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Exposure to racism is increasingly understood as a social determinant of health. Existing data in Aotearoa New Zealand (Aotearoa) link racism to a number of health factors, including: access to healthcare; general wellbeing; and condition-specific health outcomes.[[1,2]] Some of these data indicate that alongside Māori and Pasifika, those in the aggregate “Asian” ethnicity grouping experience levels of racism[[3]] that people of European/Other ethnicity do not.

Within this racialised context, a rise in anti-Asian racism, which has been a feature of the social discourse around the COVID-19 pandemic since its emergence as a global issue, has also been observed in Aotearoa.[[4]] This targeted hate was incited through political narratives that attributed blame to specific regions and racialised dietary habits.[[5]] Deeper explorations of the phenomenon have identified that anti-Asian racism in relation to infectious diseases and times of crisis has a long history in the West in racist concepts such as “yellow peril” and the “perpetual foreigner.”[[6]]

The impact of COVID-19 and the associated surge in anti-Asian racism on the wellbeing of Asian people living in Aotearoa is not well documented in existing government reports.[[7]] General population surveys provide limited insights into the health and wellbeing of the Asian population due to small recruitment numbers and the aggregation of diverse ethnic groups.[[8]]

The “Listening to unheard voices: COVID-19 experiences of ‘Asian’ members of the ‘Team of Five Million’” project collated information on New Zealand’s Asian community experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in Aotearoa. Based on an online survey method, this paper aims to depict the experiences of racism among members of Asian communities in Aotearoa before and after the start of the pandemic, and explain the association between their racism experiences and life satisfaction.

Method

This cross-sectional survey study was designed, implemented and analysed by a multidisciplinary research team (Health, Social work, Asian studies, Sociology) based at The University of Auckland and Goethe University Frankfurt. Ethical approval was granted by The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (Reference no.  22517).

Positionality

As a research team, we recognise our position as tangata Tiriti in relation with Māori who are the Indigenous people of Aotearoa. We bring an explicitly anti-racist position to this study but understand that racism materialises in diverse ways and intersects with other forms of discrimination. We also acknowledge that although we are part of different ethnic communities in Aotearoa, we do not claim to represent them in their entirety, nor do we aim to describe a universal “Asian experience.”

Survey design

A cross-sectional online survey was administered to understand Asian New Zealanders’ racial discrimination experiences and life satisfaction before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey was developed by modifying questionnaires from the New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS),[[9]] the General Social Survey (GSS)[[10]] and the Human Rights Commission’s questionnaire,[[4]] in consultation with the research team. By following a two-step process of the GSS, participants were asked whether they had experienced direct or indirect racial discrimination due to their ethnic background before and since the COVID-19 pandemic, with response options “yes,” “no” and “prefer not to answer.” We have chosen the terminology of “before” and “since” COVID to refer to the period before COVID-19 (January 2020) and the period after this, respectively. “Since COVID” as it is used in this study does not refer to the end of COVID-19 but to life since its impact began to be felt in Aotearoa.

Among those who selected yes to the question, follow-up questions were given to report the types of racial discrimination (racist comment, physical attack, unfair treatment and microaggression) they experienced, with the following response options: “directed at me, directed at a family member or a friend, directed at a member of my ethnic community, directed at an individual or group within the Asian community and none of the above.” Participants were asked to identify the setting(s) where they experienced racial discrimination (e.g., work, public place, school, public transport, social media or mainstream media).

A question, developed by the research team, about the impact of racial discrimination on life satisfaction before/since COVID was measured on a five-point scale: “A lot, quite a bit, moderately, a little bit and not at all.” Lastly, by modifying a question from the COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing Survey, participants rated their overall life satisfaction in New Zealand before/since COVID on a five-point scale: “very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral, satisfied and very satisfied.” In addition, participants were asked to provide their socio-demographic information on their gender, age group, country of birth, ethnicity, first language, residency status, residential area, educational status and essential worker status during the lockdown Levels 4, 3, and/or 2.

The developed survey was modified in the first round of the pilot test with 10 participants. The revised survey was translated into Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean by professional translators and these versions were tested in the second round of pilot testing with 9 participants.

Study population and recruitment

The target population of this study was people who self-identified with the Asian ethnic group as defined by Statistics New Zealand. In New Zealand, Asian is an aggregate term that is often used to describe a highly diverse group with differences in geographical, political, cultural, religious, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds as well as migration pathways.[[11,12]] At the time of the 2018 New Zealand Census,[[13]] there were 707,598 people self-identifying as being part of the Asian ethnic group. The Asian population represented the third largest ethnic group behind New Zealand European and Māori, making up 15.1% of New Zealand’s population. Chinese (247,770 people, 35%), Indian (239,193 people, 33.8%), Filipino (72,612 people, 10.3%), and Korean (35,664 people, 5%) were the four largest Asian ethnic groups. While a significant number of people were born in countries in Asia (67%), almost a quarter of the Asian population (23%) were born in New Zealand. The proportion of females was slightly larger than males (97 men per 100 women). About two thirds of the Asian population (62.6%) resided in the Auckland region.

This study used non-random, purposive and snowball sampling techniques[[14,15]] to effectively recruit the target population. Participants were recruited between 4 August 2021 and 12 September 2021, when the Delta variant was the dominant strain of COVID-19. A social media Facebook campaign was used for advertising a link to the Qualtrics survey platform. The survey was advertised to as wide a network as possible to help increase the diversity of the participants. Local district health boards, community groups representing Asian communities, universities and ethnic community media also shared the survey link with their networks. The online survey site contained the Participant Information Sheet and Consent Form for the participants. Individuals had to be over 16 years old, identify with any Asian ethnic group and reside in New Zealand to be eligible to participate. The survey was available in English, and the three frequently spoken languages of the community of interest (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean).

Data analysis

Ethnicity grouping was informed by the Ministry of Health ethnicity data protocols.[[16,17]] We also grouped participants into Eastern (China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, Taiwan) and Southern (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) Asian categories according to the United Nations definition of regions.[[18]] When required for data analysis, prioritised ethnicity according to MoH protocols was also derived.[[16]] Gender was categorised as: Male, Female and Another Gender for data analysis. Experiences of direct and indirect racism (verbal, physical, unfair treatment and microaggressions) were used to create a binary (any experiences of racism: yes/no) exposure variable. Responses to the question, “How satisfied were/are you with your life in New Zealand after the outbreak of the COVID-19 (from January 2020 until now)?” were collected on a five-point scale ranging from very dissatisfied to very satisfied. A binary outcome variable “high/low since COVID life satisfaction” was created by differentiating between satisfied/very satisfied responses, and neutral/dissatisfied/very dissatisfied responses. The conceptual model and data analysis were informed by the work of Māori health academics examining the association between experiences of racism and a range of health outcomes for Māori, Pacific and Asian ethnicity groupings using data from the NZHS.[[19,20]]

Data analysis was performed using Stata/IC (version 16, StataCorp, College Station, TX). Descriptive summaries and prevalence of experiences of racism were analysed by: total response ethnicity for total and prioritised ethnic group (Chinese, Indian, Korean, Southeast Asian, Other Asian); by region (Auckland/other, urban area (Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Waikato, Wellington) or other); age group; English as first language; residency status (temporary/permanent); essential worker status; and student status. Descriptive analysis was also performed for types and settings of racism. Logistic regression analysis was used to identify subgroups that reported a higher prevalence of racism.

