Many people are arguing whether the recent Atlanta spa shooting was the result of racism against Asians or misogyny. It was both.
The Atlanta Spa Shooting
On March 16, a white male gunman named Robert Aaron Long murdered six Asian women at three Asian-owned spas in Atlanta. Long explicitly claimed that the attacks were not racially motivated and instead caused by his “sex addiction.” However, his and others’ implication that sexism and racism are separate from each other is simply not true. Long specifically targeted spas with primarily Asian customers and staff. His “sex addiction” wasn’t just an addiction to sex, but rather to Asian American women specifically.
Hypersexualization of Asian Women
Sexism and racism against Asian American women are often inseparable from each other due to the long history of hypersexualization. The fetishization of Asian American women began even before we set foot in the United States. The Page Act of 1875, which came before the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, prevented Chinese women from entering the United States because they were seen as immoral prostitutes and as a danger for marriage. The hypersexualization of Asian women in the media has also contributed to sexual stereotypes like the cunning “Dragon Lady” and the submissive “lotus flower.”
The impact of these harmful stereotypes can still be seen today, over 200 years later. In February, sex and relationship coach Kim Anami posted an extremely racist video titled "Kung Fu Vagina." The title should already be a dead giveaway that this video is filled with many Orientalist tropes. Anami is seen wearing a stereotypically Asian outfit complete with chopsticks in her hair, and others are seen in similarly sexualized Asian clothing. The lyrics are just as, if not more problematic, and feature lines like "We don’t need a funky Thai Vag, to shoot ping pongs with pizzazz."
Many celebrities and brands are also turning traditional Asian clothing into more sexual pieces. A prime example of this is when Kim Kardashian named her shapewear line “Kimono,” disrespecting a very important piece of Japanese culture. The brand name was eventually changed to “SKIMS,” but this is not the first nor will it be the last time Asian clothing is appropriated and sexualized.
The Recent Rise of Asian Hate Crimes
Although discrimination against Asian Americans is nothing new and has been occurring for a long time, the sudden escalation of Asian hate crimes has brought newfound attention to the issue.
According to data from the New York City Police Department, anti-Asian crimes skyrocketed by 1,900% in 2020 compared to 2019. This drastic can also be seen in other parts of the United States. Stop AAPI Hate recently released an analysis of the 3,800 Asian hate crime reports that they received from March 2020 to February 2021. Women have been disproportionately affected by these incidents and makeup 68% of the reports. These numbers are disturbing and appalling, but sadly, not that shocking given the blatant surge in anti-Asian sentiment.
Violence against Asians has been on the rise ever since Trump consistently called COVID-19 racist terms like “the Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that there is “no question” that the previous administration’s racist remarks about the coronavirus have contributed to the increase in anti-Asian hate. If the leader of our country thinks that it is fine to be racist against Asians, then what is stopping others from following his example?
This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the “Kung-Flu” to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) March 17, 2020
The Normalization of Violence Against Asian Women
Hate against Asian women is so normalized that it took a mass shooting for the media to finally cover it on a national scale. Crimes like verbal abuse and harassment have become so common that they have been accepted as the new normal. I don’t leave my house that much anymore because of the pandemic, but I know that if I did, I would be terrified.
How am I, an obviously Asian teenage girl, supposed to feel safe when I’m outside? How am I supposed to feel safe at my predominantly Asian high school or when I'm with my family at local Asian restaurants? How am I supposed to feel safe when I’m alone and walking to the bus stop? How am I ever supposed to feel safe, knowing that wherever I go, whenever I go, I am a target?
The problem is, I can’t. The anti-Asian sentiment is so ingrained in our culture that it is almost impossible to completely get rid of. Asian Americans, women especially, are constantly left out of film, media, and politics, and even when we are given a voice, we are almost always misrepresented. We are treated as jokes by comedians like Amy Schumer and categorized as either the "Nerds" or the excessively exotic "Cool Asians" in popular movies like Mean Girls.
Cultural stereotypes such as the model minority myth also demean Asians by erasing the oppression we face and suggesting that we can't be experiencing any struggles. We are assumed to be successful and financially stable, which causes the discrimination we face too often be ignored and not seen as “real” racism. Other people believe that we live supposedly perfect lives, but in reality, they are littered with hate, microaggressions, and harassment.
An Easy Target
Along with the media, Asian American women are also often missing in leadership positions and controversial fields like politics. We keep our heads down, mind our own business, and are essentially invisible in the eyes of the public, so why are we being attacked and killed? The irony is that we are targeted not despite our stereotype of being quiet and shy, but because of it. We are seen as an easy target; a group that is meek, obedient, and reserved.
