Jennifer Li was serving her customers at a Chinese beverage shop in Melbourne’s South-East last month when she overheard a woman talking loudly about the “Chinese virus”.
- The incident happened at 2:00pm on April 1
- Victoria Police is urging witnesses of the incident to come forward
- A reporting database has recorded 300 racist reports in just one month
Ms Li said the middle-aged woman, who was sitting on a bench across from her bubble tea shop in Carnegie with a beer in one hand, told passers-by that people who wore face masks were “virus carriers”.
Feeling offended by the comments, as both she and her customers were wearing face masks, she told the woman to “stay at home”.
At the same time, Ms Li started recording the incident with the intention of reporting the woman for breaching Victoria’s stage-three lockdown restrictions.
In the video footage supplied to the ABC, the woman is seen hurling racially charged taunts at Ms Li after she told the woman to stay at home.
“Why don’t you f***ing go back to China and keep your disease over there, you f***ing idiot,” the woman said.
“[You] ate live meat, blood-covered blood, bats. Good on youse, and you f***ing come here.”
“F***ing germ, f*** off.”
In the video, a man then walks into view before shoving Ms Li and grabbing the phone from her.
Ms Li said the man told her she should go back to her country, and threatened to smash her windows.
A bystander called triple zero to report the incident and her staff helped her retrieve her phone.
In the following days, Ms Li said she started receiving anonymous phone calls, harassing text messages and threatening voicemails.
Ms Li also reported those incidents to the police and told them she was concerned about her safety.
A Victoria Police spokesman confirmed reports of a verbal altercation between two women and a man in the afternoon on April 1.
He said police conducted a patrol of the area but were unable to locate the offenders, adding that the investigation was ongoing and witnesses should contact Crime Stoppers.
“Regarding the other incidents, police have received a report of a number of abusive voicemails made to a business on Koornang Road, Carnegie in early April,” he said.
“As the investigation is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”
COVID-19 gives some Australians ‘an excuse’ to be racist
Chinese-Australian Jennifer Li says racism is “too frequent” in Australia. (Supplied: Jennifer Li)
Ms Li, who emigrated to Australia from China when she was 15, said although she was grateful fellow Australians helped her during the incident, she was “disappointed” to experience coronavirus-fuelled racism in a country she now called home.
“It’s too frequent. You used to feel a very minor kind of racism,” she said.
“[You don’t] constantly … hear, see or experience things like this in one week, [it] never happened like this before.
“It’s very hard to say if I feel safer now, because every time when I leave the shop, I still need to look around and make sure there are no suspicious things happening.”
Ms Li is just one of many Asian-Australians who say they have been verbally and physically assaulted since the start of the pandemic.
A survey launched by community group Asian-Australians Alliance has since collected some 300 racist incidents against Asian-Australians since it was launched on April 2.
Most of the respondents said these incidents were linked to COVID-19, according to the survey.
“What concerns me the most is that [the number of incidents] keeps growing, and it is sad there are already that many reports,” Erin Wen Ai Chew, the national convener of the Asian-Australian Alliance, told the ABC.
Ms Chew said COVID-19 had “given an excuse to Australians” who might have racist intentions or were ignorant, to racially discriminate against people with Asian backgrounds.
She added the current situation was “a symptom” of the broader issue of “anti-Chinese sentiment” in Australia, fuelled by public discussions about China’s growth and influence in recent years.
“[It] shows the ‘yellow peril’ — when the Chinese first came to Australia [during] the Goldrush — never left, and it has only transformed into something else to adapt to modern-day racism,” she said.
Of those who reported a racist incident in the survey, more than 40 per cent of incidents occurred on a public street, 22 per cent occurred in supermarkets or grocery stores, 15 per cent on public transport and 12 per cent in shopping centres.
“Many have stated … in the survey that they or their parents are fearful to go outside to take a walk or to walk to their local supermarkets to pick up some items because of the racism,” Ms Chew said.
The survey also revealed two-thirds of the incidents involved verbal or written racial slurs, 17 per cent involved verbal threats and 13 per cent involved physical intimidation such as being pushed or punched.
However, only 5 per cent of those surveyed reported their incidents to police.
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‘You guys brought in the virus’
Numerous Australians of all backgrounds have denounced racist attacks on the Asian-Australian community. (ABC News via Pexels/Cotton Bro)
Melburnian Alan You is among what is believed to be the silent majority of Asian-Australians who have experienced a racist incident but have chosen not to report it.
Mr You told the ABC of an incident in February when a staff member at a pharmacy in Melbourne’s northern suburbs treated him differently to other customers.
He said he approached staff member because he couldn’t find the vitamins he was after, but he said she was reluctant to check the stock for him.
“[The staff member] was providing excellent customer service to other Caucasian customers, smiling and chatting to them, but once I approached her, she was very reluctant and impatient,” he said.
“She told me there’s no more [vitamins] for me, there’s a low supply, so they only sell them to people who need [them].
“I was very upset and told her she was being racist against me, and then she said, ‘you guys brought in the virus’.”
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Mr You said while he didn’t report the incident to authorities at the time, he had now decided to speak out after seeing the recent spike of racist incidents in the media.
Earlier this week, Acting-Immigration Minister Alan Tudge spoke to the ABC, urging individuals to report those cases to police if it was a serious threat of violence or property damage, or to the Human Rights Commission for any other racist attack.
“I say to the broader Australian public: call out the racist attacks when you see it,” he said.
“Ask them not to do it. Don’t stand by and let it happen because we all have a responsibility to call it out.”
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Ms Li said she believed most Asian-Australians did not feel their racist experience was serious enough to warrant a police report.
She said Asian-Australians were also less likely to report or speak up due to their cultural upbringing.
“The way that we’ve been educated, is that you don’t provoke things … If you can let it go, just let it go. This is a very cultural thing. I think it’s the mentality that we have,” she said.
“I think that’s why we have been taken advantage of … some people will think that we are very easy-going with all these issues — even if you say something back to me, or even if you do something really ridiculous to us, we won’t really do anything or say anything.
“[But] if we don’t put the message out, it’s just going to keep happening.”
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