The association between prevalence of racism and wellbeing was investigated by generating logistic regression models with adjustment for covariates, with separate models created for binary and categorical measurements of racism (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Proposed association between since COVID experiences of racism and life satisfaction in Aotearoa and potential pathway variables.

The role of potential pathway variables in the relationship between experiences of racism and since COVID life satisfaction was then examined by building several models where covariates were added sequentially: 1) baseline model (M0); 2) add confounding respondent characteristics: age group, ethnicity, gender (M1); 3) add socio-cultural factors: location, language, residency status, essential worker status, student status (M2); 4) before/existing experiences of racism and before COVID life satisfaction (M3).

Results

There was a total of 2,204 interactions with the online survey during the recruitment period. After excluding surveys in which only the socio-demographic questions were answered (742 responses) and those with a non-Asian identity (10 responses), 1,452 responses were included in the data analysis. Table 1 summarises the socio-demographic characteristics of the survey respondents.

The overall prevalence of experiences of racism in the study was 40.3% (95% CI, 37.7–42.9%). The prevalence of experiences of racism by sub-group is displayed in Table 2; this does not include the 34 participants (2.4%) who responded “prefer not to answer” to this question. Participants in the following sub-groups experienced a higher prevalence of racism compared to participants who were not in that sub-group: youth/young adults, adults, temporary visa holders and high school and tertiary education students. We note the high prevalence of racism experienced by participants in the “another gender” category, although the small number of participants in this sub-group limits interpretation of these results.

Logistic regression of the same sub-groups (Table 3) indicates that the prevalence of racism increases as participant age decreases, with the youngest age group experiencing the highest levels of racism. A similar distribution was observed for high school and tertiary students. Logistic regression also identifies regions (Auckland/urban centre vs outside of this area) as significantly associated with racism prevalence.

Responses related to the type of racism experienced (Table 4) suggested that while verbal attacks (n=320, 23.2%) and microaggressions (n=326, 23.7%) were predominantly experienced directly or through friends and family members (primary indirect), all the categories of racism were experienced at a higher prevalence through the experiences of other members of the same ethnic group or broader Asian communities (broader indirect).

Public places were the most frequently reported site of racism (n=428, 77%), followed by social media (n=249, 45%) and mainstream media (n=192, 35%) (Table 5). However, within the sub-group of respondents who were students who had experienced racism (n=174), more than a third reported experiencing racism in a school setting (n=61, 35%).

Table 6 indicates that the impact of racism felt by participants remained in a similar proportion in the before (762, 56%) and since COVID (801, 59%) periods. Of those who reported that racism did not have a significant impact on their lives prior to COVID-19, one in five participants (22%) in this group reported that racism now had a moderate or greater impact on their lives. This shift in the perceived impact of racism was twofold greater than the proportionate change in the opposite direction (12% shift from high before COVID impact to low since COVID impact).

Table 7 illustrates that the proportion of participants reporting they were satisfied with their lives decreased between the before (1,088, 75%) and since (915, 63%) COVID time points. 263 (24%) participants who answered this question reported a reduction of life satisfaction (from satisfied to neutral or not satisfied).

Table 8 summarises the findings from the sequential logistic regression models used to explore whether the association between racism and since COVID life satisfaction may operate via two potential pathway variables: socio-cultural factors (M2) or before COVID experiences (M3). At baseline, those who did not experience racism during the COVID-19 pandemic had 2.3 [1.82, 2.85] greater odds of having high since COVID life satisfaction. The addition of socio-cultural factors and before COVID experiences appeared to have an attenuating effect on the association (OR 1.7, [1.29, 2.23]), although it remained statistically significant (Table 8).

View Tables 1–8.

Discussion

This survey of Asian people in Aotearoa New Zealand provides insights into the surge of anti-Asian racism which occurred during the first 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We identified a number of sub-groups who faced higher levels of racism and thus demonstrated a correlation between not experiencing racism and enjoying high life satisfaction. These findings support the need for anti-racism as part of ensuring the wellbeing of Asian people in Aotearoa, including those who sit at the intersection of more than one form of discrimination and during times of heightened anti-Asian sentiments.

The role of racism as a determinant of health outcomes, access to and quality of services and general wellbeing is well established in both international[[21]] and national literature.[[1–3]] In the specific context of COVID-19 and minoritised Asian communities, racism has been associated with worse mental and physical health,[[22,23]] including when the racism is indirect.[[24]] In addition to the stressor of heightened interpersonal racism leading to worse health outcomes, structural and institutional racism have been identified as factors which limit the capability of health and other systems to be responsive to Asian communities during the pandemic.[[25]]

While literature on anti-Asian racism in Aotearoa within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is emerging,[[26]] a larger body of research in this area has transpired in the United States, which provides insights into the current study. One of this project’s significant research findings is that participants living in rural areas are significantly more likely to experience racism than participants living in urban areas. Lee and Waters’s survey[[22]] of 410 Asians and Asian Americans found that living in close proximity to other Asians served as a protective factor, decreasing the probability of confrontational racism. Living within ethnically diverse Asian communities may act as a form of protection not only because one is around those from similarly marginalised ethnic backgrounds, but also because members of the majority ethnic group have experienced greater exposure to minority group members. In turn, majority group members are more likely to decrease prejudice towards and increase empathy for ethnic minorities.[[27]] As noted previously, roughly two thirds of New Zealand’s Asian population live in the country’s largest city, Auckland, which has a rich collection of Asian ethnoburbs.[[28]] This, of course, does not mean Asians living in Auckland and other urban centres do not experience racism. However, our research demonstrates that Asians living in rural communities tend to be more isolated and vulnerable, lacking opportunities to build solidarity with other Asian neighbours and forge friendships with non-Asian majority group members, which would help prevent racism.

Another significant finding from our study is that nearly 50% of all high school and tertiary students who completed our survey reported experiencing racism during the pandemic. Referring to anti-Asian sentiments as “Asiaphobia,” Akiba[[29]] argues because of the increased likelihood of Asiaphobia connected to COVID-19, it is imperative that schools are clear in their “unequivocal condemnation of anti-Asian xenophobia”. Communication between students and their communities can come via “school websites, newsletters, and notes to parents, and the message could be reinforced with children through such settings as school assembly and morning meetings”. The importance of such measures is underscored by reports that parents of Asian children in a primary school were sent an anonymous email saying, among other anti-Asian rhetoric, “Our Kiwi kids don’t want to be in the same class as your disgusting virus spreaders!”[[30]] Notably, this happened in a region where Asians comprise a very small proportion of the population, and while our study did not include primary school children our research findings emphasise the need for school leadership to initiate anti-racism prevention measures with their staff and students.

