COVID-19, Asian-Australian Racism And Media: What This Pandemic Says About Us

With COVID-19 racing across the world, it’s become a different reality overnight.

Some of us feel fear hearing COVID-19 cases rise in other countries. Feel uncertainty as toilet paper disappears from the shelves at the grocery store around the corner.

For some of us Asian-Australians, we feel the slap of racism once again amidst this pandemic.

Melbourne Central (MC) 2020 (1)

Being an Asian-Australian who once aspired to be a journalist in Australia, it’s disappointing seeing recent anti-Asian sentiments in the media and racist incidents on the streets. It’s undoubtedly disappointing seeing certain cultural groups get accused of spreading coronavirus.

As COVID-19 spiked in Australia, women of Asian ethnicity were mocked by a coughing man at Brisbane airport. Ethnically Chinese women were attacked and told to ‘go back to your country’ in Melbourne’s CBD. Parents at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital refused to let doctors of ‘Asian appearance’ treat their children.

Racist media representations

It seems Australian media encourages racist micro-aggressions during this COVID-19 crisis through framing techniques. Framing constructs narratives, including and excluding facts.

Newspaper headlines such as ‘Chinese Virus Pandamonium’ and ‘China Kids Stay Home’ frames Chineseness as the yellow peril. Phrases ‘Deadly new Chinese coronavirus’ and ‘China’s killer coronavirus’ sensationalise the stereotype that to be Chinese is a danger to others.

Who knows if the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China. After all, viruses can remain dormant before mutating, becoming active and taking flight centuries later.

MC (2)

Through juxtaposition, the media paints the racist rhetoric that being Chinese is second-rate. Italy is portrayed in a sympathetic light: honoring Italy’s front-line medical heroes in portraits and the country singing outside their balconies in lockdown. In contrast when China built a coronavirus hospital in ten days, media outlets questioned its secretive system (which is a valid point).

The blaming of Chinese is nothing new. Writer Carrianne Leung’s paper on the impact of SARS highlighted a history of ‘xenophobic panic’ with Asian immigrants called ‘dirty and diseased’. Academic researchers Dorothy Nelkin and Sander Gilman mention blaming is a means to ‘(make) devastating diseases comprehensible and therefore possibly controllable’.

Too often the media is biased towards those with fairer skin. Too often the media worships the western world as classy and sees people of colour as not classy enough, not enough to be cared for.

The news also frames Australians as undeserving pandemic victims because of their privilege. Australian travellers quarantined in five-star hotels were reported as complaining for getting free microwaved meals. There are reports the JobKeeper subsidy isn’t enough to support those who lost their jobs. One can say many living in a predominantly white Australia and spending-driven economy don’t have backup plans. Yet they want a five-star lifestyle handed on a silver platter when the world actually turns upside down.

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It’s evident western voices dominate as white saviours with few diverse voices on the pandemic frontline. For instance, in Australia’s mainstream media we hear Anglo-Saxon political groups enforcing gathering restrictions and leading coronavirus modelling. In contrast while it’s encouraging to hear COVID-19 messages translated into various languages, ethnic groups and Indigenous Australians are shown as struggling to keep up with these messages.

As Professor Lilie Chouliaraki argues, commonly news coverage utilises ‘improper distance’, practices of communication that ‘privilege the voices of the West over the voices of the suffering’. Western voices are deemed more credible than a person of colour’s even if the latter has something important to say.

Other notable patterns within Australia’s COVID-19 reporting:

  • Plenty of graphs and charts tracking cases.
  • Emphasising increase in infections as opposed to recoveries.
  • Live ‘breaking’ coverage with recycled ‘churnalism’ news.
  • The race to find a vaccine to brag about.

MC (4)

What COVID-19 coverage says about us

The news informs, educates and shapes how we think. How news stories are written depends on newsworthy factors, one factor being proximity: shared cultural values and national traits. Often people want to relate to the news. So what we usually see in the news is a reflection of society.

