The Marvel film star Gemma Chan has revealed that she is frightened for her family in the UK after a surge in hate crimes against Chinese, Japanese and south-east Asian people.
Speaking to the Observer to help raise awareness for a national #StopAsianHate campaign, Chan said she was “deeply concerned and disturbed” at police figures revealing that, in London alone, attacks on east and south-east Asian people (ESEA) have tripled over the past year.
“Like many others, I worry for family members every time they leave the house or use public transport,” said Chan. “My mum has worked for the NHS for most of her life. She and my dad have been followed and subjected to a number of verbal assaults since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Chan said that while the attacks on her parents did not become physical, many victims did face violence. Among several incidents, she cited an unprovoked attack on a 26-year-old woman in Edinburgh last week that ended in her hospitalisation, the vicious beating of a university lecturer out jogging in Southampton and a physical assault on Singaporean student Jonathan Mok on Oxford Street in London. She warned that a tipping point had been reached.
“The recorded figures are likely an underestimation because many incidents go unreported, both to the police and in the media.”
Chan, who starred in 2019’s Captain Marvel, is joined by a number of prominent individuals including fashion designer Alexa Chung, fellow Marvel star Benedict Wong, Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding and Vogue editor Edward Enninful in backing a GoFundMe initiative to support east and south-east Asian communities in Britain.
“There is an urgent need for increased awareness and support so I am proud to help launch this fund, which will provide grants to grassroots organisations supporting ESEA and broader communities,” said Chan.
In the US, a similar initiative created by GoFundMe in February has raised $6m. The UK version is launching to raise money that will be distributed to grassroots community groups such as besea.n, Covid Anti Racism Group, End the Virus of Racism, and Kanlungan UK.
Community activist Francesca Humi told the Observer there were fears that violence would increase when lockdown ends. “I am part of a number of ESEA groups and networks and there are serious worries that we’re all going to be moving in public spaces a lot more and be exposed to rampant sinophobia. I worry about our elders, who are much more vulnerable.”
Mai Anh Peterson, who co-founded besea.n, a network for British ESEA communities, said a “severe lack of visibility and representation for ESEA communities” in the UK was deepening ignorance and inequality.
“Representation of ESEA people in positions of power in the private sector, media, politics and other decision-making positions amounts to about 0.27%, which is far below the proportion of ESEA people in this country,” said Peterson. She added that there were damaging deficiencies in the way data is recorded in the UK.
“Organisational racism can be seen in action in how bodies, including the Met police, continue to identify and categorise all east and south-east Asian people as ‘oriental’. It is derogatory and dehumanising – oriental is a term for rugs, not for people. How can you homogenise people from China, Thailand, Korea and the Philippines into one monolithic bloc?”
The 2021 census also failed to collect accurate data by using the umbrella term “Asian – Other” for non-Chinese ESEA people. “This matters,” said Humi, “because you can’t solve specific problems if there is no understanding that they exist. For example, Filipinos made up a quarter of Covid-19 deaths in the NHS at one point last year, and despite them being the third-largest nationality working for the NHS, only nine Filipinos have managerial posts with any ability to influence strategy and policy in the NHS.”
The #StopAsianHate campaign is being promoted by independent charity GoFundMe.org, which is working with its sister fundraising platform GoFundMe to collect donations. From there, grants will be distributed to ESEA organisations working across the UK.
• This article was amended on 11 May 2021. An earlier version, referring to Peterson, said she “runs besea.n”. To clarify: she is one of the co-founders of the network.