The team submitted over 40 Freedom of Information Act requests to police forces around the United Kingdom
Abbey Wong, Sandii Ng and Sisi Hu are members of Voice ESEA, a non-profit organisation set up this year. Voice ESEA is on a mission to eliminate racial discrimination against East and South East Asians (ESEA) by educating about, and amplifying voices of ESEA within the community.
Voice ESEA also launched a petition to the UK Government and after reaching over 10,000 signatures, received a response from the UK Government. However, to ensure that this topic gets to Parliament and to hold our leaders accountable, the petition requires 100,000 signatures by 12 September 2021. Please sign and share here: link.
Abbey Wong is the Data Team Lead and Sandii Ng is a Project Manager of Voice ESEA, and are founding members. Sisi Hu has helped Voice ESEA as a volunteer, providing thoughts and advice on the strategy of the group. All three women have full-time jobs but are committed to playing a part in the fight against racism. In this exclusive feature with Resonate, Yinsey Wang (another founding member of Voice ESEA) explores a recent Voice ESEA project as regards sourcing police hate crime data across the UK from 2019-2020, as well as some words from these inspiring women.
YW: What is Voice ESEA’s Police-Reported Hate Crime Project and what are some of your findings so far?
AW: We wanted to do something constructive about the rise in hate crimes against ESEAs through launching our petition to Parliament.
Inspired by the data-driven problem-solving you can find in various other grassroots campaigns, we wanted to see what evidence we could gather. In this case, we wanted to build an understanding of the scale of police-reported hate crime in different regions all across the United Kingdom.
As a result, we submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to over 40 police forces. We have released a few of our findings (in addition to those provided in this article) on our Instagram already here.
YW: Why do you think it is important to raise awareness of hate crimes against ESEAs in the current climate?
AW: It’s taken physical, brutal violence for the ESEA community to realise how many tiny cuts we’ve taken in the name of being the silent minority. It’s about time the wider public realised how these normalised actions divide the people of the United Kingdom.
It absolutely broke my heart to hear of hate crimes in the 21st century, because they sound like the stories of racist attacks my grandparents tell me happened when they moved here in the 1960s. It speaks to a lack of change in the education system and society. So, if my generation doesn’t step up to stop this now, I worry that my nieces and nephews will grow up with the same normalised sense of fear, instead of belonging. It must stop now and there must be a collective, united reaction to achieve this.
SN: The pandemic has escalated the level of hate crimes against ESEA dramatically in a short space of time. Potentially due a combination of reasons such as the misuse of information and social media, as well as lack of access to legitimate information, there has been a spreading of the perception that ESEAs are the group to blame. As people look to find someone to blame, they target whoever that is at reach, easy and vulnerable, which is not acceptable and just heart breaking.
The current climate has revealed and made apparent the level of discrimination and racism imbedded in our society, but it has also made it the best chance for us to succeed in making real change.
SH: Hate crimes against ESEAs have increased significantly during the pandemic across the globe, yet we don’t really hear about these in the news. There have even been instances of murders (in the US, for example) and violence due to hate crimes.
During the first period of the outbreak, I have had people tell me “it’s because of you Chinese people who unleashed this stuff onto the world”. Although these comments weren’t violent in themselves, they made me feel discriminated against because of my race and it was very uncomfortable having to deal with these!
YW: What is your hope for the future society?
AW: A few, achievable things:
- The word, “British” to not immediately be associated with the narrow-minded values Churchill held dear (See Ash Sarkar’s commentary at @doubledownnews). Instead, that term to be synonymous with the vibrancy and fruits of globalisation, enabling a system where every British citizen, no matter their ethnicity, could feel represented and proud of their identity.
- We’d all be equals in a bustling community, unconstrained by negative, ignorant stereotypes. As a result, beauty standards would change and shape the public’s ideals of leadership and what minorities can achieve and transform. Perception of safety in public spaces, and confidence levels amidst minority groups would blossom. And development, based on collaboration and positive cultural exchange would accelerate.
SN: Society needs to learn better about how not to stereotype people and show more willingness to learn and accept differences in people.
We all have a duty to each other to make sure equality is at the forefront of how we build our future society and to better the world for all people. We are making progress, but let’s not wait till something really detrimental happens before we realise something needs to change.
SH: I sincerely hope that our future society will be discrimination-free and we will embrace each other with respect regardless of our race, gender, sexuality, disability, and education.
YW: Why did you decide to join Voice ESEA?