Hearing about racist attacks and headlines in the news, it speaks of a racist Australia. Seems quite a few of us are stuck in the traditional mindset of ‘West vs East’, ‘Us vs Them’.

When Australia’s news privileges western voices, white supremacy reigns supreme and other groups are marginalised here.

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In times of crisis many of us instinctively retreat into our own cultural bubble for comfort and control. We are quick to believe logic-driven science to make sense of crisis, such as looking at graphs tracking COVID-19 cases (but there’s probably an under-reporting of cases because not everyone can get tested).

Times of crisis also bring out the worse in us. Being racist, panic-buying toilet paper and hoarding food is not helpful. Right now we’re seeing a world where we’re ignorant and self-entitled within our own cultural bubble – someone else has to be the weakest link. Many of us think ourselves and our family are the most important when in reality, others are equally important.

Just because you’re lucky enough to hoard toilet paper doesn’t mean you should blame others. Just because you have family and biological children doesn’t mean you’re better than someone else.

Tram (6)

Moving forward

It’s interesting to see Australian media outlets get away with racist content. It’s a reason why I decided not to be a journalist in this country.

Racist and sensationalist news usually generates fear. Maybe this fear scared Australians to stay home, and that’s why we’re flattening the coronavirus curve. If that’s the case, can’t argue with that.

It’s encouraging to see parts of Australian media condemning anti-Chinese behaviour in these difficult times. Political philosopher Tim Soutphommasane recently suggested trusting our leaders and trusting each other is needed to stamp out racism and rebuild. True, as with trust we can have more open conversations.

However, we can’t expect everyone to trust each other. Not all of us get along. We each have our own likes and dislikes and personal attributes. To minimise racism, the least we can do is try to understand where someone is coming from, and let each other be.

QV (7)

As a pessimist, I reckon there won’t be a 100% fool-proof vaccine to eradicate COVID-19. I also reckon it’s a new mutable virus the world was not prepared for and hence all this fear, uncertainty and panic. If the news reported the flu (for which there’s a vaccine) as scare-mongering as COVID-19, maybe there’ll be panic of the same kind.

Aside from fear, uncertainty and panic, there’s also anger right now: anger at how leaders are making decisions or lack thereof. Anger at hoarding. Anger at why we have to stay home. Anger at others for not staying home.

Admittedly this post sounds angry. I’m angry at the racism going on now. I’m angry at Asian Australians getting picked on yet again, knowing I can’t do much about this.

Most of us are staying home and isolating, be it by ourselves, with roommates or families. If we use this solitary time to reflect on our place in the world, we might accept our differences. Maybe we’d be angry at others a little less.

On keeping our distance, the more appropriate term is physical distancing instead of social distancing. As fellow Australian blogger Gary Lum at Yummy Lummy wrote, standing apart from someone is physical distancing. When physically apart, you can still social through social media or texting.

Many seem bothered staying indoors and self-isolating. Really goes to show this extroverted world can’t handle being introverted. That’s a story for another day.

MC (8)

Things haven’t changed much in my household. As an introvert, I’ve been enjoying this home time, working from home and being unproductive too. I’m not bothered by cancelled catch-ups and having no idea when our next dinner out is. I’m not angry anymore at being turned away again and again as a journalist in Australia. I’m one of the lucky ones in the grander scheme of things.

Every person matters, from tireless healthcare workers to domestic violence victims to those left jobless recently. Freedom is not a choice for some. So for us lucky ones, we should do our part, be greatful and stay home.

Moving forward, we need to accept things won’t always go our way post-COVID-19. Moving forward, slow down. Think twice about traveling. Think twice about going out if you’re sick. Less spending. Less catch-ups even. More backup plans. Be more appreciative of those who are there for you.

Moving forward, we should accept a new normal and be more respectful towards each other.

How are you today?

