Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic just over a year ago, there has been a visible rise in anti-Asian racism worldwide, and Ireland is no exception. The Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) reported a significant increase in racist crimes, with 700 cases being reported last year, including 60 coronavirus related incidents in the first four months of 2020. However, many more cases go unreported and the true extent of the problem is far more sinister. Anti-Asian racism in Ireland has long gone unaddressed, with the concerns of the Asian community too often being swept under the rug, dismissed and invalidated. In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Atlanta, US, which tragically resulted in the deaths of six Asian women, an open letter to take action against anti-Asian racism in Ireland has been launched. The letter, composed by two Trinity postgraduate students, Xi-Ning Wang and Moonyoung Hong, was modelled off a similar letter that has been circulating universities in the UK. Speaking to Trinity News, Moonyoung explained that the letter aims “to bring greater awareness to the issues of racism” in Ireland and that they “want universities and other institutions to show their continued commitment in taking action to protect and offer support to their staff and students, whether they are Black, Asian, Travellers or of other ethnic minorities”.
After seeing Moonyoung’s powerful tweets regarding her experience of racism in Ireland, Aaron Koay, a fellow Trinity PhD candidate and scholar, reached out to show support and share his own experiences with racism and anti-racism advocacy. Aaron subsequently joined Moonyoung and Xi-Ning in creating their petition letter, which has already reached over two hundred signatures, and the formation of the “Anti-Asian Racism Ireland” group who recently had their first meeting over Zoom. The meeting, co-hosted by Xi-Ning and Moonyoung, was held on April 9 and served as an open forum for Ireland’s Asian community to share their personal stories and voice concerns about the rapidly growing rates of anti-Asian hate crime and discrimination. The group discussed how progress can be achieved in the future and some attendees expressed their frustration at the lack of acknowledgement of anti-Asian racism within Ireland’s universities.
Although there is still far to go, Aaron shared some of the work that he has been doing already to advocate for policy change within the College and beyond, particularly in regard to the Irish healthcare system. After writing an article for Trinity News last year, in which Aaron interviewed a number of fellow pharmacy students on their experiences with anti-Asian racism, some progress has been made within the pharmaceutical field. The Head of School and School Administrative Manager reached out to Aaron and arranged a meeting with him to discuss some of the issues that were raised in his article. Following the meeting Aaron drafted up a document for them to consider, outlining suggestions on how the School can improve their Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policy. He also contacted APPEL (Affiliation for Pharmacy Practice Experiential Learning) who manage the experiential learning placements of the integrated pharmacy programmes of the three Schools of Pharmacy in Ireland- UCC, RCSI and Trinity. They have since updated their handbooks and incorporated the EDI updates into placement preparation lectures. Furthermore, APPEL organised a seminar with INAR, targeted at community pharmacy supervisors, on how to ensure an inclusive pharmacy environment. There have also been plans made to roll out unconscious bias training to all pharmacy supervisors.
“It is exactly the time when we should hear more about anti-Asian racism advocacy and it is the time when the public and policymakers are attuned to that, creating a window that is conducive to policy and structural change.”
On a national level, Aaron reached out to the Irish Pharmacy Union who agreed to develop their EDI policy going forward. Evidently, Aaron’s article led to multiple streams of impactful changes that leverage equality, diversity and inclusion on the level of school, faculty and national pharmacy placements, signalling how raising Asian voices and lobbying together can create a positive snowball effect that materialises visions for progression. Aaron highlighted the need to continue engaging in discourse on anti-Asian racism saying: “In light of the current wave of Asian-targeted racist attacks, I think it is so important to keep the conversations about anti-Asian racism going. It is exactly the time when we should hear more about anti-Asian racism advocacy and it is the time when the public and policymakers are attuned to that, creating a window that is conducive to policy and structural change.”
So, what more can be done to keep carving out a path towards an inclusive, safe environment for Ireland’s Asian community? In an interview with Trinity News, Moonyoung outlined what actions she would like to see being taken on personal, educational, and governmental levels to combat anti-Asian racism.
“On a personal level, we need everyone to listen and be supportive. Treat everyone with respect and dignity. It sounds quite obvious and basic, but somehow it is not exercised enough. Often, we don’t express incidents of racism to our friends, colleagues or tutors because of the dismissal, defensiveness and even mockery. We are afraid that when we call out and share our experiences, they will be met with silence and repercussions. Reflect on your own unconscious biases, be critical consumers of the media, news, and stories,” she said. “At the university/education level, I know there are EDI officers/committee/working groups in every university, but we need an easier reporting system and to make information more accessible, better representation of ethnic minorities in staff and higher positions, to provide support and resources like counselling in racial trauma, more education and programmes on diversity and inclusion – the first Black Studies module in TCD is a good example and UCC has been doing very well in terms of organising equality weeks and monthly panel talks on race.”
“We need more political leadership; Hazel Chu cannot be the only one fighting the battle.”
On a governmental level, Moonyoung says that the same mentality applies. “An easier reporting system is needed, while the reluctance and refusal to recognise certain crimes as ‘hate crimes’ or ‘racially motivated’ does not help,” she said. “We need more political leadership; Hazel Chu cannot be the only one fighting the battle. She has been racially abused more than ever since she has become the Lord Mayor of Dublin. There needs to be a comprehensive national action plan and willingness to listen to organisations’ call for action (INAR is a good example).”
When asked what students and staff at Trinity can do to support and show solidarity for our Asian community, Moonyoung responded: “Sign the letter and share it! Let people around you know and have that difficult ‘race’ chat. These are uncomfortable conversations, but it is important that everyone becomes aware of what is going on and is able to talk about it. The most common response I got when I shared my story was that people just had no idea. That in itself is telling. Listen to the Asian community, do your best to pronounce our names right, and check in to see how we are doing. Call out your friends and family when you witness racist jokes/remarks being made, and offer support by reading and learning about race, about our different cultures, histories, and backgrounds.”
“Know that when we speak of Asia, we are referring to a multitude of differences.”
She also touched on the problem of the homogenisation of multiple East Asian countries. “For instance, Korea was colonised by Japan, so when people mix us up, it’s like mixing up Ireland and England,” she said. “A lot of the racial slurs we hear often equate “Asian” with “Chinese”. Asia is complex; the version we are talking about here also leaves out South East Asia altogether. Know that when we speak of Asia, we are referring to a multitude of differences.”
The organised collective approach of the newly-formed Anti-Asian Racism Ireland group serves as a promising step towards long-awaited institutional action, within education and healthcare sectors, government policy and further afield. Together the group hopes to continue lobbying for change and demands attention to the serious racial discrimination and attacks that many of them fear daily. Change is urgently needed to ensure the protection of Ireland’s Asian community and uphold equality for all, and Ireland’s universities and government need to actively listen and engage with these conversations around anti-Asian racism if this is going to be achieved.