The above example also accentuates the need to address online racism. Although our study did not centre on digital racism, Cheah and colleagues[[26]] found anti-Asian racism to be prevalent—both directly and vicariously—in other locales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This research also found that those Asian participants who suffered from racism were more likely to experience increased anxiety, depressive symptoms and decreased wellbeing, which aligns with our research that identifies a correlation between not experiencing racism and increased life satisfaction.

Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians globally began experiencing amplified and more prevalent forms of xenophobia, which illustrates how tenuous Asians’ acceptance into settler societies stands. This dramatic swing from conditional acceptance to rejection demonstrates how quickly ethnically diverse Asians can have their identity turned from “model minorities” to “yellow perils” when international circumstances shift.[[6]] To this end, it is also important that Asians find solidarity with each other since anti-Asian racists typically do not discern among different Asian ethnic groups. As Tessler, Choi and Kao[[31]] write, “it does not matter if the person is from China, of Chinese origin, or simply looks Asian – the perpetrators of this violence see all of these bodies as foreign and threatening”.

Limitations

The cross-sectional design of this survey limits our ability to comment on causal relationships based on our findings, or conduct formal mediation analyses. This is particularly important to note in the ever-changing context of COVID-19 research, which a single survey is unable to capture. The use of self-reported research design may pose a threat to the validity of the results due to a possibility of a socially desirable response bias to the questionnaire,[[32]] especially on socially sensitive topics.[[33]] The survey design was exclusive to some groups by providing translation in a limited number of languages, being online-only and having an age limit of 16. Along with the non-stratified, purposive and snowball sampling methodology, this resulted in a participant pool with a relatively low representation of a number of large Asian ethnicity groups (particularly Chinese, Indian and Filipino) and with under-representation of younger and older participants and male participants. On the other hand, there was an over-representation of Korean respondents in the overall sample. This unbalanced proportion of the Korean ethnic group might be caused by the fact that four out of five of the research team are Koreans who have diverse advertisement channels and networks within the Korean community. Thus, because of these unbalanced proportions of the sample in ethnicity, age and gender, the generalisability of the research findings to a wider population in New Zealand may not be guaranteed. This survey is also limited in considering how racism intersects with other types of discriminations such as gender and sexual identity, socio-economic deprivation and disability.

Future directions

Despite the limitations of our study, two under-represented groups were identified as being disproportionately exposed to racism: youth and those at the intersection of discrimination. Intersections of discrimination that were identified in our study were temporary migrant statuses and, to a lesser degree, non-binary gender identities, although this insight was limited by the small number of participants in this sub-group. These are communities whose voices need to be heard in considering actions to minimise the harm of racism and work towards anti-racism.

Based on the extensive evidence base describing the impact of racism on health and wellbeing, future directions should be focussed on actively reducing and eliminating racism. Considering the context of our study, this may mean understanding the interplay between national crises and increased explicit racism, actively countering emerging racist narratives as part of an emergency health response and embedding cultural safety, equity and anti-racism upon the foundation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi into these policies.

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Racism is an important social determinant of wellbeing. This study describes New Zealand Asians’ experience of racism and the association between their racism experiences and their impacts on life satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Method

This study collected 1,452 responses by the cross-sectional online survey conducted in 2021. Descriptive and logistic regression analyses yielded the prevalent types and settings of racism, identified subgroups exposed more to racism and its association with life satisfaction.

Results

Results show that nearly 40% (37.7–42.9%) of participants experienced racism, mainly in public places, social media and mainstream media. Verbal attacks and microaggressions were predominant types of racism. Younger, student, temporary visa holding, and rural area participants were more likely to experience racism. Associations between not experiencing racism and high life satisfaction were significant.

Conclusion

This study identified two under-represented subgroups, students and migrants, who were disproportionately exposed to racism. It also revealed that experiences of COVID-era racism are associated with life satisfaction. These findings inform us where anti-racism interventions are most needed, and that such interventions are needed to ensure the wellbeing of Asian communities in a COVID-19 world.

Author Information

Rebekah Jaung: Honorary academic, Department of Surgery, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Public Health Medicine Registrar, Population Health Team, Counties Manukau Health, Auckland. Lynne Soon-Chean Park: Research fellow, Korean Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Joohyun Justine Park: Post-doctoral research fellow, Interdisciplinary Center for East Asian Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. David Tokiharu Mayeda: Senior Lecturer, Sociology, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Changzoo Song: Senior Lecturer, Asian Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2017-OLU-2250001).

Correspondence

Lynne Soon-Chean Park: Research fellow, Korean Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland.

Correspondence Email

l.park@auckland.ac.nz

Competing Interests

Nil.

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Exposure to racism is increasingly understood as a social determinant of health. Existing data in Aotearoa New Zealand (Aotearoa) link racism to a number of health factors, including: access to healthcare; general wellbeing; and condition-specific health outcomes.[[1,2]] Some of these data indicate that alongside Māori and Pasifika, those in the aggregate “Asian” ethnicity grouping experience levels of racism[[3]] that people of European/Other ethnicity do not.

Within this racialised context, a rise in anti-Asian racism, which has been a feature of the social discourse around the COVID-19 pandemic since its emergence as a global issue, has also been observed in Aotearoa.[[4]] This targeted hate was incited through political narratives that attributed blame to specific regions and racialised dietary habits.[[5]] Deeper explorations of the phenomenon have identified that anti-Asian racism in relation to infectious diseases and times of crisis has a long history in the West in racist concepts such as “yellow peril” and the “perpetual foreigner.”[[6]]

The impact of COVID-19 and the associated surge in anti-Asian racism on the wellbeing of Asian people living in Aotearoa is not well documented in existing government reports.[[7]] General population surveys provide limited insights into the health and wellbeing of the Asian population due to small recruitment numbers and the aggregation of diverse ethnic groups.[[8]]

The “Listening to unheard voices: COVID-19 experiences of ‘Asian’ members of the ‘Team of Five Million’” project collated information on New Zealand’s Asian community experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in Aotearoa. Based on an online survey method, this paper aims to depict the experiences of racism among members of Asian communities in Aotearoa before and after the start of the pandemic, and explain the association between their racism experiences and life satisfaction.

Method

This cross-sectional survey study was designed, implemented and analysed by a multidisciplinary research team (Health, Social work, Asian studies, Sociology) based at The University of Auckland and Goethe University Frankfurt. Ethical approval was granted by The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (Reference no.  22517).

Positionality

As a research team, we recognise our position as tangata Tiriti in relation with Māori who are the Indigenous people of Aotearoa. We bring an explicitly anti-racist position to this study but understand that racism materialises in diverse ways and intersects with other forms of discrimination. We also acknowledge that although we are part of different ethnic communities in Aotearoa, we do not claim to represent them in their entirety, nor do we aim to describe a universal “Asian experience.”