241 thoughts on “COVID-19, Asian-Australian Racism And Media: What This Pandemic Says About Us

  1. The injustice forced on mankind brought out the worst in so many due to IMO the media priming the fear factor perfectly for years and years. However, putting my own anger aside and yes, Mabel, I was furious by how all of us have been treated unethically and unconstitutionally and inhumanly, I am seeing in the USA an uprising against the establishment. The people have had enough and it took a huge move on the part of the dark to get people to shake out of their stupors in order to see how the establishment worldwide is corrupt and evil. Much good is coming from out of this nightmare. And please for the love of God, everyone!!! stop watching the manipulative news. I AM creating my own world again and it has nothing to do with the insanity that in of itself will kill itself. This “virus” was nothing but a “virus” yet due to the fear perpetrated upon the world at large, the impossible happened. NEVER AGAIN! And that is where I believe the majority of people are now at or getting to. ENOUGH!! Love is our true state and anything other then love, will eventually turn on itself and like the snake that eats it own tail, will die. AMEN!!

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    • PS I as a “white western woman” have felt hatred and been seen as an “object” to fear because I refuse to wear a mask while outside. I won’t wear a mask inside when I can. I cannot breathe in a mask. I as an RN know the truth of how detrimental to health wearing a mask is and darn it I have worked so hard to gain the grounds in my heath that I have gotten that I will not allow anyone who is out of his mind to dictate to me that I must wear a mask. To be on the receiving end of blatant prejudice based on fear and ignorance has been painful, Mabel. I have a much better idea how what it is like to be on the receiving end of prejudice.

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      • It is completely your choice to wear or not to wear a mask while outside in these times. Each to their own. Even if someone chooses to wear a mask, it doesn’t guarantee at all they will get the virus. As you alluded to, wearing a mask can cause breathing issues and could lead us to being more vulnerable.

        I am sorry you have to face all this prejudice, Amy. I hope people are nicer to you and see your wonderful self for who you are.

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    • That is so true, Amy. What an expressive and honest comment. You have every right to be angry, and every right to have an opinion. The media has been scare-mongering the world for so long. For so long, many of us have been afraid to speak up and just kept quiet. It is sad that we live in such a corrupt world and a world where people in power abuse their authority over others. But yes, good is coming out of these strange times. People are starting to realise they matter, each and every one of us matters no matter where we come from – and we are seeing that in the large gatherings in the US and all over the world.

      I do think the timing of these gatherings isn’t ideal. It only takes one person infected with the virus to infect others very quickly. However, this is all a turning point in these times and in history. The world was never prepared to deal with a pandemic or a virus of this magnitude, just as the world was never prepared to stand up to discrimination and always turned a blind eye to.

      Good on you Amy for speaking out, and indeed love will take us all far. If all of us could be just a little kinder to each other, things would probably be very different ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mabel, I challenge you as a journalist to find the “real” facts about this “pandemic”. I did. And what I found was shocking. Compare how many deaths from Covid there are to let’s say cancer. Find out how deliberate murder was done to elderly in nursing homes and in hospitals. Discover how the stats were tampered with when doctors falsified medical documents stating patients were Covid+ when they were not and patients who died from other causes other then Covid were documented as dying from Covid. Why? Two-fold reason. One, the hospitals received money for each Covid+ documentation and to boost stats up to make this “pandemic” as bad as the “experts” predicted. Find out how the CDC first said this virus could live for 3-5 days on surfaces and then reversed their ruling and said um no, it is highly unlikely this virus can be transmitted to you from surfaces. Find out that there is a 98% survival rate for this virus.

        Read how a virus lives and how it replicates and where. Research for yourself what wearing a mask longterm will do to the human body. Research how our freedoms were taken from us all from scare tactics. Read how there are more fatalities from the “normal” flu then from Covid. Good luck finding those facts because the powers at large don’t want you to find them. I did. And I was shaken to my soul. I’m a truth seeker, and when my Inner Guidance told me over and over again the “numbers” don’t add up and there is something “fishy” about all this, I began to dig. Then my brother and others began to send me information that rocked my world. Are you prepared to find out the truth and turn away from what the “experts” say? If not, don’t do the research.

