Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
I wrote before that violent hate crimes against Asians in the United States were not receiving the mainstream media attention or responsive calls to action that they deserved. Killings and beatings of elderly Asian American citizens were not enough; nor were countless other hate crimes.
But since the horrifying shooting of 8 people — 6 six of which were Asian women — in the Atlanta area on Tuesday, national news outlets are finally taking notice. However, widespread coverage of only the latest tragedy is not enough. Anti-Asian racial bias has already affected the narrative and policing of this heinous crime.
The shooter claimed to have a “sexual addiction,” according to police, and chose to target Asian-owned spas with Asian employees to “eliminate his temptation.” To say that this slaughter was “not racially motivated” is outrageously delusional. This act of domestic terrorism was intentional and deliberate. The killer knew exactly who he was going to murder and why. He chose Asian spas and killed the Asian American women employees because to him they were just passive sex objects. In a press conference the captain of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, who himself has a documented history of anti-Asian bias, stated that the shooter was “fed up and at the end of his rope,” and that “yesterday was a really bad day for him.”
When I have a bad day, I might buy myself an ice cream sundae. When a homegrown white man kills 8 people to carry out his radicalized ideology, it is also described as a bad day. This language and cushy treatment of a cold-blooded murderer is disgusting, disrespectful to the entire AAPI community, and it perpetuates the acceptance of violence against and hyper-sexualization of Asian women.
I had a very difficult time accepting my identity as an Asian woman in this country. I grew up in a town that was 94.82% white and 1.86% Asian. Since a young age I was conditioned to think that because I was different, I was ugly. More than anything, I hated my eyes. There was a boy in my second-grade class who was relentless. He had a little riddle he would chant in my face: “my mom was Chinese [he squishes his eyes up], my dad was Japanese [he yanks his eyelids down], and now I’m all Swiss [one eye up and one eye down].” We were eight years old. Neither of us knew the word racism, but he made it loud and clear that my Chinese face was ugly. I felt ashamed.
After years of subtle, overt, and unyielding bullying, something changed — the boys discovered pornography. Almost overnight I transformed from an undesirable outcast to an exotic sexual fantasy. The bullying persisted, but the insults turned graphic. In seventh grade, the boys begged me to affirm their theories that “I was tighter down there” because tight eyes meant tight vaginas. In high school, they would ask me to give them “happy endings” and anonymously send me pornographic images of Asian women submitting to sex. Multiple times in my adult life, men have approached me and, without prompting, begun naming countries in Asia, waiting for me to smile and reward them for guessing which one my ancestors are from.
When I rebut these attacks, I am almost always met with aggression. When I ignore these men’s advances, their faces twist in anger, and they yell “rude bitch” or “[Asian slur] slut/whore.” At times, I have feared for my safety. Sometimes, I too just smile and nod because it feels necessary for my survival. But when I do not play into their fantastical image of submissive Asian women in porn, they grow offended and hostile. After all, how could an object disagree?
All six Asian women senselessly killed on Tuesday were just objects to their exterminator.
This plight — the dangerous and difficult existence of the Asian American woman — must end. In the last year, there were about 3,800 reported hate crimes against Asians and about 68% of them were against Asian women. This is not a coincidence. Normalized violent behaviors and attitudes against Asian women are not new. They are deeply rooted in imperialism, war, propaganda, sex trafficking and sex slavery, and legislation.
I urge you to challenge the implicit biases and stereotypes you may have of Asian women. We are not exotic. We are not submissive. And we refuse to let Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Hyun Jung Kim, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Yaun, Daoyou Feng, and Paul Andre Michels be forgotten.
About the Author: Alyssa Huang is a first-year student at Harvard Law School.
Feature Image via Getty