AW: I had a physical reaction to the hate crime news. I sobbed, angrily. I was both furious and broken that this hatred hadn’t been weeded out of the education system and society and was clearly as underdeveloped as the system my grandparents suffered when they’d first emigrated here in the 1960s. It made me question my every sense of belonging in this country, despite having been born and raised here. I was terrified for my family, and scared for my unborn nieces and nephews, that they’d grow up in a country that would never be truly safe or home for them. I also felt hopeless, because there wasn’t anything I felt like I could tangibly do, even to protect those in close proximity to me, geographically.
So, naturally, when Yinsey and I started chatting on Subtle Asian Traits about her artwork, then our jobs, she called back to ask about whether I’d be happy to lead the data team. I leapt at the opportunity to make positive change. It was the first time that I’d had a glimmer of hope about the state of the world in many years.
SN: There is never the right time, so when there is a chance, take a risk, make it happen.
SH: I was incredibly inspired by Yinsey’s energy and passion for advocating for this issue. I had personally experienced hate comments during the pandemic and I never thought I’d know someone who was working on this issue in her spare time.
When she told me about the data they were gathering from the police, having sent over 40 requests under the FOIA, and the data analysis she was working on with Abbey and Sandii, the level of dedication and scientific vigour involved astounded me. I’m very proud to be part of this organisation and I support the mission wholeheartedly.
YW: How do you find purpose?
AW: Generally, my purpose in life is to leave the world a better place than I found it.
Specifically, regarding my family, my community and in circumstances where anyone that looks like me that might end up migrating to their colonisers’ country for a better life, in the future, I want to ensure that translates into successfully making life easier for them in any, sustainable, long term way.
Voice ESEA allows me to lift up my voice to Government, who I still believe can problem solve for our community. Hearing about abuse in the 21st century reminiscent of the attacks my grandparents had to suffer in silence as takeaway owners and minorities in the 1960s broke me. Their reaction to activism in the past few months validated everything we’re working for: “good, I’m glad you’re part of this organisation. Your generation should be protecting our community. You have education and voices. It’s about time our community stood up for ourselves and stopped the violence against us.”
SN: I think the purpose of life is to feel, when I am on my death bed, I have left something positive in the world and my life has made a difference to at least one person. The act does not need to be big, just small, tiny things could change a person’s life sometimes. Trying to do something is always better than doing nothing. Hence, here I am, with Voice ESEA trying to make another person’s life a bit better than before our existence!
SH: I dive into many activities and I find my purposes as I go along. Recently I have been doing more self-reflection exercises, trying to tease out the values from what I do. Those are curiosity, learning, and giving.
YW: Have you ever experienced racism? How did that make you feel?
AW: I was fortunate to have grown up in a very ethnically-diverse part of east London where all of my friends were also third generation migrants, ready to uphold and celebrate each other’s cultures and perspectives. In hand with the Asian pride that I was raised with, it made me very confident in my identity as an ethnically Chinese woman, free to reach whatever goals that I put my mind to.
That self confidence made me nonchalant to the stream of micro-aggressive racism I’d normalised.
It wasn’t until the physical attacks during lockdown that I realised that micro-aggressions I’d so easily batted off were only the head end of non-weeded hatred in our society. It terrifies me that the same issues my grandparents faced would be repeated throughout my niece’s and nephew’s cohort, potentially fractioning their senses of self. So, we speak up now, out of a long awaited, real need to protect our family from being nothered where they are already citizens and should unquestionably already belong.
SN: I think the majority of my racist experiences would have been from online dating, especially when you are being racially-profiled by people who have never met you; that sucks! People tending to assume you don’t speak English is probably the most common theme that I have experienced. In addition, data has shown apparently that Asian men apparently get the least “likes” on these apps!
Micro-aggressions are what I have experienced the most growing up, while I am very comfortable in my own skin, I can guarantee these have small impacts on how I navigate through life. I certainly would like this sort of behaviour to disappear so there will be even less of an impact on the next generation!
SH: Yes, on the street typically. People have called me “Chink”, sometimes commented on the way I have slanted eyes. I have once been told to “go back to your country”. These experiences weren’t pleasant.
When I was younger, I was more vulnerable and thought that somehow I was perhaps inferior because of where I came from. There was one teacher from secondary school who asked me “how could you afford to come to this country?”; I was simply shocked by the question and didn’t have the capacity to respond.
YW: What inspires you?
AW: Watching change makers’ innovation and drive, up close and at work. It can be easy to lose hope about the state of the world, what with seemingly unending accounts of climate change and systemic issues. And yet, new friends in these thriving, developing communities and networks have proved time and time again that there is reason and space to stand up and remain determined to see bigger things to come.