Survey design

A cross-sectional online survey was administered to understand Asian New Zealanders’ racial discrimination experiences and life satisfaction before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey was developed by modifying questionnaires from the New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS),[[9]] the General Social Survey (GSS)[[10]] and the Human Rights Commission’s questionnaire,[[4]] in consultation with the research team. By following a two-step process of the GSS, participants were asked whether they had experienced direct or indirect racial discrimination due to their ethnic background before and since the COVID-19 pandemic, with response options “yes,” “no” and “prefer not to answer.” We have chosen the terminology of “before” and “since” COVID to refer to the period before COVID-19 (January 2020) and the period after this, respectively. “Since COVID” as it is used in this study does not refer to the end of COVID-19 but to life since its impact began to be felt in Aotearoa.

Among those who selected yes to the question, follow-up questions were given to report the types of racial discrimination (racist comment, physical attack, unfair treatment and microaggression) they experienced, with the following response options: “directed at me, directed at a family member or a friend, directed at a member of my ethnic community, directed at an individual or group within the Asian community and none of the above.” Participants were asked to identify the setting(s) where they experienced racial discrimination (e.g., work, public place, school, public transport, social media or mainstream media).

A question, developed by the research team, about the impact of racial discrimination on life satisfaction before/since COVID was measured on a five-point scale: “A lot, quite a bit, moderately, a little bit and not at all.” Lastly, by modifying a question from the COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing Survey, participants rated their overall life satisfaction in New Zealand before/since COVID on a five-point scale: “very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral, satisfied and very satisfied.” In addition, participants were asked to provide their socio-demographic information on their gender, age group, country of birth, ethnicity, first language, residency status, residential area, educational status and essential worker status during the lockdown Levels 4, 3, and/or 2.

The developed survey was modified in the first round of the pilot test with 10 participants. The revised survey was translated into Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean by professional translators and these versions were tested in the second round of pilot testing with 9 participants.

Study population and recruitment

The target population of this study was people who self-identified with the Asian ethnic group as defined by Statistics New Zealand. In New Zealand, Asian is an aggregate term that is often used to describe a highly diverse group with differences in geographical, political, cultural, religious, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds as well as migration pathways.[[11,12]] At the time of the 2018 New Zealand Census,[[13]] there were 707,598 people self-identifying as being part of the Asian ethnic group. The Asian population represented the third largest ethnic group behind New Zealand European and Māori, making up 15.1% of New Zealand’s population. Chinese (247,770 people, 35%), Indian (239,193 people, 33.8%), Filipino (72,612 people, 10.3%), and Korean (35,664 people, 5%) were the four largest Asian ethnic groups. While a significant number of people were born in countries in Asia (67%), almost a quarter of the Asian population (23%) were born in New Zealand. The proportion of females was slightly larger than males (97 men per 100 women). About two thirds of the Asian population (62.6%) resided in the Auckland region.

This study used non-random, purposive and snowball sampling techniques[[14,15]] to effectively recruit the target population. Participants were recruited between 4 August 2021 and 12 September 2021, when the Delta variant was the dominant strain of COVID-19. A social media Facebook campaign was used for advertising a link to the Qualtrics survey platform. The survey was advertised to as wide a network as possible to help increase the diversity of the participants. Local district health boards, community groups representing Asian communities, universities and ethnic community media also shared the survey link with their networks. The online survey site contained the Participant Information Sheet and Consent Form for the participants. Individuals had to be over 16 years old, identify with any Asian ethnic group and reside in New Zealand to be eligible to participate. The survey was available in English, and the three frequently spoken languages of the community of interest (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean).

Data analysis

Ethnicity grouping was informed by the Ministry of Health ethnicity data protocols.[[16,17]] We also grouped participants into Eastern (China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, Taiwan) and Southern (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) Asian categories according to the United Nations definition of regions.[[18]] When required for data analysis, prioritised ethnicity according to MoH protocols was also derived.[[16]] Gender was categorised as: Male, Female and Another Gender for data analysis. Experiences of direct and indirect racism (verbal, physical, unfair treatment and microaggressions) were used to create a binary (any experiences of racism: yes/no) exposure variable. Responses to the question, “How satisfied were/are you with your life in New Zealand after the outbreak of the COVID-19 (from January 2020 until now)?” were collected on a five-point scale ranging from very dissatisfied to very satisfied. A binary outcome variable “high/low since COVID life satisfaction” was created by differentiating between satisfied/very satisfied responses, and neutral/dissatisfied/very dissatisfied responses. The conceptual model and data analysis were informed by the work of Māori health academics examining the association between experiences of racism and a range of health outcomes for Māori, Pacific and Asian ethnicity groupings using data from the NZHS.[[19,20]]

Data analysis was performed using Stata/IC (version 16, StataCorp, College Station, TX). Descriptive summaries and prevalence of experiences of racism were analysed by: total response ethnicity for total and prioritised ethnic group (Chinese, Indian, Korean, Southeast Asian, Other Asian); by region (Auckland/other, urban area (Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Waikato, Wellington) or other); age group; English as first language; residency status (temporary/permanent); essential worker status; and student status. Descriptive analysis was also performed for types and settings of racism. Logistic regression analysis was used to identify subgroups that reported a higher prevalence of racism.

The association between prevalence of racism and wellbeing was investigated by generating logistic regression models with adjustment for covariates, with separate models created for binary and categorical measurements of racism (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Proposed association between since COVID experiences of racism and life satisfaction in Aotearoa and potential pathway variables.

The role of potential pathway variables in the relationship between experiences of racism and since COVID life satisfaction was then examined by building several models where covariates were added sequentially: 1) baseline model (M0); 2) add confounding respondent characteristics: age group, ethnicity, gender (M1); 3) add socio-cultural factors: location, language, residency status, essential worker status, student status (M2); 4) before/existing experiences of racism and before COVID life satisfaction (M3).

Results

There was a total of 2,204 interactions with the online survey during the recruitment period. After excluding surveys in which only the socio-demographic questions were answered (742 responses) and those with a non-Asian identity (10 responses), 1,452 responses were included in the data analysis. Table 1 summarises the socio-demographic characteristics of the survey respondents.

The overall prevalence of experiences of racism in the study was 40.3% (95% CI, 37.7–42.9%). The prevalence of experiences of racism by sub-group is displayed in Table 2; this does not include the 34 participants (2.4%) who responded “prefer not to answer” to this question. Participants in the following sub-groups experienced a higher prevalence of racism compared to participants who were not in that sub-group: youth/young adults, adults, temporary visa holders and high school and tertiary education students. We note the high prevalence of racism experienced by participants in the “another gender” category, although the small number of participants in this sub-group limits interpretation of these results.

Logistic regression of the same sub-groups (Table 3) indicates that the prevalence of racism increases as participant age decreases, with the youngest age group experiencing the highest levels of racism. A similar distribution was observed for high school and tertiary students. Logistic regression also identifies regions (Auckland/urban centre vs outside of this area) as significantly associated with racism prevalence.

Responses related to the type of racism experienced (Table 4) suggested that while verbal attacks (n=320, 23.2%) and microaggressions (n=326, 23.7%) were predominantly experienced directly or through friends and family members (primary indirect), all the categories of racism were experienced at a higher prevalence through the experiences of other members of the same ethnic group or broader Asian communities (broader indirect).

