#StopAsianHate is making inroads into the UK - and this can only be a good thing


Over the last month your attention may have been drawn to the #StopAsianHate movement which began in America. Although campaigners have attempted to draw attention to the longstanding issue, the rhetoric of former president Donald Trump and the spate of attacks against people from East and South East Asian backgrounds in The States brought the matter into focus again last year.

His continued reference to covid-19 as ‘the china virus’ brought with it real consequences for Asian-Americans, as a number of stories emerged of individuals who were facing racial abuse as a result. 

Last March, The Seattle Times covered the story of Yuanyuan Zhu who in San Francisco experienced a member of the public yelling expletives about China at her before screaming that a passing bus should “run ‘them’ over.” Derogatory language both on and offline where hate speech mounted, as well as incidents of physical violence became increasingly apparent.

In the San Francisco Bay area this proved especially problematic, but across the US and further abroad the rise in racist attacks has made the social environment that much harder for Asian communities around the globe. This was even acknowledged by the United Nations.  

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a video calling on governments to “strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.” 

the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering” 

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Problems closer to home 

In the UK, the issue was not much better. The assault of Jonathan Mok in London by a group of men who told him ‘they didn’t want his coronavirus in their country’, took place almost a year ago today, and coincided with the issue receiving national attention.

This was only at the beginning of national lockdown, but the theme was consistent throughout the pandemic. In October, the Luton North MP Sarah Owen noted that there were 261 recorded hate crimes against Chinese and East and South East Asian communities in April. This rose to 323 in May and 395 in June, identifying that the figures rose each time the lockdown measures eased.

Once again, this vitriol was also reflected online. Moonshot, an organization which monitors extremist content online recorded a 300% increase in the use of hashtags either encouraging or inciting violence against China and Chinese people.

This led to the House of Commons sitting to discuss the impact of racism faced by Chinese and East Asian communities during the pandemic.

The debate brought to light numerous examples of experiences people had faced both during and prior to the pandemic. However, the issue with the wider reporting of the problem at the time was that too much of its focus was linked to Trump and the pandemic.

Though his words were incendiary and emboldened overt displays of anti-Asian hate speech and physical assault, a chance at a wider look at why these sentiments exist, and how they manifest themselves was missed.

The 'othering' of East and South East Asian culture

The debate in parliament recognised how the use of language when discussing East and South East Asian communities in the UK is a significant problem and this is important because it’s telling of a deeper issue which predates the pandemic.

A couple of weeks ago, two MPs sat in the same room as me and referred to the Chinese—I will quote this unparliamentary language—as “those evil bastards”, and “oh, you know how they look.” They were rightly discussing the awful human rights abuses being carried out by the Chinese state, but this is an othering of an entire ethnicity, which should have no place in society, let alone this House. We need to lead by example. We should absolutely criticise the Chinese state for its appalling abuses against the Uyghur people and actions in Hong Kong, but we need to find a way that does not fuel racism or make Chinese-British East Asians even more vulnerable or fair game to racists. 

~ Sarah Owen MP

Language is a powerful tool in contributing to the ‘othering’ of individuals from these communities and perpetuates already harmful stereotypes often built on ignorance and which see people from East and South East Asian communities disadvantaged.

One of these stereotypes is the portrayal of people from East and South East Asian communities as being passive and overly deferential actors in society – working diligently, but often regarded as ‘one–dimensional’. 

There is extensive literature covering this topic from the likes of Angela Reyes, Rosalind S. Chou and Madeline Y. Hsu, but this stereotype has sadly proven to be persistent and is particularly troublesome:

1. By framing people from these communities in such one-dimensional terms, society fails to acknowledge them beyond a very limited set of tropes.

2. On the rare occasion that the harmful nature of these stereotypes does come into public discourse, these same stereotypes can act to marginalize them from mainstream discussion regarding the issue. If not addressed, society returns to the default of assuming that there is no issue to be addressed at all.

Writing in Glamour, Yuan Ren draws from personal experience, and that of her Grandparents to explain this further:

For so long, we were dubbed the “silent minority”​ that doesn’t complain, which others take to mean there’s nothing to complain about.

Systemic prejudice towards us makes us angry, even if we haven’t shouted it in the past. My parent’s generation has endless stories of having to apologise when they’d done nothing wrong, being passed over for promotions and leadership opportunities because they didn’t fit the type — lacking the confidence, accent, or social immersion of born-and-bred Brits. They believed it was better to stay in a job than fight the powers that risked them losing it all."

~ Yuan Ren

Over the past month, there have been a number of Asian voices who have continued to offer valuable perspective based on real world experience and spoken frankly on the multi-generational impact that these stereotypes have had.

Both the fashion journalist Susie Lau who helped form the movement, and the actor Daniel York Loh who recently spoke to The Independent are two examples of this. Now more than ever, we need to be making sure the voices that need to be heard are heard, so that #StopAsianHate can have some sort of lasting effect.

We have seen time and time again how issues highlighting racial injustices receive an initial groundswell of public support before diminishing without lasting change being crystallised through legislation, sectoral reform or at the very least genuine change in public sentiment. The reality is that it is very rare for one event to have such an all-encompassing effect, but where we can assist in moving that process forward, we should do so earnestly.

In Britain we get sucked into the idea of being a model minority so much so that we think we’re not really an ethnic minority and we’re not really discriminated against, but it’s there."

 “It’s manifested into this raging horror, literally to a point where it isn’t safe for people of ESEA heritage. I know of girls who have been punched, people attacked in the streets… it was always there.”

~ Daniel York Loh

Mayowa Ayodele


#StopAsianHate is a cause which merits our suupport. If you do wish to help, you can support financially by donating to causes such as End The Virus of Racism and groups such as the Chinese Association of Tower Hamlets. I'd also recommend you following the work of Britain's East and South East Asian Network and Protection Approaches to be better informed on the subject.


A call to action...

For 24 years OBV have fought to ensure black and minority ethnic participation and representation in civic society. Efforts in continuing to do so though, relies on your help. That way we can continue this fight for greater race equality. What would give us a tremendous boost is if today, you made that small donation yourselves, but even more importantly if you encouraged others to do likewise.