when someone “called [them] ‘Coronavirus’, but [they] just ignored him and didn’t want to generate any conflict,” they said. “I just felt that man was rude and ignorant”.

Yuxi Wei, a MSc Digital Marketing student in the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School remembers an incident with a woman who looked “seventy or eighty years old.” This woman “muttered a very long sentence when I went by, with an unfriendly look. I knew she was complaining about me.” 

“I asked her what she said, she didn’t admit she was talking to me. I asked her what she said again, I just wanted to know if it [was] about Covid 19 and [that] I’m from China, or just because I’m an Asian. She ran away and let me leave her alone. I wore a mask and didn’t stand by her, but I knew it’s probably because of Covid,” Wei added. 

The experiences recounted are part of a bigger wave of worldwide anti-Asian racism. According to the Irish Examiner, the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) reported sixty coronavirus-related racist incidents in the first four month of 2020. The director of INAR, Shane O’Curry, estimated that eighty percent of incidents were not reported, positing “huge under-reporting.” 

Memet Uludag, spokesperson for the organization United Against Racism, said of the under-reporting: “If you ask me ‘What is the percentage? What is the ratio?’, it’s very difficult to even say because many of the people who are victims of racism are finding it very difficult to come out and bring it to the public arena because it is an attack. You’re trying to figure out what the hell just happened to you just on the bus, in your workplace. You’re considering your privacy, your homelife, your hometown, your own safety.”

In August of last year two Chinese men in their twenties, Arthur Ma and Martin Hong, were verbally and physically assaulted in a racist incident in Cork. Later that month, Xuedan (Shirley) Xiong was pushed into the Royal Canal in Dublin by a group of youths. The Irish Sun reported at the time that ‘they shouted phrases such as “Chinese noodles” and “fried noodles” at her’

Another student who asked to be anonymous, Student C, felt that: “The association of any Asian-looking person, regardless of ethnicity, with Covid as a monolith has made us an easy and acceptable target. We are a minority, but an even smaller minority than some other demographics and even then we are highly localised into our own circles for our own protection, so we're never a "real" problem.” 

“White Irish allies also dominate spaces and organisations seeking and claiming justice (...) and while that's usually due to simple demographics, the fact that we aren't taken seriously until a white Irish voice repeats what we've been saying is infuriating,” he added. 

When asked whether they reported the incidents that occurred to them and whether they were aware of any resources to aid them in these scenarios, Student A, Student B, and Wei all chose not to report the incidents they experienced and were not aware of any such resources. “I didn’t report. I just told my friends what happened to me and told them to be careful.  I didn’t know that there was any place for us to report hate crime. Also, those people are just random students on campus or some people who hang out in the club, I didn’t know any detailed information about those people, ” said Student A. Student B opted not to report because “[they] really don’t mind. Just told some friends to be careful.” 

Student C did not recount any coronavirus-related racism, but has experienced prejudice. “Even before Covid, I've been called slurs and harassed on the streets, and have had bottles thrown at me from moving cars.” They have chosen not to report any incidents because: “ No matter the institution, be it Gardaí, university or ministry, bureaucracy in this country seems geared specifically to fatigue the people it serves into giving up. The police don't care about sexual abuse or racism against their own citizens. Why would they care if it affects us?” 

“Racial discrimination usually occurs when a person is walking. I can’t catch him [or] her when I encounter these things and say ‘Come here and follow me, I will sue you for racial discrimination’,” said Wei. 

Student A felt “really upset” with their experiences of anti-Asian racism in Ireland. “We heard really good things about people here, we heard they’re friendly, they’re welcoming to international students that come here and study, but then we experienced this and that made us really upset.” “After everything that happened, I just feel like we are not welcome by a lot of people in a lot of countries, especially in Western countries. I personally won’t go to town or some sensitive area in Dublin alone, I would always make sure I have some friends to go with me to keep myself safe.” 

Wei echoes Student A’s sentiment and describes feeling “disappointed”. “My friends who have lived in Ireland told me the anti-Asian situation before the virus was not as serious as now. But now I feel it's really a very serious phenomenon in Ireland,” she said. 

Coronavirus-related racism isn’t confined to ordinary students. Hazel Chu, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin has openly shared her experiences of racism and has experienced a spate of racist attacks directed during her tenure. Speaking to the University Observer, she said she “definitely [had not] seen [coronavirus-related racism] before”,  adding: “There’s only been sporadic racism across the board, but it’s never specifically targeted at Asians.” 

The Lord Mayor described how, in the last month, she has received handwritten notes with “‘[You’re] a bitch’ scrawled all over it”, and received jokes online describing how her “car is about to blow up.” “I've had people make sexual references to my three and a half year old daughter,” she added. 

“A friend of mine who does algorithms and data analysis did a model’, Chu continues, “he realized from that, just affecting our politicians’ Twitter, Irish politicians on average get six percent of abuse, the high profile ones get ten percent, and I get fifteen percent. You get really, really thick skin and have to move on with it because the whole point is people don’t want you in the office if you don’t look like them and don’t have the same skin colour as them and they don’t think it’s normal. The only thing is to try and persevere otherwise there will be no one in the office that will be different.” 

As for confronting the problem of anti-Asian racism, Wei felt that “the solutions should be the racial education from childhood, and the related legislation should be improved.” Chu concurs: “There needs to be a proactive approach as well in education-how do we talk about racism in our classrooms, how do we talk about it in our schools, in colleges.” But she also spoke of “hate speech legislation coming along the way” and “talking about how to reform the platform for reporting hate speech and hate crimes”. 

“Any kind of social justice movement should have the affected party front and centre;” Student C said. “However, for the Asian minority and diaspora, not only are we usually avoidant of local politics, for safety but also, largely, because it's tradition to be, we're not loud enough as is. There is simply no incentive to stick one's head out because we aren't even listened to without white voices supporting us.” 

“Outside of relatively few and comparatively loud left-leaning organisations and people, Ireland as a whole needs to come to terms with its racism against Asian, black, Mincéir and other minorities,” they add. 

“Organizations of ancillary nature, community groups, all sections of society need to build a campaign in their communities, in their workplaces, in their societies that not only comes into the defense of the victim, but also we are also setting the mark and say ‘we will not allow racism of our communities’,” Uludag said. 

Student A hopes that “we can see more support from white people to know that they are staying with us and know this kind of action is not acceptable.”