Public places were the most frequently reported site of racism (n=428, 77%), followed by social media (n=249, 45%) and mainstream media (n=192, 35%) (Table 5). However, within the sub-group of respondents who were students who had experienced racism (n=174), more than a third reported experiencing racism in a school setting (n=61, 35%).

Table 6 indicates that the impact of racism felt by participants remained in a similar proportion in the before (762, 56%) and since COVID (801, 59%) periods. Of those who reported that racism did not have a significant impact on their lives prior to COVID-19, one in five participants (22%) in this group reported that racism now had a moderate or greater impact on their lives. This shift in the perceived impact of racism was twofold greater than the proportionate change in the opposite direction (12% shift from high before COVID impact to low since COVID impact).

Table 7 illustrates that the proportion of participants reporting they were satisfied with their lives decreased between the before (1,088, 75%) and since (915, 63%) COVID time points. 263 (24%) participants who answered this question reported a reduction of life satisfaction (from satisfied to neutral or not satisfied).

Table 8 summarises the findings from the sequential logistic regression models used to explore whether the association between racism and since COVID life satisfaction may operate via two potential pathway variables: socio-cultural factors (M2) or before COVID experiences (M3). At baseline, those who did not experience racism during the COVID-19 pandemic had 2.3 [1.82, 2.85] greater odds of having high since COVID life satisfaction. The addition of socio-cultural factors and before COVID experiences appeared to have an attenuating effect on the association (OR 1.7, [1.29, 2.23]), although it remained statistically significant (Table 8).

View Tables 1–8.

Discussion

This survey of Asian people in Aotearoa New Zealand provides insights into the surge of anti-Asian racism which occurred during the first 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We identified a number of sub-groups who faced higher levels of racism and thus demonstrated a correlation between not experiencing racism and enjoying high life satisfaction. These findings support the need for anti-racism as part of ensuring the wellbeing of Asian people in Aotearoa, including those who sit at the intersection of more than one form of discrimination and during times of heightened anti-Asian sentiments.

The role of racism as a determinant of health outcomes, access to and quality of services and general wellbeing is well established in both international[[21]] and national literature.[[1–3]] In the specific context of COVID-19 and minoritised Asian communities, racism has been associated with worse mental and physical health,[[22,23]] including when the racism is indirect.[[24]] In addition to the stressor of heightened interpersonal racism leading to worse health outcomes, structural and institutional racism have been identified as factors which limit the capability of health and other systems to be responsive to Asian communities during the pandemic.[[25]]

While literature on anti-Asian racism in Aotearoa within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is emerging,[[26]] a larger body of research in this area has transpired in the United States, which provides insights into the current study. One of this project’s significant research findings is that participants living in rural areas are significantly more likely to experience racism than participants living in urban areas. Lee and Waters’s survey[[22]] of 410 Asians and Asian Americans found that living in close proximity to other Asians served as a protective factor, decreasing the probability of confrontational racism. Living within ethnically diverse Asian communities may act as a form of protection not only because one is around those from similarly marginalised ethnic backgrounds, but also because members of the majority ethnic group have experienced greater exposure to minority group members. In turn, majority group members are more likely to decrease prejudice towards and increase empathy for ethnic minorities.[[27]] As noted previously, roughly two thirds of New Zealand’s Asian population live in the country’s largest city, Auckland, which has a rich collection of Asian ethnoburbs.[[28]] This, of course, does not mean Asians living in Auckland and other urban centres do not experience racism. However, our research demonstrates that Asians living in rural communities tend to be more isolated and vulnerable, lacking opportunities to build solidarity with other Asian neighbours and forge friendships with non-Asian majority group members, which would help prevent racism.

Another significant finding from our study is that nearly 50% of all high school and tertiary students who completed our survey reported experiencing racism during the pandemic. Referring to anti-Asian sentiments as “Asiaphobia,” Akiba[[29]] argues because of the increased likelihood of Asiaphobia connected to COVID-19, it is imperative that schools are clear in their “unequivocal condemnation of anti-Asian xenophobia”. Communication between students and their communities can come via “school websites, newsletters, and notes to parents, and the message could be reinforced with children through such settings as school assembly and morning meetings”. The importance of such measures is underscored by reports that parents of Asian children in a primary school were sent an anonymous email saying, among other anti-Asian rhetoric, “Our Kiwi kids don’t want to be in the same class as your disgusting virus spreaders!”[[30]] Notably, this happened in a region where Asians comprise a very small proportion of the population, and while our study did not include primary school children our research findings emphasise the need for school leadership to initiate anti-racism prevention measures with their staff and students.

The above example also accentuates the need to address online racism. Although our study did not centre on digital racism, Cheah and colleagues[[26]] found anti-Asian racism to be prevalent—both directly and vicariously—in other locales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This research also found that those Asian participants who suffered from racism were more likely to experience increased anxiety, depressive symptoms and decreased wellbeing, which aligns with our research that identifies a correlation between not experiencing racism and increased life satisfaction.

Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians globally began experiencing amplified and more prevalent forms of xenophobia, which illustrates how tenuous Asians’ acceptance into settler societies stands. This dramatic swing from conditional acceptance to rejection demonstrates how quickly ethnically diverse Asians can have their identity turned from “model minorities” to “yellow perils” when international circumstances shift.[[6]] To this end, it is also important that Asians find solidarity with each other since anti-Asian racists typically do not discern among different Asian ethnic groups. As Tessler, Choi and Kao[[31]] write, “it does not matter if the person is from China, of Chinese origin, or simply looks Asian – the perpetrators of this violence see all of these bodies as foreign and threatening”.

Limitations

The cross-sectional design of this survey limits our ability to comment on causal relationships based on our findings, or conduct formal mediation analyses. This is particularly important to note in the ever-changing context of COVID-19 research, which a single survey is unable to capture. The use of self-reported research design may pose a threat to the validity of the results due to a possibility of a socially desirable response bias to the questionnaire,[[32]] especially on socially sensitive topics.[[33]] The survey design was exclusive to some groups by providing translation in a limited number of languages, being online-only and having an age limit of 16. Along with the non-stratified, purposive and snowball sampling methodology, this resulted in a participant pool with a relatively low representation of a number of large Asian ethnicity groups (particularly Chinese, Indian and Filipino) and with under-representation of younger and older participants and male participants. On the other hand, there was an over-representation of Korean respondents in the overall sample. This unbalanced proportion of the Korean ethnic group might be caused by the fact that four out of five of the research team are Koreans who have diverse advertisement channels and networks within the Korean community. Thus, because of these unbalanced proportions of the sample in ethnicity, age and gender, the generalisability of the research findings to a wider population in New Zealand may not be guaranteed. This survey is also limited in considering how racism intersects with other types of discriminations such as gender and sexual identity, socio-economic deprivation and disability.