People don’t think that we’ll fight back. They think that we will continue to remain in the background and let others step all over us. But Asian American women are stronger than we seem, and we will defend ourselves. If only one good thing has come out of the recent attacks, it is that Asian women have finally been given a voice that we so strongly deserve.
Stop Making Excuses
Asian and non-Asians alike are demanding that the Atlanta spa shooting be called what it is: a hate crime. However, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Atlanta spa shooting was indeed racially motivated, there is still not enough evidence for law enforcement to label the attack as one. The police captain that served as a spokesperson for the investigation even tried to downplay the severity of the shooting by saying that the gunman was having a “bad day” when they occurred.
A bad day is never an excuse for violence, let alone murder. If everyone killed eight people when they were having a bad day, there would be no one left.
We must call out this attack and the many other incidents for what they are: anti-Asian hate crimes. By ignoring the racist motivation behind these events and watering them down to “a bad day” or a “sex addiction,” we are further reinforcing the idea that Asian American women are invisible and that our struggles aren’t real.
Even though I haven’t personally experienced a lot of racism and live in an area that hasn't been drastically impacted by anti-Asian sentiment, I know that I am one of the lucky few. The six Asian women murdered in the Atlanta shooting could have been my neighbors. They could have been my friends and family. They could have been me.
And that is the scariest part about all of this; that everything I see on the news and all over social media could become my reality. It is terrifying to constantly wonder if the next headline will feature my hometown, terrifying to watch as the violence against Asian women creeps closer and closer to me. Innocent people are dying, and we must fix that now.
How You Can Help
It is up to all of us to fight back against these attacks and to end racism against Asian American women. We deserve to feel safe, and you can help us get there. Here are some ways you can help support the community right now.
1. Listen to our stories
Many people are unaware of Asian American history because it is rarely taught in classrooms. However, previous anti-Asian laws and events have influenced many of the attacks happening today. Some books to read are Minor Feelings by Cathy Hong, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura.
Another great resource that isn’t talked about much is podcasts. Podcasts are great for learning about the real experiences of Asian American women, and important ones to check out are Dear Asian Girl, Rock the Boat, and Self Evident: Asian America's Stories.
2. Don’t be a bystander
If you see racism occurring, speak up. It doesn’t matter if they are a friend, family member, or complete stranger. Racism should never be tolerated, regardless of who the offender is. It doesn’t matter if it is “just” a joke or “not a big deal.” Seemingly harmless comments do matter and can even be more harmful than less subtle attacks because of how much more common they are.
Many people who see racist behavior know that it is wrong but don’t feel safe confronting the perpetrator. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you can still help as an active bystander by reporting and filming the incident, helping out the victim, and bringing attention to the attack so that future ones don't occur.
3. Help the Victims
If you have the resources to, I encourage you to donate to the families of the victims of the Atlanta spa shooting. Many of them are struggling with paying medical bills, funerals, and living expenses on top of the already devastating loss of losing a family member.
Stop AAPI Hate is an organization that tracks hate crimes against Asian Americans and supports the victims of them. They also release this data to help raise awareness and advocate for change. By donating, you will be helping them collect valuable data on the racism and xenophobia facing the Asian community.
5. Respect our culture
If you don’t have the resources to donate, a small way you can support us is by appreciating all parts of our culture and not just the “trendy” things like bubble tea, matcha, and K-pop. An important way you can do this is by pronouncing our names correctly. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my and other Asians' names be mispronounced.
Yes, some of our names are complicated even for us, but show us that you are willing to put in the effort to respect them. It can be hard for Asian people to pronounce American names as well, but just imagine the shock that would happen if one of us accidentally pronounced a name like “Smith” wrong. The mispronunciation of Asian names, however, is often so normalized that many of us don’t even bother to correct others anymore. Our names are an essential part of our identity, and by pronouncing them correctly you are making us feel like our cultures are valued and respected.
6. Offer emotional support
This is an extremely traumatic time for the Asian American community, and a way you can help is by being there for us. Many of us just need someone to talk to and vent to about our feelings. Reach out to your Asian friends and see if there is any way you can support them, but make sure that you already have a close relationship with this person. We don’t want pity, but rather a chance to be listened to and heard.
Some people may not feel comfortable opening up right now, and if that is the case, respect their choice. Try not to ask emotionally burdening questions like, “How are you?” since they can make others feel pressured to expose potentially painful feelings. By being a respectful listener, you will also gain more insight into our experiences and daily struggles, which are often overlooked.
For a full list of organizations and resources to support and donate to, read through this document.