        Mabel, to put it in a nutshell, we’ve been lied to and manipulated and a lot of evil has transpired all in the name of greed and power. And it still is continuing. I warn you, IF you really wish to know the truth, prepare yourself.

        If you choose not to do the research, that is your choice. It is your right to believe what you do, as I have the right to know what I believe is true. I am just going about my life without fear knowing there is nothing to fear but fear itself. And I do not try to sway anyone from believing other then what they believe. Time will show the truth and when that day comes I won’t be shocked.

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        • Some of us are happy to accept what’s going on on the surface level. But life is not straight that way, and it is great to see you asking why this and that, and digging deeper. It’s interesting to hear what you have uncovered, and it’s also worth comparing the total number of people who have succumbed to COVID-19 with those who died from the flu over the years. The world we live in is indeed corrupt, and bribes and favours do still happen all over the world – and people are afraid to speak up about this.

          There has been mixed messages about how the virus replicates, transmits and mutates. Different medical bodies will have different opinions. It’s probably why each country has different approaches to tackling the virus (aside from taking into account their demographics and resources). These days it’s funny how almost anyone can be an ‘expert’. It’s a word that is used so flippantly.

          Good on you for going about your life without fear, being critical of what’s presented to you and most importantly, do what you love. Keep doing what makes you happy, Amy.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Another suggestion, Mabel, …. educate yourself how a virus lives and replicates. Due to my medical education, I know and a lot of what has been stated about this virus has been false. You are smart. And you have a brain that knows how to find truth. We all deserve to know the truth. Good luck!! xo

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          • You are welcome. I don’t know about you, but I’m so done being lied to, manipulated and betrayed by those who are supposed to be acting in our best interest. My eyes have been opened, yes, yet ….. I truly don’t know 100% the absolute truth. I doubt any of us will until 40 or so years have passed, and by then I will not be here. Thank goodness!! Good luck if you choose to dig. As I said preciously, the sites I “thought” I could trust have changed their stats to feed the fear mongering. Just shaking my head over this entire drama. And …. as you well know, the sources from which an article is written is most important as well. I stay central from which I get my sources (meaning neither left nor right) and still I see through the lies and manipulations. You stay strong as well. Bless you, Mabel. xo

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            • I am sorry to hear you’ve been lied to and manipulated time and time again. No one deserves that I am sure the truth will come out at some point, or it will come to us who seeks to find it, or those of us who don’t believe in what’s being sold to us. Who the source is can have such an impact on what is shared. However what we want to think and believe, that is ultimately our choice and I am so glad you realise that, Amy.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said, Mabel. In many ways, I count my fortunate to be living in South East Asia even though we are one border away from our families. As much as there are always racism everywhere, in Malaysia, it is not as obvious or in-your-face. Most people are still civil to each other. No fights broke out just because a Chinese accidentally bumped into a non Chinese. I guess our minds are off worrying the impact of economy being the practical Asians, rather than to stir the undercurrent racism. Even our ministers put aside their political agenda and choose to focus on the important priorities: flattening the curve and finding a vaccine.

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    • You are so right, Kally. Racism is everywhere, and racism is different everywhere around the world. I agree with you there can be silent racism, and sometimes people are just civil to each other to move on with their day. Some moments may not be the best to point out and tackle racism. When the virus dies down, hopefully more of us will step up and point out racism, and address it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess racism also means differently to others. Sometimes, one take offence to a remark, others may thought it’s just a harmless joke. For me, I draw the line at intended cruelty and abuse.

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        • Yeah, racism is different to others. For instance, if some stranger greeted me with ‘Ni hao’, I’d probably take offense at that. On the other hand, someone in Malaysia might like that greeting and wouldn’t mind it. No one deserves abuse and sad to see there’s still a lot of that with racism.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, I won’t take offence at someone saying “Ni Hao” over here in KL. I probably will reply “Selamat Petang” or something similar in greeting if the other party is a non-Chinese.