Future directions

Despite the limitations of our study, two under-represented groups were identified as being disproportionately exposed to racism: youth and those at the intersection of discrimination. Intersections of discrimination that were identified in our study were temporary migrant statuses and, to a lesser degree, non-binary gender identities, although this insight was limited by the small number of participants in this sub-group. These are communities whose voices need to be heard in considering actions to minimise the harm of racism and work towards anti-racism.

Based on the extensive evidence base describing the impact of racism on health and wellbeing, future directions should be focussed on actively reducing and eliminating racism. Considering the context of our study, this may mean understanding the interplay between national crises and increased explicit racism, actively countering emerging racist narratives as part of an emergency health response and embedding cultural safety, equity and anti-racism upon the foundation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi into these policies.

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Racism is an important social determinant of wellbeing. This study describes New Zealand Asians’ experience of racism and the association between their racism experiences and their impacts on life satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Method

This study collected 1,452 responses by the cross-sectional online survey conducted in 2021. Descriptive and logistic regression analyses yielded the prevalent types and settings of racism, identified subgroups exposed more to racism and its association with life satisfaction.

Results

Results show that nearly 40% (37.7–42.9%) of participants experienced racism, mainly in public places, social media and mainstream media. Verbal attacks and microaggressions were predominant types of racism. Younger, student, temporary visa holding, and rural area participants were more likely to experience racism. Associations between not experiencing racism and high life satisfaction were significant.

Conclusion

This study identified two under-represented subgroups, students and migrants, who were disproportionately exposed to racism. It also revealed that experiences of COVID-era racism are associated with life satisfaction. These findings inform us where anti-racism interventions are most needed, and that such interventions are needed to ensure the wellbeing of Asian communities in a COVID-19 world.

Author Information

Rebekah Jaung: Honorary academic, Department of Surgery, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Public Health Medicine Registrar, Population Health Team, Counties Manukau Health, Auckland. Lynne Soon-Chean Park: Research fellow, Korean Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Joohyun Justine Park: Post-doctoral research fellow, Interdisciplinary Center for East Asian Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. David Tokiharu Mayeda: Senior Lecturer, Sociology, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Changzoo Song: Senior Lecturer, Asian Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2017-OLU-2250001).

Correspondence

Lynne Soon-Chean Park: Research fellow, Korean Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland.

Correspondence Email

l.park@auckland.ac.nz

Competing Interests

Nil.

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Exposure to racism is increasingly understood as a social determinant of health. Existing data in Aotearoa New Zealand (Aotearoa) link racism to a number of health factors, including: access to healthcare; general wellbeing; and condition-specific health outcomes.[[1,2]] Some of these data indicate that alongside Māori and Pasifika, those in the aggregate “Asian” ethnicity grouping experience levels of racism[[3]] that people of European/Other ethnicity do not.

Within this racialised context, a rise in anti-Asian racism, which has been a feature of the social discourse around the COVID-19 pandemic since its emergence as a global issue, has also been observed in Aotearoa.[[4]] This targeted hate was incited through political narratives that attributed blame to specific regions and racialised dietary habits.[[5]] Deeper explorations of the phenomenon have identified that anti-Asian racism in relation to infectious diseases and times of crisis has a long history in the West in racist concepts such as “yellow peril” and the “perpetual foreigner.”[[6]]

The impact of COVID-19 and the associated surge in anti-Asian racism on the wellbeing of Asian people living in Aotearoa is not well documented in existing government reports.[[7]] General population surveys provide limited insights into the health and wellbeing of the Asian population due to small recruitment numbers and the aggregation of diverse ethnic groups.[[8]]

The “Listening to unheard voices: COVID-19 experiences of ‘Asian’ members of the ‘Team of Five Million’” project collated information on New Zealand’s Asian community experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic in Aotearoa. Based on an online survey method, this paper aims to depict the experiences of racism among members of Asian communities in Aotearoa before and after the start of the pandemic, and explain the association between their racism experiences and life satisfaction.

Method

This cross-sectional survey study was designed, implemented and analysed by a multidisciplinary research team (Health, Social work, Asian studies, Sociology) based at The University of Auckland and Goethe University Frankfurt. Ethical approval was granted by The University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (Reference no.  22517).

Positionality

As a research team, we recognise our position as tangata Tiriti in relation with Māori who are the Indigenous people of Aotearoa. We bring an explicitly anti-racist position to this study but understand that racism materialises in diverse ways and intersects with other forms of discrimination. We also acknowledge that although we are part of different ethnic communities in Aotearoa, we do not claim to represent them in their entirety, nor do we aim to describe a universal “Asian experience.”

Survey design

A cross-sectional online survey was administered to understand Asian New Zealanders’ racial discrimination experiences and life satisfaction before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey was developed by modifying questionnaires from the New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS),[[9]] the General Social Survey (GSS)[[10]] and the Human Rights Commission’s questionnaire,[[4]] in consultation with the research team. By following a two-step process of the GSS, participants were asked whether they had experienced direct or indirect racial discrimination due to their ethnic background before and since the COVID-19 pandemic, with response options “yes,” “no” and “prefer not to answer.” We have chosen the terminology of “before” and “since” COVID to refer to the period before COVID-19 (January 2020) and the period after this, respectively. “Since COVID” as it is used in this study does not refer to the end of COVID-19 but to life since its impact began to be felt in Aotearoa.

Among those who selected yes to the question, follow-up questions were given to report the types of racial discrimination (racist comment, physical attack, unfair treatment and microaggression) they experienced, with the following response options: “directed at me, directed at a family member or a friend, directed at a member of my ethnic community, directed at an individual or group within the Asian community and none of the above.” Participants were asked to identify the setting(s) where they experienced racial discrimination (e.g., work, public place, school, public transport, social media or mainstream media).

A question, developed by the research team, about the impact of racial discrimination on life satisfaction before/since COVID was measured on a five-point scale: “A lot, quite a bit, moderately, a little bit and not at all.” Lastly, by modifying a question from the COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing Survey, participants rated their overall life satisfaction in New Zealand before/since COVID on a five-point scale: “very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral, satisfied and very satisfied.” In addition, participants were asked to provide their socio-demographic information on their gender, age group, country of birth, ethnicity, first language, residency status, residential area, educational status and essential worker status during the lockdown Levels 4, 3, and/or 2.

The developed survey was modified in the first round of the pilot test with 10 participants. The revised survey was translated into Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean by professional translators and these versions were tested in the second round of pilot testing with 9 participants.

Study population and recruitment

The target population of this study was people who self-identified with the Asian ethnic group as defined by Statistics New Zealand. In New Zealand, Asian is an aggregate term that is often used to describe a highly diverse group with differences in geographical, political, cultural, religious, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds as well as migration pathways.[[11,12]] At the time of the 2018 New Zealand Census,[[13]] there were 707,598 people self-identifying as being part of the Asian ethnic group. The Asian population represented the third largest ethnic group behind New Zealand European and Māori, making up 15.1% of New Zealand’s population. Chinese (247,770 people, 35%), Indian (239,193 people, 33.8%), Filipino (72,612 people, 10.3%), and Korean (35,664 people, 5%) were the four largest Asian ethnic groups. While a significant number of people were born in countries in Asia (67%), almost a quarter of the Asian population (23%) were born in New Zealand. The proportion of females was slightly larger than males (97 men per 100 women). About two thirds of the Asian population (62.6%) resided in the Auckland region.

