The Australian Human Rights Commission recorded more complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act in the month of February than they did in the whole year leading up to it. According to Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan, one-third of these complaints received by the Commission have been reportedly COVID-19 related.
ECCV spoke to Dr Hung The Nguyen, a former Vietnamese refugee, and medical doctor and cultural practice educator about this.
“There are now at least 2-3 interest groups calling Asian Australians to register racist incidents they have witnessed or experienced,” he says, “I say today it is Asian Australians, tomorrow it will be some other group and we have not solved the problem.”
“The pandemic has unleashed racism towards ‘Asian-looking’ Australians. Racists don’t see nuance. They don’t see Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese etc. All ‘Asian-looking’ Australians are Chinese. My extended family and I have reported incidents of racist attacks on us ranging from verbal abuse in Melbourne city, comments by patients during my consultations with the classic qualifier, “I am not a racist but…”, “COVID” spray painted on the driveway and told to “go home” at a petrol station. And that is just the overt racism.”
Dr Nguyen expresses concern about the long-term psychological impacts that these attacks may have on those who face them, especially young people.
“Children don’t have the language, skills, knowledge and courage to speak up and reach out to teachers and their parents. Yet the psychological harm lasts a lifetime.”
He recalls his experience of being bullied at school in his hometown of Wagga Wagga – “The kids started calling me names, picking out differences in my physical appearance. I was bullied by a group of boys in Grade 5 and got into physical fights.”
His advice to young people is to “Speak up. People are interested in your voice and your contributions because we know the devastation that long-term violence in all forms can have on young people’s mental health, education and careers.”
“You may think adults know what to do for you and to keep you safe but honestly we may not. That is why we need to work with you to ensure you have a better tomorrow for all our sake.”
Dr Nguyen has ample experience informing and educating the rest of us regarding the challenges and opportunities from cross-cultural interactions in the workplace, health care services and the education space. He has worked extensively as a General Practitioner and Medical and Cultural Educator in urban, rural and remote Aboriginal community health service throughout the Northern Territory and Victoria. He currently works as a GP Supervisor for Eastern Victoria General Practice Training at Bunurong Health Service – an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service in Dandenong. He was the Inaugural Censor for RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health for 9 years and Director of Medical and Cultural Education for the Northern Territory General Practice Education for 5 years where he oversaw GP education for the Territory.
“I have written about racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a number of occasions in the past. It is a huge problem.”
“The worst form of racism is institutional, systemic and covert. Institutional racism is systematically promoted or maintained by the dominant culture to keep the status quo because the status quo supports the well-being and status of the dominant culture.”
Dr Nguyen echoes the call from ECCV and state and national partners for political leadership in taking down racism.
“As a society, starting with our leaders, we need to tackle racism systematically rather than just putting out spot fires.”
“Strong political leadership in this area will guide appropriate behaviors through legislation, cultural change and code of conduct in various institutions and organisations.”
While Australia is a multicultural society, he reminds us that making multiculturalism successful for all requires continuous work.
“Maybe it is a journey like cultural competence i.e. no one is culturally competent as it is not a destination anyone can achieve. We may not have achieved ideal success yet as a multicultural community but we are determined to reach that goal.”
ECCV’s All One Together campaign focus – Connect, Communicate and Celebrate. – resonates with the doctor for more than one reason.
“Our pandemic plan at my health service uses those words as action words and they guide us in what we do to support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through and out of the pandemic.”
“Based on our experience in a very small patch of Australia, I would say that we need to share doable things for people – in their local setting for people to connect with each other to learn, communicate with each other to empower and celebrate with each other to be inclusive.”
Dr Hung The Nguyen has a long term commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and cultural competency training and education. Medical and cultural education are his passion as it allows him to make a greater impact on people’s lives through education and training. He has worked extensively as a GP and Medical and Cultural Educator in urban and rural and remote Aboriginal community health service throughout the Northern Territory and Victoria. He currently works as a GP at Bunurong Health Service in Dandenong. He was the Inaugural Censor for RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health for 9 years and Director of Medical and Cultural Education for NTGPE for 5 years where he oversaw GP education for the Territory.
Hung sits on a number of Primary Care and Health Education boards (Health Education Australia Limited, Therapeutic Guidelines, South Eastern Melbourne PHN) and Councils (AMA Victoria, Executive Committee for the Victorian Clinical Council, Safer Care Victoria and Chair SEMPHN Clinical Council).
Through his appointments, he is concerned with positive patient journeys through the health system and patient engagement in the quality improvement process in health care.