The Racism And Discrimination Asian Australians Put Up With

If we’re Asian Australian, chances are we’ve faced racism as we live our lives in Australia. That is, chances are life is hard on some occasions because of our cultural background.

As an Asian Australian who has lived in Melbourne for most of my life, racism is something that I’ve experienced for as long as I can remember. Each racist moment I’ve experienced is memorable, unforgettable.

Racism is left, right and centre, and within.

Racism is left, right and centre, and within | Weekly Photo Challenge: Twisted.

Racism and discrimination come in different shapes and forms. When we speak of racism, there’s the idea that a certain racial group, a certain skin colour or certain culture-specific traits are superior over others.

On one hand, there’s direct discrimination and racism: when someone outright tells you or treats you differently because of your race and dislikes your heritage. On the other hand, casual or everyday racism is more subtle: racism infused through conversations, body language and jokes. Casual racism is arguably more harmful because it can be almost invisible yet so ingrained.

Australia is a multicultural country. As the 2016 Census found, over a quarter of the population is born overseas with this demographic predominantly originating from the Asian region. Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese are among the most common languages spoken around the country. Despite the culturally diverse makeup of Australia, racism towards Asian Australians persists again and again.

We’re Asian Australian if we’re born in Australia and of Asian heritage. Migrants who call Australia their home or second home are part of the Asian community here too, many of whom are often close enough to being Asian Australian in many ways. If you’re someone of Asian descent living in a predominantly Western country, perhaps you can also relate to the kinds of racism that Asian Australians face.

Racism vs Asian Australians

1. Public transport racism

It’s quite common to hear of racism on public transport in Australia. These incidents tend to be in-your-face, face-to-face discrimination, disturbing and even petrifying. These racist incidents commonly make the news. In recent years there have been anti-Asian rants on buses in Sydney, times where Indian passengers on Melbourne trains were told to ‘go back to your own country’ and an incident where a Chinese passenger was accused of ‘not f**king Australian’ and not paying for their ticket on a bus in Adelaide. Research from the University of Queensland found bus drivers discriminated against dark-skinned students and Indians as they boarded with defective cards. At times others intervene during such incidents, at times others don’t. Nothing wrong with not intervening because that could potentially make things worse and not all of us are keen on drawing attention to ourselves in public places.

Racism on public transport happened to me once. I was traveling by train to an outer western suburb during morning peak hour. I sat in a carriage where it seemed I was the only Asian person and the others Anglo-Saxon. A ticket inspector came through the carriage, asked to see my ticket and then walked off to the next carriage without checking anyone else’s. I wondered why.

Racism is everywhere, subtle and not-so-subtle.

Racism is everywhere, subtle and not-so-subtle.

2. Asians are thieves

Sometimes those of Asian background are seen as threats to the so-called Australian dream, perceived as ‘stealing everything’ to loosely put it. Chinese investors are increasingly investing on the local property front and constantly dubbed the new ‘Asian invasion’, driving up property prices. There has been ‘Stop Incoming Asians’ graffiti plastered over property billboard advertisements in Sydney as well. Similarly, Chinese bulk-buying and exporting baby-formula has been labelled quite the obsession, giving the impression that that is what the Chinese are here for in Australia.

Notably, last year a study conducted by business consultancy firm Cross Border Management shows Chinese property investment is negligible compared to the wider investment market. At the end of the day, it’s fair if one has the means to afford and invest, and that’s a way to keep an economy going.

3. White ethnic faces in the media

There’s a lack of cultural diversity and representation of Asian voices and stories within Australian media. It’s common to see those of Asian background playing tokenistic doctor or taxi driver roles in numerous Australian TV programs, or featured caught smuggling prohibited items into the country on shows such as Border Security. In recent years shows such as The Family Law and MasterChef Australia feature Asian Australian families and personalities whilst exploring themes of family connections, sexuality and art. This is a step towards more realistic representations and publicly recognising Asian Australians as rightfully Australian.

Notably it’s ‘white ethnic faces’ that arguably get featured more over other ethnic faces in Australian media. As I’ve written in White Ethnic Faces in the Australian Media, non-accented Asians who are well assimilated into Australian (Western) culture tend to be the ethnic demographic given a voice in Australian commercial media. The more one looks and sounds like someone from the majority cultural group, the more likely they’ll be relatable, accepted and perhaps even seen as familiar role models. Will I ever get the opportunity to present the nightly news on commercial TV in my non-Anglo accent? I wonder.

Selective representation perpetuates racism.

Selective representation perpetuates racism.