This study used non-random, purposive and snowball sampling techniques[[14,15]] to effectively recruit the target population. Participants were recruited between 4 August 2021 and 12 September 2021, when the Delta variant was the dominant strain of COVID-19. A social media Facebook campaign was used for advertising a link to the Qualtrics survey platform. The survey was advertised to as wide a network as possible to help increase the diversity of the participants. Local district health boards, community groups representing Asian communities, universities and ethnic community media also shared the survey link with their networks. The online survey site contained the Participant Information Sheet and Consent Form for the participants. Individuals had to be over 16 years old, identify with any Asian ethnic group and reside in New Zealand to be eligible to participate. The survey was available in English, and the three frequently spoken languages of the community of interest (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean).

Data analysis

Ethnicity grouping was informed by the Ministry of Health ethnicity data protocols.[[16,17]] We also grouped participants into Eastern (China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, Taiwan) and Southern (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) Asian categories according to the United Nations definition of regions.[[18]] When required for data analysis, prioritised ethnicity according to MoH protocols was also derived.[[16]] Gender was categorised as: Male, Female and Another Gender for data analysis. Experiences of direct and indirect racism (verbal, physical, unfair treatment and microaggressions) were used to create a binary (any experiences of racism: yes/no) exposure variable. Responses to the question, “How satisfied were/are you with your life in New Zealand after the outbreak of the COVID-19 (from January 2020 until now)?” were collected on a five-point scale ranging from very dissatisfied to very satisfied. A binary outcome variable “high/low since COVID life satisfaction” was created by differentiating between satisfied/very satisfied responses, and neutral/dissatisfied/very dissatisfied responses. The conceptual model and data analysis were informed by the work of Māori health academics examining the association between experiences of racism and a range of health outcomes for Māori, Pacific and Asian ethnicity groupings using data from the NZHS.[[19,20]]

Data analysis was performed using Stata/IC (version 16, StataCorp, College Station, TX). Descriptive summaries and prevalence of experiences of racism were analysed by: total response ethnicity for total and prioritised ethnic group (Chinese, Indian, Korean, Southeast Asian, Other Asian); by region (Auckland/other, urban area (Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Waikato, Wellington) or other); age group; English as first language; residency status (temporary/permanent); essential worker status; and student status. Descriptive analysis was also performed for types and settings of racism. Logistic regression analysis was used to identify subgroups that reported a higher prevalence of racism.

The association between prevalence of racism and wellbeing was investigated by generating logistic regression models with adjustment for covariates, with separate models created for binary and categorical measurements of racism (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Proposed association between since COVID experiences of racism and life satisfaction in Aotearoa and potential pathway variables.

The role of potential pathway variables in the relationship between experiences of racism and since COVID life satisfaction was then examined by building several models where covariates were added sequentially: 1) baseline model (M0); 2) add confounding respondent characteristics: age group, ethnicity, gender (M1); 3) add socio-cultural factors: location, language, residency status, essential worker status, student status (M2); 4) before/existing experiences of racism and before COVID life satisfaction (M3).

Results

There was a total of 2,204 interactions with the online survey during the recruitment period. After excluding surveys in which only the socio-demographic questions were answered (742 responses) and those with a non-Asian identity (10 responses), 1,452 responses were included in the data analysis. Table 1 summarises the socio-demographic characteristics of the survey respondents.

The overall prevalence of experiences of racism in the study was 40.3% (95% CI, 37.7–42.9%). The prevalence of experiences of racism by sub-group is displayed in Table 2; this does not include the 34 participants (2.4%) who responded “prefer not to answer” to this question. Participants in the following sub-groups experienced a higher prevalence of racism compared to participants who were not in that sub-group: youth/young adults, adults, temporary visa holders and high school and tertiary education students. We note the high prevalence of racism experienced by participants in the “another gender” category, although the small number of participants in this sub-group limits interpretation of these results.

Logistic regression of the same sub-groups (Table 3) indicates that the prevalence of racism increases as participant age decreases, with the youngest age group experiencing the highest levels of racism. A similar distribution was observed for high school and tertiary students. Logistic regression also identifies regions (Auckland/urban centre vs outside of this area) as significantly associated with racism prevalence.

Responses related to the type of racism experienced (Table 4) suggested that while verbal attacks (n=320, 23.2%) and microaggressions (n=326, 23.7%) were predominantly experienced directly or through friends and family members (primary indirect), all the categories of racism were experienced at a higher prevalence through the experiences of other members of the same ethnic group or broader Asian communities (broader indirect).

Public places were the most frequently reported site of racism (n=428, 77%), followed by social media (n=249, 45%) and mainstream media (n=192, 35%) (Table 5). However, within the sub-group of respondents who were students who had experienced racism (n=174), more than a third reported experiencing racism in a school setting (n=61, 35%).

Table 6 indicates that the impact of racism felt by participants remained in a similar proportion in the before (762, 56%) and since COVID (801, 59%) periods. Of those who reported that racism did not have a significant impact on their lives prior to COVID-19, one in five participants (22%) in this group reported that racism now had a moderate or greater impact on their lives. This shift in the perceived impact of racism was twofold greater than the proportionate change in the opposite direction (12% shift from high before COVID impact to low since COVID impact).

Table 7 illustrates that the proportion of participants reporting they were satisfied with their lives decreased between the before (1,088, 75%) and since (915, 63%) COVID time points. 263 (24%) participants who answered this question reported a reduction of life satisfaction (from satisfied to neutral or not satisfied).

Table 8 summarises the findings from the sequential logistic regression models used to explore whether the association between racism and since COVID life satisfaction may operate via two potential pathway variables: socio-cultural factors (M2) or before COVID experiences (M3). At baseline, those who did not experience racism during the COVID-19 pandemic had 2.3 [1.82, 2.85] greater odds of having high since COVID life satisfaction. The addition of socio-cultural factors and before COVID experiences appeared to have an attenuating effect on the association (OR 1.7, [1.29, 2.23]), although it remained statistically significant (Table 8).

View Tables 1–8.

Discussion

This survey of Asian people in Aotearoa New Zealand provides insights into the surge of anti-Asian racism which occurred during the first 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We identified a number of sub-groups who faced higher levels of racism and thus demonstrated a correlation between not experiencing racism and enjoying high life satisfaction. These findings support the need for anti-racism as part of ensuring the wellbeing of Asian people in Aotearoa, including those who sit at the intersection of more than one form of discrimination and during times of heightened anti-Asian sentiments.

