I Am Not a Virus: Findings of the COVID-19 Racism Survey

Prominent Asian Australians are calling for #UnityOverFear in the wake of an uptick in racist attacks as a result of COVID-19.

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Read the results.

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A Joint Statement by the Asian Australian Arts Alliance, Diversity Arts Australia and Democracy in Colour

The Asian Australian Alliance, Diversity Arts Australia and Democracy in Colour have joined forces to collaborate on the COVID-19 Coronavirus Racism Incident Report Survey and to develop campaigns and artist-led projects to address #CoronaRacism.  You might have heard about it on The Age, news.com.au, ArtsHub or the ABC.

Initiated by Erin Chew, Being Asian Australian and the Asian Australian Alliance, the survey tracks anti-Asian racist attacks that are related to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on racism targeted at people with Chinese/East Asian origins and people in Australia from Asian backgrounds who are at risk of being attacked.

Please share this survey with your networks and participate if you have been directly affected.

Anti-Asian Racism – Early Results of Survey

As of 20 May 2020, the survey has received 326 responses from all over Australia. The survey will remain open and results will be continually updated.

To date, 81% of the respondents have said that the racist incident that they experienced was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. SBS Australia also reported that the Human Rights Commission has received a spike in racial discrimination complaints.


“I heard a man yelling at me: ‘You f*****g b***h, you do not belong here. What are you f*****g doing here? Go the f*** back to where you belong’.

I quickly ran into the restaurant. It was scary because this is right around my neighbourhood and it was late, he was obviously under the influence of alcohol and making threatening gestures.”

Survey respondent Lynn Ooi shares her experience of racism

Of the respondents, 83% have reported that they have personally experienced racism and 13% said racism was experienced by someone they know:

“My friend was walking on the street and got approached by a white male who looked like he was in his 50s. He asked her to go back to China and that ‘her people’ brought the disease here.”

“Part way through my run a man walking his dog was approaching in the opposing direction on the track and I heard him say, “move over China”. On the following lap around the track the man started to pretend to cough excessively and stopped after passing. I did not react in any way to this person throughout the incident.”

According to the early findings, 88% of respondents did not know the person/people who committed the racism towards them:

“Driving past a car, passengers screamed out ‘CORONA VIRUS’ then left laughing.”

“I was walking my dog and saw two men in front of me and when I crossed them one of the men called out ‘oh no, corona corona corona’. I was a female alone so did not bother engaging and instead continued to walk in the other direction.”

The percentage of racist incidents that occurred in public / private spaces include:

  • 38% Public street/sidewalk
  • 35% Businesses: supermarket/grocery store/general stores and shopping centres
  • 15% Public transport

“Racial slurs and offhand comments made directly at me or obviously aimed at me in supermarkets local to me, once by an employee and a couple of other times by strangers asking why I was buying groceries instead of eating bats and the ‘go back to where you came from’ muttered comments in passing.”

Incidents also occurred in schools, universities, workplaces and other spaces:

“We were having online class and it was the first class, one of my classmates entered into the classroom and he is Vietnamese. Another classmate said, “coronavirus is here.” And he said that while laughing so apparently he thought that was funny. No one, even the teacher, said anything to stop him or remind him, pathetic.”

“A patient refused care from an Asian nurse and other Asian staff, stating the staff has covid19.”

Although the majority of surveyed incidents occurred in person (86%), the survey also measured online and other spaces where racist incidents occurred. Of these incidents, online spaces included Facebook (47%), Twitter (14%) and Instagram (16%). Almost 10% of incidents that weren’t in person took the form of an abusive phone call.

“A friend shared a post highlighting the recent concerns over COVID-19. On commenting, a friend of theirs started to abuse me and all Chinese, stating that we should all die and go to hell.”

Respondents identified many different forms of racism experienced including but not limited to:

  •  61% Racial slur/name calling (“Go back to China”, “Stop eating bats/dogs”, “Ching Chong”, “Chink” etc)
  • 24% Making it out as a joke
  • 17% Verbal threat  (“I will report you to the police for coughing”, “I will hunt you down” etc)
  • 15% Getting spat/sneezed or coughed on
  • 12% Shunning (being excluded)
  • 12% Physical intimidation (being shoved/pushed, tripped, hit, punched, kicked etc.)

This survey is a critical start to developing action-based strategies to protect community members from the violence of racist abuse and attacks. But as Erin Chew reminds us, a lot more needs to be done:

“What we noticed from the responses was something like 88 percent of people did not report what happened to the police and so we can go through the more detailed responses to potentially see if they should lodge a complaint, or perhaps suggest organisations they can go to for support”

Short term actions include ensuring people in the community feel safe to report incidents so that they are logged and followed up, as well as providing culturally responsive counselling and mental health service provision. Some survey responses cited instances where the mental health helplines they accessed had insufficient cultural support for those who had experienced racism, resulting in some of the victims’ mental health state worsening to the point of self-harm. It is clear that cultural safety training needs to be compulsory in this space. Long term actions include  racial literacy education that starts in school and is core to learning in all educational and workplace settings.

These survey responses are critical in providing an evidence-base to advocate for action to support those most affected by #CoronaRacism and to address larger social issues of racial inequity.

What we can do

Fight racism and racist stereotypes. Speak out against racism wherever you see it, including calling out racist assumptions and racial microaggressions, racial profiling and stereotyping.

Check in on friends who have experienced anti-Asian racism – they may need space to vent. Ensure that their concerns are heard and validated.

Raise your voice! More people than ever are spending their time online, and content consumption is at its peak. If you’re an artist, creative, content creator or media maker, take this opportunity to flex those muscles and get your message out! Contribute to campaigns such as #IStandWithAsianAustralians #IAmNotAVirus and #WashTheHate and the #UnityOverFear campaign started by high profile Asian Australians.

Report racist incidents to state and territory bodies and to national organisations like the Australian Human Rights Commission. Also report it to the Police. 88% of survey respondents didn’t report incidents to the police.

Hold media organisations and social media platforms accountable for racist reporting of COVID-19. You can make complaints to the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Australian Press Council.

Provide training and education. While survey respondents reported that they contacted mental health support lines after the incidents, some reported that their concerns were not taken seriously, indicating the need for compulsory training in cultural safety and anti-racism for people who work in this field.

Access support and counselling from: Beyond Blue, which has a Corona Virus mental well-being support service; Lifeline, which offers a free interpreting service for people who do not speak English; and, Multicultural Futures, which provides free phone counselling for migrants and refugees. Additional free and accessible counselling services can be found on SSI’s website here.

Demonstrate strong institutional leadership. Government and institutions must do more to acknowledge and condemn the racist abuse targeted at Asian Australians as a result of COVID-19.

Call for a national anti-racism campaign to address the increase in racism in the community. We call for a campaign that works across all levels of government, major institutions, industry bodies, education, health, unions, business and industry, media, the arts and creative industries.

Business leadership. Demand a stronger voice from business and industry in speaking out. 36% of the racist incidents reported occurred in supermarkets, stores and shopping centres. There is also a need for anti-racism and resilience training for staff who are working on the front line in this sector.

Fund creative responses. In a context where local content production is suffering and with the recent government’s relaxing of local content quotas, fund initiatives and support creative platforms and safe spaces for Asian Australians to create content and lead conversations. Diversity Arts Australia is partnering with the Asian Australian Alliance and Democracy in Colour on specific campaigns and to provide artist commissions for Asian Australians to create content and lead conversations on their own terms.