When will it end?
Day after day, story after story, I learn about another Anti-Asian hate crime. Another restaurant vandalized, pedestrian mugged, elderly person kicked, punched, slashed, or pushed to the ground. Even the “safest” neighborhoods in the country, like Orange County, California, have reported alarming upsurges in violence against Asian Americans in the past year.
Last week, eight people were brutally shot to death in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women. Although the shooter claimed his murderous rampage was an attempt to eliminate his raging “sex addiction,” it is clear as day that his actions were racially charged.
Here is the reality: when it comes to treatment of Asian-American women in this country, you can’t talk about misogyny without acknowledging race. The two are inextricably linked. Since the 1875 Page Act, which barred Asian women — particularly Chinese women — from entering the United States, we have been exoticized, fetishized, and hyper-sexualized.
From the U.S. military and its role in wars and colonization, to Full Metal Jacket and the way Hollywood unfairly portrays people of Asian descent, our nation has a long, shameful history of dehumanizing Asian women on the basis of sex AND race. The intersection between these two is what fuels so much bigotry, patriarchy, and even the subtlest forms of discrimination.
When you think of how Asian women are depicted in the sex industry, or why people joke about “happy endings” in the context of Asian spas, it’s obvious where “Yellow Fever” and other stereotypes stem from. But even seemingly innocuous compliments can turn into harmful micro-aggressions. So many Asian women (myself included) have been called “sexy,” “exotic,” “the most desirable,” — but this type of rhetoric is not flattering; it is dangerous. In the case of the Atlanta-area killings, the shooter labeled his victims not as humans, but “temptations.”
To him, they were not people; they were sex objects.
While the Atlanta shootings have been one of the most horrific incidents impacting the AAPI community recently, anti-Asian sentiment is nothing new. We have been othered and ostracized for decades, but only now people are beginning to pay more attention.
Reflecting on my own Asian-American experience living and growing up in the U.S., I feel lucky that I have faced relatively minimal discrimination.
Almost all of my personal exposures to racism have been due to acts of ignorance, not hate or malice. Classmates mixing me up with the only other Asian girl in our lecture. A co-worker joking that we should order “something disgusting, like Chinese food” for lunch. A stranger hitting on me with an enthusiastic “Ni hao!” or “You so kawaii!!!”
Offensive, sure. Harmful? Not really.
But watching this past year unfold with growing anti-Asian attacks and violence, I can’t help but wonder:
Are my friends next? Is my family next? Am I next?
By now, I have grown numb to the point I don’t know what to write or how to express my bottomless sea of emotions. I am scared. I am anxious. I am furious. As an ABC (American born Chinese), this is the first time I feel unwelcome in this country. It is the first time I feel uneasy, unsettled, and most of all un-American because of the way that I look and the color of my skin.
When I was running today on my usual route around Lake Hollywood Reservoir, I found myself quickening my pace every time I passed someone. At one point, I saw a small group of people approach, and I instinctively adjusted my headphones. Extra aware of leaving only one earbud in my ear, I kept the other one free to gauge if any sense of danger was coming my way.
Only a year ago, when 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot during his jog, I remember how privileged I felt that I could step out for a run at any given moment without fearing for my life. But in the last few weeks, every time I take a trip to the grocery store or a walk in my neighborhood, I am reminded that my privilege is measured.
When I say my privilege is measured, I mean it’s calculated in a way that works in favor of white supremacy and white hegemony. When Asian-Americans are pitted against other PoC, we’re named “The Model Minority.” When we’re used as scapegoats to shift blame for the pandemic, we’re called Kung Flu.
This type of moniker transformation is mental whiplash and outright gaslighting. As Asian Americans, we are forced to fit whatever narrative best serves the interests of people in power, and the result is a clash between different marginalized and disenfranchised groups.
While we cannot compare our lived experiences to those of black people, Hispanic people, or other minorities in this country, the weight of what it means to be unwelcome in America is a burden we all share.
By now, being “other-ed” in this country has evolved and taken on so many ugly forms; some structural & systemic, others individual & internalized. But what makes me encouraged is more than ever, people are galvanizing, organizing, protesting, and speaking up against these forces at play.
Because so many of us feel that we want a different world, it is our responsibility to do the work of historical education, to hold uncomfortable conversations, to work across races, cultures, and generations, with people who also want to create a new reality.
This is the time to stand together to fight xenophobia and racism. We must engage within and outside of our own communities about the nuances and complexities of our different experiences so we can all better understand: What it means to be effective allies. Why words matter. How fear is used as a weapon. The role history has played in keeping the same people in power and distracting the rest of us from uniting together.
For so long, we Asian-Americans have been known to be quiet, obedient, and accommodating.
No more. The time is now.