4. Bamboo ceiling

It can be challenging for someone of Asian background to build a career or get their foot in certain industries in Australia due to institutional racism. According to Malaysian-born Australia-based business leader Ming Long, Asian employees in Australia are often expected to conform to quiet stereotypes or be labelled aggressive, and so for them getting into leadership positions is hard. Also, the representation of Asian Australians in public life is seemingly not proportionate to the population; many are stuck in middle-management roles. At times, to get ahead professionally, one might choose to conceal parts of their Asian identity: Westernising one’s ethnic name on resumes is what some do in hope of bettering their job prospects in Australia.

Many years ago I was keen on working in digital or print journalism, open to being a copywriter, segment producer, editorial assistant, reporter and even would have been happy being a coffee runner for crew on a TV set. Naturally I applied for numerous jobs in the media all around Australia but never once heard back. I had qualifications in Communications, had hard-to-come-by hands-on work experience and solid referees under my belt, and I do wonder where I went wrong. Maybe it was just tough luck.

5. Offensive names

Time and time again Asian Australians find themselves on the receiving end of offensive nicknames. ‘Asian invasion’, ‘yellow peril’ and ‘ching chong’ are some phrases that we might hear others use to describe us – phrases painting us as a threat or a specimen to be picked upon. In these instances our name goes unacknowledged. Then there’s not forgetting when the instances when our ethnic name is mispronounced.

One’s name is a measure of one’s identity, culture and also who they are as a person. Ascribing an offensive nickname to someone not only turns them nameless but also faceless and voiceless. One time I was walking in the city on a busy afternoon in Melbourne. A white guy came up to me and yelled ‘Hey chink!’ right in my face and walked off. I wondered what his intentions were.

Obsessions can bring about racism.

Obsessions can bring about racism.

6. Exotic fetish

Australia has come a fair way from the White Australia policy days and the implementation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, working towards a multicultural society. However, there are still instances where being Asian in Australia is seen as nothing more than exotic, a foreign object of affection. Earlier this year an Asian-themed gastropub pub opened up with the name Hotel Longtime, a name which arguably mocks the exploitation of Asian women. Frankly speaking it’s not the first Asian-themed bar around, but a name like that isn’t tasteful and draws attention to cultural stereotypes which not all of us are comfortable with.

Also, as seen on dating apps such as Tinder, there’s racism surrounding modern online dating in Australia; some online profiles preference for someone of certain cultural backgrounds. Moreover, there’s not forgetting the notion of yellow-fever in the realms of attraction. A few years ago, one day a white Australian guy approached me in a shopping centre and pretty much outright told me he was attracted to Asian girls. I wondered if he knew his intentions towards me were unwelcome.

7. All round outsider

‘Where are you from?’ ‘Where are you really from?’ ‘What is your nationality?’ ‘Where are your parents from?’ These are just a few questions we get asked over and over again as Asian Australians. It’s a normal part of life for us, questions that come with stereotypical judgement, questions for most part we’d rather not be asked because they can remind us of our conflicting and confusing personal lives and identities.

* * *

Can we really stamp out racism?

When faced with racism, we can acknowledge it, confront it and speak up about it. We can speak up about it by trying to have level-headed conversations with those who seem to have a problem with our cultural background. We can reflect and share what we’ve experienced with others, talking and writing about these experiences publically.

When faced with racism, perhaps some of us might not want to believe it and prefer to deny such negativity ever happened – you just don’t expect it to happen. However it’s important to speak up about racism because that’s pretty much the only way to draw attention to it and work towards cultural tolerance and respect. As Australia’s Race and Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane wrote, Australia should be a society committed to tolerance without stifling freedom of expression and ‘racism isn’t just about prejudice and discrimination; it’s also about power.’

Racism is tied to power plays.

Racism is tied to power plays.

It comes as no surprise then as Asian Australians we might feel unsure as to what to do when we experience or even hear of racism. Specialist pathologist and Yummy Lummy blogger Gary Lum wrote about this in his blog post An Embarrassing Story of Racism: at a medical conference in Australia, Gary felt embarrassed when his Chinese American-born colleague Fred told him how he got sneered at for his American accent on a train in Brisbane. What Gary experienced can be called second-hand racism – a time when we don’t directly experience racism but feel stressed when others of the same cultural background or mindset experience racism.

Similarly, the more the media yellowfaces characters and mocks Asian Australian stereotypes, the more it perpetuates white privilege and colour blindness, and the more racism perpetuates and the more Australians see it happen. In contrast and as depicted within Hollywood narratives written from the true perspective of cultural minorities, Kevin Cheung over at Idiot With Camera writes that many of Chinese heritage are not putting up with Western superiority anymore. Australia does have a long way to go towards fostering an inclusive society.

