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Lawyer's anti-racism leadership lights the way for action

By Jocelyn Eikenburg | China Daily | Updated: 2020-11-17 08:06

Jocelyn Eikenburg [Photo/China Daily]

This year has witnessed an alarming spike in hate incidents against Asians around the world. The surge of openly racist and xenophobic attacks has only exacerbated the dark reality of a cruel pandemic overshadowing the globe.

But this tragic situation has also sparked hopeful activism, forging some new heroes in the battle against racism and discrimination-including Xiaojiu Zhu PhD, MBE, a distinguished lawyer at the Cruickshanks firm in London, the United Kingdom.

In the face of rising reports of discrimination against the Chinese community in the UK, including stories of children being targeted at school, Zhu believed something needed to be done. And as a lawyer, she considered it her duty to help people in the Chinese community protect their interests and legal rights.

Zhu came up with the idea of having an online forum for Chinese communities on responding to racism during the pandemic. The May 27 event, organized by the UK Beijing Association, the UK Society of Chinese Lawyers, and the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American Organizations, featured keynote speakers-including Zhu-who encouraged people to take positive actions against racism and discrimination, such as reporting incidents to authorities and taking legal recourse.

More than 8,000 people from over 10 countries attended the forum, and the online replay attracted some 10,000 views. This extraordinary reception was a testament to the significance of racism to Chinese around the world, and made Zhu realize the need for an international group to forward the cause.

Building on this momentum, Zhu founded the International Chinese Alliance Against Racism (ICAAR), uniting over 100 lawyers, leaders of Chinese communities and media representatives from over 30 countries and regions to inspire Chinese around the world to combat racial discrimination. Every day, members of the WeChat group share and exchange information on the topic, to raise awareness and spur more people to safeguard their rights. And in the future, Zhu hopes to expand and strengthen the alliance by inviting more individuals to join in while also ramping up efforts to promote the group.

While Zhu's leadership has arrived at an urgent time, I believe the international Chinese community has long needed a prominent lawyer to champion this cause. Racial discrimination didn't begin with the COVID-19 pandemic. And victims living in a foreign country may not always understand their rights under the law or even feel inclined to act, such as filing a police report or a lawsuit. After all, in a March 2020 Chinese-language news report by China News Service, Zhu noted that most overseas Chinese habitually endure discrimination in silence.

I've observed this sad reality among my Chinese friends in the US, who have shared with me far too many tales of suffering such indignities on their own, as part of "eating bitterness" abroad. But if there had been an international movement against racism and discrimination, supporting people to stand up for their rights, I believe my friends' stories may have had ended with something closer to justice.

My hope is that Zhu and the alliance represent a turning point in the international Chinese community and its allies, a time marked by the emergence of powerful anti-discrimination activism around the world. Her leadership may galvanize a new generation of Chinese-who in the face of discrimination, may choose courage and action, confident in the knowledge that they are not alone in this fight.

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