I’ve always been surrounded by people like this, “do-ers” and thinkers: my intelligent mother and my whip-smart grandparents, who migrated here, worked to enable my success, and instilled their passions for the importance of education, the irreplaceable beauty of holding onto my cultural roots, and a deep belief in God, and the idea of a higher purpose, in me.
It’s been additionally fascinating to be in the presence of impressive energies along the way, such as my old bosses, Hannah Ryder and Leah Lynch who are reforming the foreign aid dynamics in African countries through Africa Reimagined. Yinsey Wang, and our team at Voice ESEA, in addition to all the incredible activists who dared to step up to the plate and unite their impressive skillsets to achieve top-down change for my community. Daily, they enable me to envision a future of powerful Asian leadership, instead of continued, crippling stereotypes of submissive silence. My mentors, John Craven, Mabel Canham and Madeline, at upReach, who have enabled social mobility for so many university students in England and are due to continue to transforming lives in the foreseeable future.
I am inspired to believe in change, because they have already broken-down barriers to entry. I am so excited to build on their achievements and encouragement.
SN: People, curiosity and ambition.
SH: I’m inspired by people who take initiative such as Yinsey, Abbey and Sandii.
I’m inspired by people who won’t just sit there and do nothing about injustice. I only hope to be more proactive and act on issues that I feel strongly about more.
YW: Advice for women looking to make an impact?
AW: I’m so excited for you and your growth. If there’s anything in your mind that stops you from taking the reins and going for anything, take a step back and challenge all the presumptions you might have about your unquestionable beauty, power and numerous abilities. Key is also to reach out to a mentor to accelerate yourself, one baby step at a time. See you at the top!
SN: Take small steps, pick one thing at a time you care most about and is close to you personally, you will then have the drive to make it happen.
The important thing is to believe in yourself and open up to the world of possibilities; there is always a solution to things and things can always change for the good and better, so go for it and find it!
SH: Find like-minded women.
We are stronger together.
I’m part of many women-led initiatives and these have helped us advocate for change in a much more effective way.
Abbey Wong is a third-generation British Chinese data scientist. She was recently featured in the Asians in Britain project “Take Your Place” celebrating BESEA identity. In that feature, Abbey shared how she wants “to reshape the next generation’s ideals of beauty, power and leadership, so that they can grow up proud of their identities”.
Sandii Ng is an in house paralegal with a background in arts and fashion. A skilled painter and having worked in luxury retail, Sandii advises on complex legal matters and projects. Sandii enjoys travelling, collecting plants, baking and creating pottery in her free time.
Sisi Hu is the Program Fellow of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, where she is researching the impact of climate and technological change on our economy and the future of work. She is also a co-author of “The Self We Choose (我们选择的自己)”, a book published in Chinese that features the life stories of scientists from the largest ever all-women expedition to Antarctica. She loves to travel, sing, dancing salsa and can unicycle!
Notes on police-reported hate crime data set out above
Note definition of hate crime: https://www.met.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/hco/hate-crime/what-is-hate-crime/
Voice ESEA made various Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA Requests) to police forces around the United Kingdom to compare incidents of police-reported hate crime against ESEAs.
Individuals may decide not to report hate crimes to the police for a variety of reasons and therefore figures may not be fully reflective of the scope of hate crimes against ESEAs.
Different police forces use different ethnic group identifiers. Values may therefore not show the full scope of police-reported hate crimes against ESEAs.
In some cases, the police force has loosely defined its groupings, for example “Asian” or “any other Asian background”. We have attempted to focus on the groupings which explicitly include ESEA identifiers but this has not been possible in all instances.
The material and information may be subject to copyright and other laws, as well as the rights of third parties.
The material and information is for general information purposes only and has been retrieved and interpreted from the original underlying FOIA request responses received from respective police forces. Voice ESEA cannot guarantee the accuracy, quality, validity, completeness or suitability of the material provided for any particular purpose and such material may be subject to inaccuracies or errors. Voice ESEA does not and will not accept liability for any such inaccuracies or reliance upon such information and shall be under no obligation to notify any person of any error.
Please note that UK police forces are routinely required to provide crime statistics to government bodies and the recording criteria is set nationally. However, the systems used for recording these figures are not generic, nor are the procedures used locally in capturing the crime data. It should be noted that for these reasons, generally, we have received warnings from police forces that an individual police force’s response to the relevant questions should not be used for comparison purposes with other responses received.
Graphics templates by Natalie Wong