Each of our stories is important, not better than the other.

Each of our stories is important, not better than the other.

Maybe racism will never be stamped out. A racist opinion is an opinion, an opinion expressed with attitude on the basis of our beliefs. In other words, racism is essentially a difference in opinion, an expression of difference in opinion. All opinions deserve to be heard – inevitably some opinions will be more offensive than others. That said, racism entails discrimination against one’s cultural background and no one deserves to be ostracised just because of their heritage. No one is better than the other person beside them.

When it comes to acknowledging racism and working towards respecting each other’s cultures, we don’t necessarily have to change our beliefs. But we need to change our attitudes. By changing our attitudes we can change the way we treat others and articulate our opinions. If we stop judging each other based on what we think we know of them, then maybe we can get to know each other a bit more. Maybe we could then even point out each others’ stereotypical traits and not offend each other. On living together in this world, writer Jessica Cyphers over at the blog Shift said:

‘Racism is entirely stupid. I wonder what this world would be like, how much richer all of our lives would be, if we all took a step back and looked at our combined “bigger picture,” and at how our stories overlap, and at how, together, (we) create both our own “truths” and history.’

Each of us are individuals wanting to be a part of something.

Each of us are individuals wanting to be a part of something.

Some of us will challenge and not fit stereotypes. Some of us will inevitably fit stereotypes one way or another. Or maybe both. Well, that’s me as an Asian Australian and probably a lot of us. There’s more to each of us than just our background and the colour of our skin, the way we dress and how we speak. Each of us doesn’t deserve to be discriminated against where we are from. Or rather, perhaps to more politely it, discriminated against who we are.

Have you experienced or seen racism?

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220 thoughts on “The Racism And Discrimination Asian Australians Put Up With

  1. Amazing post…I think among people racism always exists..May be in different forms…A tall person among a group of short people will have to face it….it should be to a certail level…above a particular limit it is not tolerable…But otherwise it will happen everywhere..Its natural..Indirectly sometimes everyone becomes a part of it…Great post Mabel…I enjoyed reading..

    shreyans

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  2. Another excellent, well written and well balanced post Mabel. Thank you for bringing the issue of race to the forefront, and educating us on the extent of specific racism towards Asian Australians, which leaves me, as with many others, so very sad. Since Brexit here in the UK, the incidents of racist attacks, both verbal and physical, have increased hugely, more so here towards Eastern Europeans. So much today is based on everyone’s individual opinion, yet there isn’t much listening, really listening, it seems. As you say if only we could spend more time getting to know one another and stop judging by outward colour, colour and culture, the world would be a much better place. We have so much to learn from one another! We are all human with human hearts driven by the same hopes and fears. But human nature being what it is, we can only hope that racism will one day be a thing of the past. Big hugs to you my dear friend. Keep writing and keep smiling your beautiful smile! 🙂 ❤ 🙂

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    • No, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Sherri. Brexit seemed like such a surprising move and sad to hear discriminatory incidents have increased over there. Listening is so important. Not only do we learn more by listening, we make connections too – and it is such a wonderful feeling to connect with someone. As you said, we are all human hearts driven by the same hopes and fears. I hope you keep smiling your beautiful smile too and all is well and warm in the Summerhouse 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brexit shocked us rigid Mabel, and the dissary it causes now, and we’re not even completed with it yet, with all the disruption and government arguing going on. But it will happen and can only hope it will be alright. But all that aside, thank you so much, things are warm and well and ticking over, which is a good thing! Lovely to connect with you as always dear one. From my almost summer to your almost winter, we will smile and keep listening! Love to you my friend! 🙂 ❤

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  3. I am sorry that you have been experiencing racism, Mabel. I have been experiencing it too, people called me by names. It’s hurtful and something that stay with you for the rest of your life.
    A friend of mine who studied in Australia was attacked and beaten by strangers. He’s an Indonesian. We suspect it was hate crime that he was attacked because of his race. It’s just insane how racism could lead to something violent 😦

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  4. The annoying thing is that racism rears its head every few months. What is interesting in various cities, is the confusion over some foreigners investing in real estate in the big cities here in Canada. Of course, mainland Chinese becomes the target because they look so different..vs. those from the Middle East or elsewhere. In suburb of Richmond outside of Vancouver, over 70% of the population is of Asian descent..which has led to some friction. Lack of bilingual signs piss off some locals, then some immigrants just not being culturally sensitive..ie.. condo board meeting for 1 bldg. not in English.

