King’s student told to ‘go back to China’ after coughing on the tube

She was accused of deliberately coughing to spread ‘your people’s disease’


A Second Year King’s PPL student says she was told to “go back to China” by a stranger after she coughed on the tube.

Ming Byrne says the stranger walked onto the carriage and immediately pulled out a handkerchief to cover her face when she saw Ming. When Ming coughed into her jacket, the stranger flinched and deliberately coughed in her direction, accusing her of “spreading your people’s disease.”

“Now I feel like I’m almost on edge,” Ming told The King’s Tab. “I’m apprehensive on public transport when I notice microaggressions or people I think might exhibit racist behaviour.”

In a statement to The King’s Tab, TfL called the incident “despicable,” adding: “Racist abuse won’t be tolerated on our network.”

In a Facebook post, Ming described the incident, writing: “She walked into the train carriage, saw me and pulled out a handkerchief and held it tightly to her face for the entirety of the journey; almost twenty minutes. I coughed but did so into the jacket I was holding.

“She flinched and took away her handkerchief and coughed in my direction. I decided to ignore her and assumed the cough wasn’t intentional.

“After leaving the train, walking behind her, I once again coughed into my jacket. She turned around and again coughed directly in my face.”

Ming then asked the woman “what her problem was” after which the woman accused Ming of coughing on purpose to spread ”your people’s disease” and to endanger “everyone on the carriage, not just her”.

The King’s student says she told the woman: “Not every East-Asian looking person is from Wuhan and that not every Chinese person had coronavirus.”

Ming describes how the woman yelled at her, “saying people like me living in the UK was a problem”.

“I snapped back that people like her are a bigger problem,” Ming wrote. “She yelled after me as I walked away to ‘go back’. I turned around and yelled ‘I’m from here, you cunt’.”

Ming said she “wasn’t right in calling her a cunt” and added she “could have handled the situation a lot better,” but still stands by everything she said.

“I have experienced more racism now than before – be it explicit or in the form of microaggressions such as not sitting next to me in public transport, or people looking at me then using hand sanitiser,” Ming told The King’s Tab.

Ming, who is Chinese-Polynesian, said it was “honestly ridiculous” that those who share her heritage still struggle with racism and xenophobia.

“Prior to COVID-19 I really didn’t have any problems,” she told The King’s Tab. “I didn’t really experience racism from strangers. Even when I did it wasn’t really racist, just blatant ignorance that you kind of get used to; people commenting that your accent is really English or that my English was very good. Just little ignorant stuff like that.”

She said she notices people “don’t respond in the same way since the outbreak, and “people sit further away” from her on the tube.

“Ordering fast food on Monday, the woman used hand sanitiser after serving me. I wasn’t offended but I just thought it was ignorant,” she said.

Ming says she grew up “in a predominantly white environment” and isn’t normally bothered by people acting differently. She told The King’s Tab it did upset her “when people go out of their way” to make her feel inferior or degrade her.

“I definitely feel like I try to present myself as more aggressive to avoid people commenting or even coughing on me,” Ming told The King’s Tab. “It’s not good that I do that but having someone cough and shout in your face simply because you’re Asian is kind of traumatic.”

Mandy McGregor, Head of Transport Policing and Community Safety at Transport for London, told The King’s Tab: “We are very sorry to hear of this despicable incident.
“Racist abuse won’t be tolerated on our network. All of our customers have the right to travel without fear of verbal or physical assault and we are working with the police to stamp out this behaviour on our transport network.
“We would urge anyone who experiences a hate crime to report it immediately to TfL and the police so it can be taken seriously and investigated.”

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