Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, there has been a surge in anti-Asian hate crime across the world. During his presidency, Donald Trump infamously referred to the virus as the “Chinese virus” as well as the “Kung flu” and closer to home, Fintan O’Toole wrote in the Irish Times of a narrative that has existed since the beginning of the pandemic which claimed it “had an Asian face”.
Nevertheless, anti-Asian racism, discrimination and hate crime “aren’t new problems, but [we have] certainly seen a spike over the course of the pandemic”, according to Neil Chakraborti, the head of the University of Leicester’s school of criminology and director of its Centre for Hate Studies.
While Chakraborti concedes that “there is no universal explanation” for the rise in anti-Asian hate crime, “the evidence suggests that Chinese communities or anybody ostensibly Chinese looking were blamed for being a virus spreader because that’s where the virus originated”.
Lucy Shuyao Lu, a third-year law and French student at Trinity, agrees: “Being Chinese is, in and of itself, something negative. That was always the case … So with COVID coming from China, that certainly didn’t help.”
Anti-Asian racism, discrimination and hate crime aren’t new problems, but we have certainly seen a spike over the course of the pandemic
While some attention has been drawn to the rise in anti-Asian hate crime in the US, Chakraborti explains that “limited work” has been done in Ireland to address the issue.
Indeed, as Serena Foo, a member of Asian Alliance Ireland and a PhD candidate in immunology at Trinity, points out, “one of the main misconceptions is that anti-Asian hate is a sole issue that only happens in the US – it’s more prevalent now in Ireland and the UK”.
For Foo, the pandemic is simply “an excuse for previously dormant racists to be as vocal and aggressive as possible now. And they feel it’s validated”. According to the Irish Network Against Racism, out of the 700 recorded reports of racism in 2020, 32 percent of racial crime victims were Asian.
Although these statistics paint a troubling picture, the actual number of victims is undoubtedly much higher. “Most incidents go unreported. So, it’s very difficult for us to get a concrete picture of the scale of the problem and whom it most affects and where it most affects them”, Chakraborti explains.
One of the main misconceptions is that anti-Asian hate is a sole issue that only happens in the US – it’s more prevalent now in Ireland and the UK
Part of the issue is that many people remain reluctant to report hate crimes unless they can point to a physical injury to substantiate their claim. “A lot of the time victims will only report if there’s some tangible evidence or what they feel the police will see as tangible evidence”, Chakraborti says.
The reluctance to report hate crime is unsurprising – as Lu points out, “reporting things comes with a lot of courage and especially when you’re reporting something that isn’t taken seriously”.
“I’ve reported the hate crimes I’ve faced to the Gardaí with zero follow up – unless there’s video evidence there is a mentality of ‘he said, she said’, which is infuriating”, Foo explains.
In an email statement to The University Times, An Garda Síochána stated that it “takes any crime or incident, with a hate motivation, seriously, and incidents reported to us are professionally investigated and victims supported during the criminal justice process”. Moreover, An Garda Síochána gave details of the online hate crime reporting facility that it recently introduced and how “this service will provide increased accessibility to the Garda Service, particularly for victims of Hate Crime who may have previously been reluctant to report to An Garda Síochána”.
Universities are microcities, they’re enclosed environments, but they embody everything that happens in wider society
As anti-Asian hate crime incidents continue to rise across the country, they will also continue to rise across universities. “It’s a given that there will be a crime in the university setting because universities are microcities, they’re enclosed environments, but they embody everything that happens in wider society”, Chakraborti explains.
For universities, this issue presents unique challenges. Chakraborti explains that hate crime within universities often goes under the radar “and the victim has nowhere to seek solace because your perpetrator or potential perpetrators will still be in your hall of residence, or will still be in the lecture theatre”. This, he points out, is a problem all victims of harassment face, not just those who suffer from racially motivated abuse.
Moonyoung Hong, a PhD candidate in the School of English in Trinity, concurs with Lu and Foo that most racist or discriminatory remarks in Trinity take the form of microaggressions.
Hong explains how in Trinity, “it is way more difficult to register something as racist because it will often happen with a smile. Smiling but refusing to pronounce my name [correctly], smiling but favouring a white colleague for certain positions or opportunities, being friendly but not taking me seriously, offensive ‘jokes’, ignorance, snobbishness and condescension – all these encounters cannot be labelled as ‘crimes’”.
Lu recalls an incident in her “first or second week” in Trinity when, following a debate, a person “just made microaggressions towards me for the entire night”. She recounts ‘jokes’ directed at her such as “Lucy can’t handle her drink because she’s Asian”. Lu explains that the comments “just didn’t sit well with me. But he wasn’t calling me names or anything so I was like, ‘Okay, this must be fine’”.
Smiling but refusing to pronounce my name correctly, smiling but favouring a white colleague for certain positions or opportunities, offensive ‘jokes’ – all these encounters cannot be labelled as ‘crimes’
Several months ago, Hong was involved in publishing a petition which drew attention to the rise in anti-Asian hate crime. Since then, Trinity has taken some steps to acknowledge the issue but many students feel they have not done enough. “TCD can do more”, Foo tells me.
The email that students received from Prof Clodagh Brook, College’s then Associate Vice-Provost for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, was a positive step in the right direction, but Lu feels it did not hit the mark. Lu explains how, to her, it was unclear how an email providing links to societies and broad information on the topic of racism would solve the problem.
Nevertheless, Brook is confident that – while there is still a lot to be done – Trinity is “dealing with racism and anti-racism” in a “far more focused way” than it may seem. In recent weeks, Brook has begun working with Asian Alliance Ireland and has recently established the Racial and Ethnic Equality Working group within Trinity.
Unfortunately, as Hong explains, the argument that Asians are not the only people subjected to racism continues to stunt progress. She tells me how “there just seemed to be this reluctance to address the issue of anti-Asian hate crime as if doing so would undermine the Black Lives Matter movement, when it is actually the opposite”.
If you are privileged enough to kind of remove yourself from that situation and not deal with it on a firsthand basis then I think it’s important for you to have this discussion with people
Moving forward, Lu says that she would like to hear people in positions of authority in the College take a stance on the issue. Chakraborti recommends education from “primary school level upwards” around the importance of inclusivity and diversity. Meanwhile, Hong explains that “we need better reporting systems for hate crimes”.
She explains how a new online reporting tool that allows people to report incidents, including micro-aggressions, anonymously will be launched in Trinity soon. While we await the introduction of further initiatives, as Lu points out, everyone has a role to play.
She talks about the importance of allyship and “acknowledging what’s happening”. Lu explains how “during these times, what I look like is very much at the forefront of my mind. It never leaves my thoughts”.
“If you are privileged enough to kind of remove yourself from that situation and not deal with it on a firsthand basis then I think it’s important for you to have this discussion with people.”