Experts outline the risks to society, when the fear of coronavirus descends to racism

Sev Ozdowski speaking at lectern

Western Sydney University experts are speaking out in condemnation of the racism that has been directed at Chinese Australians as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, and are calling on all Australians to adopt a culture of respect and inclusiveness.

Professor Sev Ozdowski AM, Director of Equity and Diversity at the University, recently convened the 3rd Advancing Community Cohesion Conference (ACCC). He says the novel coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on social cohesion in Australia.

“During the bushfires, we saw members of the Sikh community praised for providing free food for bushfire victims in Victoria. It was a heartening example of Australians from all walks of life coming together to help and support each other,” says Professor Ozdowski.

“Just one month later, the outbreak of the coronavirus has led communities to start turning their backs on each other. Influenced by fear and mistrust, we are seeing the Chinese community taunted, teased and ridiculed.”

Alanna Kamp

Dr Alanna Kamp – a Research Fellow in the Young and Resilient Research Centre and a member of the University’s Diversity and Human Rights Research Centre and Challenging Racism Project – has also noted spikes in sinophobia and anti-Chinese sentiment.

“Chinese Australians have become the focus of racist memes; hoaxes and hurtful messages are being spread on social media; and we are seeing frequent media reports of people of Asian descent being mistreated and vilified,” says Dr Kamp.

Research conducted by the Challenging Racism Project in 2015 and 2016 indicated that 84% of Asian-born Australians experience racism in settings such as the workplace, education, housing, healthcare, shops and restaurants.

A similar proportion (85%) of Australians not born in Asia – but whose parents were born in an Asian country – experienced racism in these settings, compared with just 47% per cent of other Australians.

Dr Kamp says the research clearly indicates that people of Asian descent are already experiencing racism in Australia – but the racialisation of the coronavirus as a ‘Chinese virus’ will be increasing these incidences of racism, and will be having a real impact on Chinese Australian’s feelings of safety and belonging.

Kevin Dunn

Professor Kevin Dunn, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research, and the lead researcher on the Challenging Racism Project, says the coronavirus may supplement a ‘perfect storm’ of fear mongering, that will have widespread social and political implications in Australia.

“There is no place for racism and discrimination in Australia,” says Professor Dunn.

“These racist perceptions and constructions of the coronavirus need to be actively countered, and the emerging antipathy towards people of Asian descent curtailed – otherwise, the negative impact on Australia’s ongoing relationship with the Peoples’ Republic of China will have wide-ranging economic, social and cultural effects in Australia.”


17 February 2020

Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer