#StopAsianHate- Violence in the Asian Community

Jason Leung/Unsplash

Marek Kong/Guest Columnist

On the night of March 16, 2021, eight people were killed by a White gunman in Atlanta, Georgia. The attacker targeted three Asian massage parlors where six of the eight victims were Asian women. These horrific acts have yet to be described by many public officials, newspapers and institutions as hate crimes against Asian people. Their silence on this issue is deafening, but even this labeling does not go far enough to describe what actually occurred in Atlanta. These attacks were also acts of misogyny and are inextricably tied with class and sex work. 

Since the original outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, Asians and Asian Americans have faced a reinvigoration of hate. In February, weeks before the pandemic hit the U.S., Asian businesses began to struggle as unwarranted fears of Covid-19 stopped the flow of patrons. People believed that their connections to Asia somehow made them more susceptible of harboring the virus. While Asian people faced threats in their communities, they also faced threats from above as American politicians began to blame China for the onset of the pandemic. 

In March 2020, former President Donald Trump tweeted about a “Chinese virus” which was going to hurt American businesses such as “those industries, like airlines and others, that are particularly affected”. These purposefully derogatory statements like referring to Covid-19 as the “China virus” began to drum up anti-China sentiments among large sections of the population who had already seen China as a major threat. 

Sinophobia or anti-Chinese sentiments are nothing new to the United States and other Western powers. The taking of Hong Kong, the Chinese exclusion act and increased U.S. military presence in the South China Sea have all been manifestations of these fears of China.

 Chinese people have not been the only group who have faced these challenges as the U.S. wages war abroad. Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino and more Asian ethnic groups have both seen American cruisers come to their shores and bombs dropped on their homes while also facing hateful violence in the States. While the U.S. fought for control and influence in Asia, pushing people to flee their homes, White Americans targeted Asian people in the U.S. for the same xenophobic reasons that all immigrants face. 

While on the surface it may seem that U.S. military policy and domestic Asian American hate crimes are unrelated, when we look deeper we see a long history that links the two. The U.S. has made enemies out of China, Vietnam, Korea, countries in southwest Asia including Pakistan and Syria and others who seek independence. By doing so, they have villainized the people who live or come from these countries. This villainization is a major influence to the hate which Asian American Pacific Islander people face in the U.S. Many “Instagram activists” call out Asian hate but hypocritically continue to support American wars against China. These people have become complicit in a cycle of hate which is centuries old. 

Besides the bigotry which is faced by the Asian community as a whole, Asian women have become particularly vulnerable to hate crimes. Women of all races have faced terrible treatment in society and have been targeted by men throughout history who view them as property, objects of sexual conquest and deviant sexual creatures. Asian women have been targeted two-fold both by the sadly common view described earlier but also by fetishization. 

Similar to Asian hate in general, this fetishization comes from American wars in Asia. American military personnel who went to Asia often took advantage of sex workers and everyday civilians during their deployment. When they returned, they carried with them an extremely warped view of Asian women as meek, perfect housewives, who doubled as purely sexual beings. Today this fetishization is seen across society as Asian women and other Asian people affected by misogyny are targeted and undermined as they are continually viewed as objects of pleasure rather than as human beings. 

The shooter’s own sexual fetishes and actions became part of a dangerous cycle. The nature of paying for access to someone’s body or physical services creates relationships between people built on control and power. It was the perception of these workers as sexual objects; whether they actively participated in sex work or not, was what pushed the shooter to commit violent attacks against the victims. 

Asian spa workers much like Asian women in society have been sexualized by the media and by predatory men. Spas have acted as conduits for sexual exploitation within Asian communities and because of their perceptions produced by popular media they have been targeted from all sides of society. While not all spa workers are sex workers, these perceptions have created an environment in which all spa workers are grouped together under this one umbrella. 

The people killed in the Atlanta spa shooting were not only Asian women but also people who went to work to survive. Due to the nature of their work, these women have been put in harm’s way and this was likely not the first time that they faced a violent situation due to their occupation. Sex workers are some of the most targeted people in society. Often they are the most vulnerable as almost no one is willing to stand up for their cause. Black, Brown and Asian sex workers wind up dead regularly. Not only are these groups overrepresented in sex work due to the unavailabllity of stable jobs in these communities but because sex work is criminalized their deaths often go unnoticed until extremely public acts of violence.  The Atlanta shooting was a product of this broken system. As is the case for many acts of violence against sex workers, the Atlanta shootings were caused by feelings of shame, lack of control, and inadequacy. 

Sex work is the comodification of the most personal aspects of a human being. People have sold the rights to their bodies in order to put food on the table and attempt to survive despite the risk. When you’re a woman of color who is struggling to provide for yourself, the system essentially forces you to sell yourself or starve. And while the victims in Atlanta were not trans, trans women are the most susceptible to this kind of violence against sex workers.

From this understanding of the issue people will often ask themselves how can they help? So what does good activism look like? Good activism is activism which centers the voices of the most marginalized first which includes women like the ones killed in Atlanta who faced not only racism but also misogyny and poverty. Good activism is not black or orange squares, it is reaching into your community to find a place for you to help. Following Asian organizations who are mobilizing and informing people are a great way to see where your local community needs help. Awareness is not enough to stop violence against any marginalized person. In order to stop violence, we need to address it at all levels that it manifests on, not just on the internet.. 


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

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