A London-based actor has spoken out about racism experienced by East Asian communities in the UK, after a stranger told him he ‘might have coronavirus’.
Jason Wong, 34, who recently appeared in the 2019 Guy Ritchie film The Gentleman and is featured in the Amazon original series White Dragon, told HuffPost UK how he was racially profiled in a newsagents close to his home in West London on Saturday.
His experience comes after numerous reports of racist verbal and physical attacks against members of East Asian communities living in the UK since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
He said: “I went into the newsagents and as I walked in I saw him there so stood two metres away. He looked at me and said ‘oh, you’re Chinese, stand away from me’.
“I looked at him and said ‘sorry? excuse me?‘. He replied ‘you’re Chinese, you might have coronavirus’. At that point I asked if he was saying that because of my race I had coronavirus, and he replied ‘yeah, because it comes from where you’re from.’”
Wong explained that he then told the man he had been born and raised in West London, to which he replied: “That’s ok then, but all Chinese people might have coronavirus.”
“I just said: ‘No, you’ve just made a general stereotype and very racially discriminatory comments,’” Wong added.
“He then turned and said: ’Everyone is scared right now of Chinese people and you might have it.”
A shop assistant, who asked not to be named, confirmed to HuffPost UK that they had seen the altercation and said it had started when Wong entered the shop and the unnamed man had asked him to stay two metres away.
In a video, captured by Wong in the moments after the unnamed man’s comments, he asks him why he thought it was appropriate to make comments about his race.
Wong said: “No one else in the shop spoke up for me, they just stood there in silence which is fine. But I think the key message there is that if people are being racist, you have to be outspoken and speak up for yourself because no one else will.”
Pointing to a racially-motivated attack on a Singaporean student on Oxford Street in March, Wong said many East Asian people living in the UK feared that coronavirus would lead to a rise in racism towards the community.
He said: “There is that possibility that East Asians within the British community at the moment sometimes have to live in that fear of being attacked because of racial discrimination.”
“When my mum goes out for her weekly shopping, I go with in fear that she might suffer prejudice because she’s of East Asian descent.”
He added: “It’s important in these moments of uncertainty to stay together, rise above it and move forward.
“Express yourself, but in a safe manner, an articulate manner and a non-violent manner.
“The key thing is that you can share your stories of this happening and move forward, you don’t have to suffer in silence.”
US president Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’, and has often questioned the reliability of death statistics as well as the origins of the virus – adding further fuel to the conspiracy theory that it was man-made in a Wuhan lab. This theory has been repeatedly dispelled by scientists, and recently dismissed by US intelligence officers.
American media has since reported a sharp rise in violent racist attacks against Asian Americans, with researchers from San Francisco collecting more than 1,000 reported cases of xenophobia against the Chinese American community between January 28 and February 24, Vox reported.
Working as an actor, with friends in the film industry both in the UK and US, Wong said he has heard of a number of incidents and was worried about how the rhetoric used by Trump could mean a setback for conversations around equal representation.
Wong said: “I think coronavirus is going to have an impact on how things will be going forward because people see this rhetoric used by the president that it’s a ‘Chinese virus’. When it comes from the top, it’s going to filter down.
“It’s hard, because when you see some who’s supposed to represent the land of the free and home of the brave it’s quite hard to understand this is someone who is supposed to represent the diversity of what America is, which is made up of migrants.
“It doesn’t help the Asian community in the US who helped build American society, and it’s hurt my counterparts in the US and fellow East Asian actors and performers.”
But coronavirus isn’t just affecting BAME people in the UK in terms of racist incidents. Statistics collected across the UK show that those from minority ethnic groups make up a disproportionately high number of Covid-19 deaths.
It emerged on Friday that the coronavirus death rate in English hospitals among British Black Africans and British Pakistanis is more than twice that of the white population.
Research carried out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) also found that deaths of people from a Black Caribbean background were 1.7 times higher than for white Britons.
Data published by NHS England last week revealed that that hospital deaths per 100,000 among British people of a Black Caribbean background were three times of that among the white British population.
But while previous analysis has failed to account of the potential impact of underlying factors such as age, gender and geography, the IFS report makes it clear that these do not explain the disparity.
The IFS study found that the type of jobs where BAME workers are disproportionately represented also had an impact on their exposure to the virus or its economic consequences.
One in five NHS staff in England are from a BAME background as are about half of all doctors in London, with staff from ethnic minorities also losing their lives at a disproportionate rate.
BAME who continue to work are often in key frontline roles, at a higher risk of exposure to the virus itself because of the jobs they perform.
More than 20% of Black African women of working age are employed in health and social care roles.
Pakistani men are 90% more likely to work in healthcare roles than their White British counterparts and while the Indian ethnic group makes up just 3% of the working age population of England and Wales, they account for 14% of doctors.