            Heck, I grew up with my parents telling me “if you are naughty, you’ll be kidnap by the Ah Bu Neh Neh (derogatory term for Sikhs.)”

            Of course, now we all know better with education. But there will always be underlying tensions.

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              • Luckily, most of us don’t really believe that bullsh*t and grew up with a vast full of life experiences. However, it does make you wonder how many of them are genuinely affected by that and had subconsciously racism or homophobic instill in them.

                Liked by 1 person

  3. I have just shared this to my Pinterest boards. As time is passing this article becomes more and more important to read. You have a great skill in finding out what is important to address and writing about this in a sensitive way. Keep well! Lita x

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    • So kind of you to share this post, Lita. Thank you so much. Racism and discrimination is so evident in the world right now. We all need to be more patient and kind with each other now more than ever. Hope you are well and take care.

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  4. You post dear Mabel covers many topics pertaining to this virus … It is bringing up fears, frustrations, anger.. insecurities and of course that age old wound which has been imprinted within our psych for thousands of years..

    Many bubbles are ready to explode … And like Amy within her comments, I too have done lots of digging, prior to and since this outbreak…
    And not all figures are adding up.. Even now Drs testimonies are coming forward which are challenging the statistics compared with a bad seasonal flu epidemic.. So what does this pandemic say about us…

    That we are insecure, fearful, and controllable… It shows how Media hold power over the narrative… And I am seeing more and more who are delving deeper speaking truth… as they have found facts out who are being censored.. One has to then question why that is… What is really rattling cages when one dares to question facts and figures.. Or ask why people were deliberately sent back into nursing homes when they wouldn’t even do that with a normal flu virus.. If you want to investigate a sensible Dr who is putting his own expert facts and science behind it… Look up Dr Zach Bush… His analysis and understanding of virus’s and how they behave is blowing apart lots of what we are being told… As he puts together how the virus along with pollutants and pharma drugs is causing this virus to behave as it does within certain people.. While others get it and they hardly even know they have had it..

    And only Time will really tell us what really is going on around our world…

    A great read Mabel… Sorry I am late… I always am my friend…. but I get here eventually 🙂
    Much love your way .. Sue ❤

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    • It is lovely to see you here, Sue – and I am sure everyone appreciates you here too and reading the comments is such a lovely thing to do. There are a lot of feeling going on right now. As you mentioned, there is a lot of fear, frustrations and anger.

      There is also a lot of conflicting information out there in the news about the pandemic. Thank you for the reference and I will have a look. Yes, the media control the narrative, and the people who own the media corporations control the narrative even more – and that’s why there is censorship of voices and censoring of certain truths. It is weird virus the world is dealing with and it’s unpredictable. Like any other virus, this virus will mutate and it’s probably mutating faster than we can keep up. Already there is talk of another virus out there that has pandemic potential. All of us really need to change the way we live to move forward and keep each other safe.

      Never too late to the party, Sue. There will always be a seat at the table for you. Hope you are doing well and much love your way too.

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      • Thank you Mabel, it was my pleasure to be here. You always post a variety of topics which look at certain subjects from different perspectives, asking your readers to look at different angles and different eyes. Which ALL of us should investigate deeper I feel.
        When we all dive deep to do the work, instead of taking everything we are told at face value.
        And use our voices in sovereignty of our human rights, as we seek the truth, in uncovering those who lie and manipulate the masses for their own gains.
        Only when we all take personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions will we then begin to make a difference.

        Much love my friend. 💚🧡💙🙏

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        • You are very kind with your words, Sue. Thank you so much. and you are right. All of us should look deeper beyond the surface. People who lie, manipulate and blow their own trumpet need to be more patient and learn that coming out on tops is not everything. And you are so right in saying we should take personal responsibility to make a difference.

