Today, our nation is reeling from an incident of racially-motivated violence. Just as I as a Black man am particularly shaken when violence befalls someone who looks like me, this week our Asian American neighbors felt the shock and fear of the last year of anti-AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) violence culminating in the deadly attack on 3 massage parlors in the Atlanta area. All experiences of racism are different, and yet we stand in deep solidarity with other victims of White supremacy and at this time, especially with our Asian and Asian American neighbors.
We demand a thorough investigation into the terrorist’s motives as well as broader education on the intersections of identities that are often present in racially-motivated violence. Official responses to the tragedy have not acknowledged or acted on the possibility of a racist motive in these attacks. In a congressional hearing on anti-AAPI violence this week, coincidentally held just days after the Atlanta shootings, Republican members of Congress denounced the violence but refused to acknowledge possible racist motivations. The spokesperson for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office stated that the lone suspect in the shootings had had “a really bad day” and that he was “at the end of his rope.” Racist anti-Asian t-shirts had also been shared on the spokesperson’s Facebook page last year, which points to the fact that he is unable to understand or make a judgement about a racist motive in these shootings. These responses simply fail to take into account the pervasiveness of anti-Asian sentiment that has grown especially in the last year in the US — willfully ignoring a systemic issue that, if persistent, will inevitably lead to more violence towards Asian Americans.
Intersectionality: Racialized Misogyny towards Asian American Women
Oppression faced by people of multiple oppressed identities is sometimes far harder to identify and eradicate than clearly racial or gender-based oppression, Kimberlé Crenshaw explains in her TED Talk, “The Urgency of Intersectionality.” This is why it is so important to look at the history and motives behind this shooter’s violence. It seems that the shooter had a sex addiction and that in his violent actions, he was acting on his anger with his inability to resist those urges.
The race of many of the victims indicates this may have been due to an Orientalist fetishization of Asian women, a dangerous and misogynistic stereotype that pervades too much of White male America. “Killing Asian American women to eliminate a man’s temptation speaks to the history of the objectification of Asian and Asian American women as variations of the Asian temptress, the dragon ladies and the lotus blossoms, whose value is only in relation to men’s fantasies and desires. This is horrifying. Stop fetishizing us,” said Catherine Ceniza Choy, an ethnic studies professor at the University of California.
Furthermore, the purity culture of the strict White evangelicalism of which the shooter is a part likely contribute to both the racist and misogynistic aspects of his addiction and his violent actions. White evangelicalism, the alleged curse of Eve as a temptress, and the proclaimed sin of sex & sexuality teach this man and many others that they must protect themselves against the wiles of seductive women — and, just one step beyond that is where this man ended up: these women (objects of his sexual desire) caused him to sin and thus must be eliminated. It is an insidious, impeccably engineered, and utterly false group of beliefs based in purity, supremacy, superiority, power, and black-and-white beliefs that created this situation. Refusing to acknowledge any one of the aspects of this hate crime denies the reality of intersecting biases and oppressions, systematized in our society, that will lead to this kind of situation again if not addressed.
History of Anti-Asian Violence
Anti-Asian violence and discrimination is not new, and learning about the history should be central to the American education system — but because it isn’t yet, we hope you will take the time to educate yourself on the history of racist acts against different groups of Asian Americans. Here is some information to get you started:
- An 1871 attack on Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles killed 17, about 10% of the Chinese population in the city at that time.
- The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act restricted immigration from China after workers on the West Coast argued that Chinese immigrants were the cause of lower wages and other economic problems. While Chinese immigrants were only 0.002% of the population, people raised fears “about maintaining White ‘racial purity.’”
- The internment of Japanese Americans after the bombing on Pearl Harbor caused people of Japanese descent (citizens, permanent residents, and new immigrants alike) on the West Coast to be removed from their homes and detained in internment camps. The justification for Executive Order 9066 was that these Japanese-descendant people, no matter their citizenship status, occupation, military service or age, could be threats towards the US and must be detained to prevent any such actions. Many lost homes, businesses, and personal belongings in this tragic abuse of governmental power.
- Since World War II, as Asian Americans have become more integrated into US society and immigration has increased, hate crimes have continued. The sister of actor Daniel Dae Kim was the victim of a hate crime back in 2015, and such attacks have not been talked about as the racially-motivated hate crimes that they are.
- Asian Americans are often seen as a “model minority,” favored for the economic and academic success of some individuals of Asian backgrounds, but this seemingly positive language pits people of color against one another and unfairly stereotypes AAPI individuals in harmful ways.
- Former President Trump’s use of racist and xenophobic language likely contributed to public anti-Asian sentiment during the coronavirus pandemic.
What Can Allies Do?
Actor Daniel Dae Kim and many others have called on allies to step up now and support the AAPI community. Just as many around the world came out to support Black Lives Matter, the time is now to support the Asian American community — and, in order to become a more equitable society, the support for all racial justice movements must continue far beyond this moment. In order to help now, though, actor Daniel Dae Kim says, “If you have a platform, I ask that you use it […] If you have money, I ask that you donate. There is a fund called the Stop Asian Hate Fund. It’s the AAPI community fund.”
Though all communities experience racism differently, there is a commonality in that the oppression is predicated on stereotypes, prejudice, misinformation, ignorance, obliviousness, and fear. Everyone in our society is impacted by these viruses.
In our quest for diversity, equity, and inclusion, let us educate ourselves and use what we have to stand in solidarity with our AAPI neighbors.