"Go back to your country," said a man driving past as I was walking near the Immigration Museum, of all places.
For those from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, experiences like this are all too familiar. Racist incidents, especially verbal abuse, takes a split second and by the time I realised what the driver had said, the car was gone.
And for the victim, the response mechanism always freezes due to shock hindering our ability to defend ourselves. I didn’t provoke it, I felt powerless, angry and disappointed knowing a fellow Australian would challenge my sense of belonging based on the colour of my skin.
Watch: Awkward questions I get asked as a young Aboriginal woman. Post continues below.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world, incidents of racism towards those of Asian ethnicity and appearance increased – with Australia being no exception. A survey compiled by the Asian Australian Alliance and researcher Osmond Chiu found nearly 400 people with Asian backgrounds reported experiencing racist incidents.
It seems a lot of these incidents have been driven by paranoia, which in turn has led to prejudice. In one online Zoom community consultation forum I participated in, organised by a government department, one representative spoke up and said how China needed to take responsibility for the spread of COVID-19 and that if people mention this it should not be classified as racism.
While this individual attempted to support his stance by saying it is a geopolitical matter, views like this spark prejudice and leave people of Chinese, and to a certain extent, Asian appearance open to further attack.
Based on conversations within my personal and professional networks, anecdotal evidence has told me a large number of COVID-19 inspired racist incidents around the country are not captured in surveys or reported to the relevant authorities due to fear and anxiety.
After hearing the stories and experiences of my Asian-Australian friends, I for the first time in my life had to think twice before putting my mask on before going out shopping (before it became mandatory) and wondered if I would be abused in the lift or at the shops. And for the first time in my life, I felt unsafe and unwelcome in my own country.