‘Coronavirus has been given the face of a Chinese Asian person’: MP calls for action over anti-Asian racism

By James Moules

LUTON North MP Sarah Owen lamented the rise in hate crimes towards East Asian people in the UK and urged for action to curb racism against these communities.

Speaking at the first ever parliamentary debate on racism against Chinese and East Asian people, Ms Owen detailed the shocking instances of racism experienced by East Asian people and suggested measures to combat the crisis.

She said: “Chinese, East Asians and South-East Asians have been subjected to horrific hate crimes, especially recently due to the pandemic.

“I wish we did not have to have this debate, but it is particularly fitting that this is National Hate Crime Awareness Week.

“Given the sharp rise in hate crime against British East and South-East Asians and the trebling of racist attacks since the covid pandemic, it is absolutely necessary.”

She added: “Coronavirus has been given the face of a Chinese Asian person. This sort of racism punches up as well as it punches down.

“Asians are equally dehumanised, to the extent that we are all the same and all eat live animals, as well as somehow being part of a global conspiracy.”

Ms Owen, who resigned from the Labour front bench yesterday after voting against the CHIS bill, was first elected to parliament in 2019.

She is the first ever female MP of East Asian descent.

Anti-Asian hate crimes since Covid-19

In May 2020, Minister of State for Countering Extremism Susan Williams reported a 21 per cent rise in hate incidents against people of south and east Asian communities since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Britain’s shores.

On the evening of February 24, Jonathan Mok, a 23-year-old from Singapore, was brutally attacked in London.

A group of young men assaulted Mok on Oxford Street, leaving him with horrific visible injuries. Shortly after the attack, Mr Mok told the BBC that one of the group yelled at him: “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.”

This was just one of the numerous instances of hate directed towards people of East Asian origin and descent since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Ms Owen recounted this horrific attack and other instances in her speech.

She added: “British-Chinese filmmaker Lucy Sheen was on her way to rehearsals on a bus, when a white male passenger whispered in her ear—forgive me for the unparliamentary language: ‘Why don’t you f-off back to China and take your filth with you?’

“In Hitchin, just down the road from my constituency, a takeaway owner was spat at and repeatedly asked if he had coronavirus. In Luton, people have been shouted at from cars.

“One woman wrote to me to say that she no longer feels safe, and walks about with her mask on and a hood up to cover her face.”

Call for for action against racism

Ms Owen called for a “clear statement” of condemnation of anti-Asian racism from the Minister and for support for anti-racism groups working with these communities.

The MP also criticised the role of the media, saying: “The Government need to work with media outlets to stop the lazy overuse of East Asian imagery in their reporting of Covid-19, especially when it bears no relation to the story, and to hold social media companies to account when it comes to ridding their sites of racism and conspiracy theories.”

She also called for greater involvement of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) people in the discussion.

“Include our community in the conversation—give us a seat at the table,” she said. “Whether it is about financial support, health or messaging on Covid-19, the black, Asian and minority ethnic community has been left out of the conversation altogether.”

Also speaking at the debate Kelly Tolhurst, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Rough Sleeping and Housing (from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government), said: “It is important that we remain committed to, and steadfast in standing up for anyone who finds themselves a victim of hate crime or of any hate, because, sadly, our Chinese and East Asian communities are not alone in that experience.

“We know that bigots are only too happy to spread hatred against Jewish and Muslim communities and others if it suits them.”

She added: “This week being National Hate Crime Awareness Week, it is a moment to reflect on the challenges that confront us and reaffirm our commitment to tackling hatred.

“I believe that today’s debate has been an important part of that, and we should all stand together to condemn hatred and bigotry in all forms, and focus instead on what ties bind us together.”

A full transcript of the debate can be found here.

Featured Image: David Woolfall/Official Parliamentary Portrait

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