Since the start of COVID-19, the pandemic has been used as a justification for racism against Asians, both offline and online. Massey University conducted a study that revealed that New Zealand had lower levels of racism towards Asians compared to other locations in the world, but that level has spiked due to the pandemic. Now, to combat the injustice, New Zealand is continuing the conversations about racism through a new campaign, “Racism is No Joke.”

In February of 2020, the first COVID-19 cases appeared in New Zealand. Soon after, the country began its lockdown. Since then:

  • The number of race-related complaints from Asian New Zealanders rose from 23 complaints from September 1st, 2019 - January 31st, 2020 (or an average of 4.6 complaints per month) to 72 complaints from February 1st, 2020 - June 30th, 2020 (or an average of 14.4 complaints per month).
  • Calls to New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission’s (HRC) information line, where people could report instances of racism and discrimination, have increased by 30%.
  • Netsafe announced that online hate speech increased by 238% in 2020 compared to the last six months of 2019.

As a result, New Zealand’s HRC launched the “Racism is No Joke” initiative to raise awareness about this problem. The campaign features James Roque, a Filipino New Zealander comedian, in a video series about why racist jokes are wrong. Additionally, a Facebook and a WeChat group were formed for people to provide information about the impact of racism, share resources to combat it, and discuss their personal experiences with it so that others would realize that they were not alone and be encouraged to speak up. Meng Foon, the Race Relation Commissioner, has said that the campaign addresses anti-Asian memes, mean comments online, and xenophobic content, which some people view as “jokes.” Moreover, the campaign aims to educate those who may be unaware that they are being offensive or those who unknowingly participate in casual racist discussions and comments because they believe that it doesn’t hurt anyone. In reality, those “jokes” and the name-calling normalizes racism and leads to open hostility against Asians in the future.

Later in the year, the HRC is planning its own survey about COVID-19 related racism and they are hoping to use that data to identify why and where it happens to help stop the issue. However, countless times, instances of racism go undisclosed for a variety of reasons, including:

  • People feeling unsafe reporting discrimination and racism
  • Not knowing who or where to seek support
  • A distrust in local authority figures to properly manage the situation
  • Language barriers

If the public is not reporting cases of racism— regardless of whether it's physical or verbal, online or offline— it is allowing it to continue and the information necessary to tackle racism to be inaccurate. To stop racism, we need to stand up for ourselves as well as others. Even small actions like listening empathically to people’s experiences, examining your prejudices, educating yourself, signing petitions, and attending protests can change the global conversation.