The role of racism as a determinant of health outcomes, access to and quality of services and general wellbeing is well established in both international[[21]] and national literature.[[1–3]] In the specific context of COVID-19 and minoritised Asian communities, racism has been associated with worse mental and physical health,[[22,23]] including when the racism is indirect.[[24]] In addition to the stressor of heightened interpersonal racism leading to worse health outcomes, structural and institutional racism have been identified as factors which limit the capability of health and other systems to be responsive to Asian communities during the pandemic.[[25]]

While literature on anti-Asian racism in Aotearoa within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is emerging,[[26]] a larger body of research in this area has transpired in the United States, which provides insights into the current study. One of this project’s significant research findings is that participants living in rural areas are significantly more likely to experience racism than participants living in urban areas. Lee and Waters’s survey[[22]] of 410 Asians and Asian Americans found that living in close proximity to other Asians served as a protective factor, decreasing the probability of confrontational racism. Living within ethnically diverse Asian communities may act as a form of protection not only because one is around those from similarly marginalised ethnic backgrounds, but also because members of the majority ethnic group have experienced greater exposure to minority group members. In turn, majority group members are more likely to decrease prejudice towards and increase empathy for ethnic minorities.[[27]] As noted previously, roughly two thirds of New Zealand’s Asian population live in the country’s largest city, Auckland, which has a rich collection of Asian ethnoburbs.[[28]] This, of course, does not mean Asians living in Auckland and other urban centres do not experience racism. However, our research demonstrates that Asians living in rural communities tend to be more isolated and vulnerable, lacking opportunities to build solidarity with other Asian neighbours and forge friendships with non-Asian majority group members, which would help prevent racism.

Another significant finding from our study is that nearly 50% of all high school and tertiary students who completed our survey reported experiencing racism during the pandemic. Referring to anti-Asian sentiments as “Asiaphobia,” Akiba[[29]] argues because of the increased likelihood of Asiaphobia connected to COVID-19, it is imperative that schools are clear in their “unequivocal condemnation of anti-Asian xenophobia”. Communication between students and their communities can come via “school websites, newsletters, and notes to parents, and the message could be reinforced with children through such settings as school assembly and morning meetings”. The importance of such measures is underscored by reports that parents of Asian children in a primary school were sent an anonymous email saying, among other anti-Asian rhetoric, “Our Kiwi kids don’t want to be in the same class as your disgusting virus spreaders!”[[30]] Notably, this happened in a region where Asians comprise a very small proportion of the population, and while our study did not include primary school children our research findings emphasise the need for school leadership to initiate anti-racism prevention measures with their staff and students.

The above example also accentuates the need to address online racism. Although our study did not centre on digital racism, Cheah and colleagues[[26]] found anti-Asian racism to be prevalent—both directly and vicariously—in other locales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This research also found that those Asian participants who suffered from racism were more likely to experience increased anxiety, depressive symptoms and decreased wellbeing, which aligns with our research that identifies a correlation between not experiencing racism and increased life satisfaction.

Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians globally began experiencing amplified and more prevalent forms of xenophobia, which illustrates how tenuous Asians’ acceptance into settler societies stands. This dramatic swing from conditional acceptance to rejection demonstrates how quickly ethnically diverse Asians can have their identity turned from “model minorities” to “yellow perils” when international circumstances shift.[[6]] To this end, it is also important that Asians find solidarity with each other since anti-Asian racists typically do not discern among different Asian ethnic groups. As Tessler, Choi and Kao[[31]] write, “it does not matter if the person is from China, of Chinese origin, or simply looks Asian – the perpetrators of this violence see all of these bodies as foreign and threatening”.

Limitations

The cross-sectional design of this survey limits our ability to comment on causal relationships based on our findings, or conduct formal mediation analyses. This is particularly important to note in the ever-changing context of COVID-19 research, which a single survey is unable to capture. The use of self-reported research design may pose a threat to the validity of the results due to a possibility of a socially desirable response bias to the questionnaire,[[32]] especially on socially sensitive topics.[[33]] The survey design was exclusive to some groups by providing translation in a limited number of languages, being online-only and having an age limit of 16. Along with the non-stratified, purposive and snowball sampling methodology, this resulted in a participant pool with a relatively low representation of a number of large Asian ethnicity groups (particularly Chinese, Indian and Filipino) and with under-representation of younger and older participants and male participants. On the other hand, there was an over-representation of Korean respondents in the overall sample. This unbalanced proportion of the Korean ethnic group might be caused by the fact that four out of five of the research team are Koreans who have diverse advertisement channels and networks within the Korean community. Thus, because of these unbalanced proportions of the sample in ethnicity, age and gender, the generalisability of the research findings to a wider population in New Zealand may not be guaranteed. This survey is also limited in considering how racism intersects with other types of discriminations such as gender and sexual identity, socio-economic deprivation and disability.

Future directions

Despite the limitations of our study, two under-represented groups were identified as being disproportionately exposed to racism: youth and those at the intersection of discrimination. Intersections of discrimination that were identified in our study were temporary migrant statuses and, to a lesser degree, non-binary gender identities, although this insight was limited by the small number of participants in this sub-group. These are communities whose voices need to be heard in considering actions to minimise the harm of racism and work towards anti-racism.

Based on the extensive evidence base describing the impact of racism on health and wellbeing, future directions should be focussed on actively reducing and eliminating racism. Considering the context of our study, this may mean understanding the interplay between national crises and increased explicit racism, actively countering emerging racist narratives as part of an emergency health response and embedding cultural safety, equity and anti-racism upon the foundation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi into these policies.

Summary

Abstract

Aim

Racism is an important social determinant of wellbeing. This study describes New Zealand Asians’ experience of racism and the association between their racism experiences and their impacts on life satisfaction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Method

This study collected 1,452 responses by the cross-sectional online survey conducted in 2021. Descriptive and logistic regression analyses yielded the prevalent types and settings of racism, identified subgroups exposed more to racism and its association with life satisfaction.

Results

Results show that nearly 40% (37.7–42.9%) of participants experienced racism, mainly in public places, social media and mainstream media. Verbal attacks and microaggressions were predominant types of racism. Younger, student, temporary visa holding, and rural area participants were more likely to experience racism. Associations between not experiencing racism and high life satisfaction were significant.

Conclusion

This study identified two under-represented subgroups, students and migrants, who were disproportionately exposed to racism. It also revealed that experiences of COVID-era racism are associated with life satisfaction. These findings inform us where anti-racism interventions are most needed, and that such interventions are needed to ensure the wellbeing of Asian communities in a COVID-19 world.

Author Information

Rebekah Jaung: Honorary academic, Department of Surgery, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Public Health Medicine Registrar, Population Health Team, Counties Manukau Health, Auckland. Lynne Soon-Chean Park: Research fellow, Korean Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Joohyun Justine Park: Post-doctoral research fellow, Interdisciplinary Center for East Asian Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. David Tokiharu Mayeda: Senior Lecturer, Sociology, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland. Changzoo Song: Senior Lecturer, Asian Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2017-OLU-2250001).

Correspondence

Lynne Soon-Chean Park: Research fellow, Korean Studies, The University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Auckland.

Correspondence Email

l.park@auckland.ac.nz

Competing Interests

Nil.

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