ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has hit out at racism directed towards Asian Australians, saying the hate leaves people with the feeling they will never be accepted by white Australian society.
In a powerful speech to the ACT's parliament on Thursday afternoon, Ms Lee said while incidents of discrimination were less frequent in Canberra, they were no less harmful.
"It shatters your entire world; it brings into question your belief in humanity; it hurts deeply - so deeply - to know that you are, in some ways, thoroughly rejected by your fellow human beings," Ms Lee said.
Ms Lee, who born in South Korea and migrated to Australia aged 7, said an ugly side of society was bubbling away and rose to the surface when the coronavirus pandemic emerged from Wuhan in China and derision was directed to people of Asian appearance.
"I have empathised, been outraged and cried with these fellow Asian Australians who have shared their hurt with me and, as is usually the case, we dust it off and move on," she said.
"We reassure ourselves that it is the minority - and it is - and that it doesn't matter. But it does matter. Because we matter."
Ms Lee, who is the first Asian Australian to lead a major political party, told the Legislative Assembly of the racist remarks directed at her and her campaign team during election periods.
"My supporters and I have been confronted with comments that make it clear I am seen as an Asian first and Elizabeth Lee, the candidate, second," she said.
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Ms Lee said a member of her team had recently been told: "'You guys are doing some great stuff but your leader; she's Chinese right?' whilst screwing up their face like they had tasted something bad."
Ms Lee also spoke of the racism faced at school, university and in the workforce, where white employees assumed Asian Australians filled a "diversity quota".
"I don't tell these stories often but when I do, they are usually met with disgust, shock and outrage," Ms Lee said.
"Sadly, perhaps because for so many of us, these are occurrences we have faced all our lives, we are - in many ways - immune to the shock.
"But what does remain - what always remains - is the sad resignation that perhaps deep down, no matter how many Vegemite sandwiches we eat, no matter how many pairs of thongs we own, we might never be fully accepted by the privileged white Australians in our adopted home country."
Ms Lee's adjournment debate speech was sparked by an essay written by Alice Amsel for the ABC published on Thursday, in which the Korean Australian writer described being spat on by a woman at a chemist.
"Perhaps the most upsetting part of this was how unsurprised and deflated I felt. Having moved from South Korea to Sydney as a child, being an Asian immigrant meant learning how to process racism thrown your way, and learning it fast," Amsel wrote.
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