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    • It is interesting to hear from you foreigners investing in real estate in the metropolitan areas in Canada. It sounds like what’s happening in Australia, and maybe all over the world too. Here in Melbourne we also have a suburb called Richmond, and it’s populated with rows and rows of Vietnamese restaurants and populated by many Vietnamese. There are definitely two sides to bilingual sides – they can be seen as inclusive and exclusive. I do think it’s important to remember that not all of us speak or read the same language.

      Liked by 1 person

      • How coincidental! Vancouver has implemented an speculation tax ..if a home is not lived in for many months (I can’t remember how long), then owner is taxed. There have been situations of a home, not occupied for many months because of foreigners. There was a study done by Canadian born Chinese urban planner-academic that did track many of such owners as overseas owners. The rationale is these owners are not contributing at all to the Canadian economy/local life. Some of the owners have allowed properties to be abandoned, etc. Anyway…. most likely it is happening right now in the city where I live but not reported/studied. Also locals investing since our real estate is much cheaper than Vancouver or Toronto. We are more boring place live except we’re 100 km. away from Rocky Mountains and several national parks. The only drawing card in expanse of prairie ranchland.

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      • I’m always intrigued by people who hesitate to shop/browse in ethnic stores/districts: for heaven’s sake you’re in Canada. They worry about workers not speaking English. My response is: get over it. You’re not in Asia. They will understand something ..there will be other workers and customers who know English. They want your business.

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  5. Thank you Mabel for a well written prose. I was educated in Sydney in the late 60’s and early 70’s and stayed for a decade there, working in diverse jobs in my student days. The Australian then were very friendly, except towards their own aborigines. However, this racial scenario changed over the years; the bigotry was more felt among the immigrants whites, than the fair dinkum Aussies. I recalled an emigrant taxi driver was so hostile to me, when I spoke with an Aussie slang, but more friendly when he found out we were tourists. I think the racialism reflect more of insecurity and false superiority among the Australians, up to the Prime Minister; more among politicians and their followers than the common country folks. How stupid of them (the ministers) to insult the Chinese, using the Chinese Anthem, ARISE, biting the fingers that feed them! However, we must not ignore that some fair minded Aussies are speaking up against such bigotry; even though they are slow to respond in a rapid changing world.

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    • Sometimes some of us are indeed slow in responding to change and a diverse world. That was an interesting incident with the emigrant taxi driver some years ago. There are many emigrant taxi drivers here in Australia these days, and many I’ve encountered seem very friendly. Racism towards Indigenous Australians is still common here though. Hope you have fond memories of studying and working in Sydney.

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            • Have I published a book? I’ve published a chapter in anthology and am currently writing my first book. Not too familiar with poetry in Australia, but I have encountered some here who are into that genre of writing. Looks like you’ve published poetry quite a bit. Keep up the good work.

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              • There is no market for poetry; no publisher, except self paid, and then no book stores willing to display without rental of shelves. Most important, no reader, unless you are famous or connected. Best and cheapest is to publish in a free blog or social media. One can write only for the joy of it, readers or no readers. Next to fall is drama; only fiction and some non fiction can sell.

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                • Publishing and getting your work out there is a challenging arena. Self publishing is certainly self paid as you said, and there is only so much we can put into our self published publications. Hope you get to publish more in the future.

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  6. Australia is one of the beautiful city around the world. Australia is so clean country. Every year many traveler going for refreshment tour. I was go 1 time in there that was really a interesting place. After I read your post I thought I miss many thinking in there. Now I want to go there again. Thanks for sharing your all information.

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  7. An excellent post… You are right as to how racism and discrimination might show up in different ways … And that casual or everyday racism can be more harmfulo because it is subtle… and hence it tends to naturalize a state of things that shouldn´t be considered “normal”.
    I often get ads to travel to Australia (and Canada) … It is a country full of possibilities and not so hard to get a Visa, as far as I am concerned. An open country is in itself promising. But of course, stereotyped visions about cultural groups attempt not only against the group in question … but against each individual, as a unique and unrepeatable human being.
    Argentina is full of racists as well. People may denigrate the poor, the indigenous … the Bolivians and Paraguayans who come to work here .. There is a false pretension of superiority coming from Higher classes that is quite despicable.
    Much love, my friend 🙂

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    • It is scary how much racism is naturalised these days and many of us are not aware of it. You are right. An open country or one that looks like one might look promising but these images can be based of stereotypes. Stereotypes might make some of us relatable, but not everyone fits the stereotype.

      It is unfortunate to hear there is racism in and false pretensions in Argentina from the upper classes. A lot of us see the upper class as leading by example. Maybe that is true to a certain extent. We all must not forget each of us have a voice and opinion too.

      Thank you for such an insightful comment, wonderful Aqui. Much love your way 🙂

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