          Where has the time gone… Hoping to come over to yours soon. There really is a glum feeling around the world. I hope you are well my friend.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Mabel, there is much to report on here too, on the topic of racism. We can hope that abolitionist Theodore Parker, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and Pres. Obama’s words on the “arc of history” come true: “The arc of history bends toward justice” — and that with many protests (and a coming election here) we can finally start to get it right. On the virus, I hope you are well and staying safe. From what I hear from friends who’ve had it, it is nothing to take lightly.

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    • That’s a very thoughtful comment from you, Sandy. Hopefully things come around soon. Understandably people want to express their opinions on current affairs. However I am not sure protests are a good thing right now since it seems the virus is everywhere. I am sorry to hear your friends caught it – anyone can get it and who knows what it does.

      I was wondering where you were as I haven’t seen you much in my reader. Then I went over to your blog and saw you haven’t been around. Hope you are doing alright and staying safe.

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  6. Sorry to read about the racist reactions. A shame really. New research indicates the virus was present in Italy in sewage waters samples as early as December… Maybe the US too. Of course they are not releasing any data about that.
    I hope you are all right my friend. Stay safe. 🙏🏻

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  7. Mabel I am sorry to hear your reports of the racism being directed at Asian Australians and the rampant racism going on this world. Since the death of George Floyd in the US there has been such a strong anti-racist movement. Are you feeling any of that in Australia? We see people awakening to the reality of racism and that it is not good enough for us to say we are non racist. We must be anti racist. Your post adds to my awareness and my sadness that such hateful actions and words persist.

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    • There’s definitely a lot more people here in Australia who are vocal against racism. It’s good to see. That is great you are aware of what’s going on and so agree all of us have to be anti-racist. One way to do that is by listening to others and educating ourselves on the different kinds of racism. Thank you for your kind words and also for being so kind and caring as always, Sue.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for writing this post. As a fellow Asian, I really can’t emphasize how important this topic is. Although I’m Asian American, it’s crazy to hear how many Asians in different countries are experiencing the same thing.

    Racism is occurring against Asians, and we have the right to be mad, angry, and frustrated. You’re right – Western countries are creating this “us v.s. them” mentality. Perhaps they want to point fingers for their problems or maybe they don’t want to feel “weak” to this virus. But, to blame a whole pandemic on one race is wrong and insane.

    Right now, it’s not uncommon for an Asian to get beaten up or to be threatened with slurs and threats. I’m not saying that we should be prioritized more, but it’ll definitely be great if people acknowledged this instead of covering it up and getting away with it.

    Really appreciated this post Mabel, and hopefully, we’ll get through this ❤️

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    • It really is crazy indeed to hear how Asians all over the world are experiencing racism more than ever right now. The strange part is how when some points the finger at Asians, other people might just follow suit.

      So agree more of us should acknowledge racism. There are many ways to do it, from standing up for someone as they get picked on. Or speak out about it on social media.

      Thanks, Rachel. It’s great you wrote about racism too. We all need to stand up and speak out against it.

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  9. Hi Mabel, I am deeply sorry for the racism against those of Asian heritage that erupted, and was tolerated – in, and by, the media during this pandemic. We have a lot of work to do among our humanity to confront racism and to change the racist attitudes among those more privileged, and those who seize privilege. Thank you for your thoughtful essay!

    I am just catching up after being somewhat in hibernation since the spring, and I am enjoying your work, as always. I’m glad to hear you are doing well, and my family, too, is safe from the virus. We’re all staying in, still, and hoping for relief from the health crisis whenever it occurs. Stay well! – Theresa

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    • There has been a lot of racism going on because of the pandemic. You are so right in saying we have a lot of work to do to change racist attitudes. So many are too comfortable in their positions of privilege and bat a blind eye to racism.

      I saw your latest blog post. Lovely to hear you are working on taking both your blog and art in a different direction. Thank you for your kind words. It is even better to hear you are and your family are safe and staying in. Hopefully things get better for the world. Good luck with your writing and artistic endeavors.

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