Gemma Chan launches #StopESEAHate to help the East and Southeast Asian community

·3-min read
Photo credit: David M. Benett
Photo credit: David M. Benett

Gemma Chan has long been publicly fighting for Asian Americans who have been the target for racially-motivated crimes. Now, together with the support of grass-roots organisations and well-known figures including Phillip Lim, Alexa Chung and Susie Lau, she leads the charge in the UK, launching the #StopESEAHate campaign with GoFundMe that will back communities closer to home.

“I’ve been so worried about my parents,” Chan admits. It's an understandable concern. We are talking against the backdrop of not just a pandemic that has given rise to Sinophobia (also known as Anti-Chinese sentiment), but also an increasing spate of racially-motivated crimes aimed at those of East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) heritage. While we hear of incidents in the US, what’s less known – and reported on – is how frequent the attacks are in the UK, with a 179 per cent increase in hate crime year-on-year at the time of the country’s first lockdown. Representation is problematic, with 33 per cent of images used by media outlets to report on Covid-19 featuring Asian people despite the pandemic affecting the whole world. According to an Ipsos Mori, from February last year, one in seven people in the UK intentionally avoid people of Chinese origin or appearance. As Vice reported earlier this year, when Parliament held its first-ever debate on racism experienced by ESEA community, not one Conservative MP or government minister was present.

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After the horrific attacks against elderly Asian-Americans earlier this year, the #StopAAPIhate movement was co-founded by the designer Phillip Lim with GoFundMe’s chief marketing officer Musa Tariq in the US, with public support from the likes of Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim and Chan herself. “The launch of this Gofundme AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islanders ] project has become a tangible plan for myself and everyone who feels the hurt, anger and frustration,” Lim says. “It channels this into an actionable way to help fight the misguided hate and blame placed on our community.”

In early March, the journalist Zing Tsjeng wrote for Harper’s Bazaar on how prevalent anti-Asian sentiment was in the UK . She was consequently approached to help create a similar fund that would centralise all efforts to support the East and Southeast Asian community in the way they had been galvanised in the US. Soon, a steering committee that included Chan, Tsjeng, the actor Benedict Wong, fashion editor Susie Lau and the grassroots organisation Besea.n came together to start a movement. “It’s been hard to grapple with such structural institutional racism,” Tsjeng tells me. “We know it exists, but it’s difficult to talk about with people as they get defensive. A lot of ESEAs in the UK don’t have a centre to go to in the political sense. We hope this fund is the start of an intergenerational movement for ESEA communities, connecting across age gaps and ethnicities.”

“We all have to take part and stand up against this injustice no matter how small or large our actions and platforms are,” Lim says. “It all adds up to help overcome this dark moment in history.”

We hope that this is a historic moment where the communities can stand against prejudice together and build a better future for generations to come. We hope that society’s eyes are opened to the injustices that ESEAs have been subject to, as we amplify more voices. As Lim says: “In the midst of such enormous tragedy, #STOPASIANHATE was born. I am so proud to be a part of this movement witnessing for the first time in my life all parts of our communities and allies coming together to take a stand and say NO. We are a community woven of so many beautiful ethnicities and cultures and together we are a force that shall no longer be silent. We are a community that is becoming.”

To donate and for more information on #StopESEAHate visit gofundme.com/ESEA

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