And the hypersexualized stereotype of Asian women only fuels this hate.

By Sara Li
Mar 17, 2021 @ 5:03 pm
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How To Support The Asian Women In Your Life
Credit: Pansfun Images/Stocksy

Since the creation of this country, violence against women in the Asian American Pacific Islander community has persisted, fueled by a deadly combination of misogyny and racism. This was plenty evident when a 21-year-old white male went on a two-county shooting spree near Atlanta on Tuesday evening, murdering eight people total. Of the victims, six of them were of Asian descent and seven of them were women. The shooting took place across three Asian-owned massage parlors in what is known as Atlanta's red-light district, according to residents who spoke with the New York Times. At the time of reporting, it is unclear if any of the businesses had ties to sex work.

In the immediate aftermath of the murders, officials were adamant that the incident was not "racially motivated" and did not consider the murders a hate crime. The gunman, who was a customer at the parlors, has since claimed a "sex addiction" as a motive for the attacks, and authorities have stated he had plans to continue his attacks on "some type of porn industry." Police also said he only lashed out at the women he perceived to be tempting him, and even suggested, infuriatingly, that maybe he was "having a bad day."

Like the violence itself, these excuses following the murders were not surprising. Attacks against Asian Americans, particularly AAPI women, have always been met with a blind eye or disbelief by those in positions of authority. Data reported by Stop AAPI Hate found that of the 3,800 hate crimes reported by Asian Americans in the last year, 70% were reported by women.

The deaths of these eight victims in particular do not exist in a vacuum: They happened at the intersection of institutional failures ranging from gun violence, white supremacy, racism, discrimination against sex workers, and misogyny. 

Though it is still unclear if the victims of the murders were sex workers, conversations surrounding motive already prove how often sex workers are demoralized, frequently shamed with sentiments of "what did they expect?" when they report violence. Coupled with the model minority myth — which inaccurately categorizes Asians into positions of safety they don't actually occupy — and the hypersexualization of Asian women that has persisted in American culture for centuries, the story has shifted from "How can this happen?" to "This is how it's always been for sex workers, particularly those of Asian hertiage."

It feels eerily familiar because it is familiar — the attacks have never stopped, they've only taken more victims with every passing week of inaction. They render the phrase "racially motivated" completely meaningless when, even in this crucial moment of racial awakening, the people in charge cannot admit race and sex are not just adjacent to the violence, but the very incentive of it.

What happened in Atlanta is a textbook example of what the country allows to happen, again and again, when misogyny and white supremacy continue to be unchallenged on an institutionalized level. While the incident only took place last night, the factors leading up to the shooting spree have been in play for much, much longer. To get to the root of the violence, Americans must examine the precedent that gave the gunman the authority to act in the first place.

For the state to admit culpability would mean America would have to address its long and tired history of xenophobia and sexism. But today, like all other days, the country continues to hold itself hostage to these ideas that will inevitably birth more violent action. Action that — as seen with other shootings at the hands of white men in this nation — takes lives, and will continue to do so as long as the United States refuses to address and dismantle the very foundations of these crimes.

Last night reinforced what almost every single Asian American Pacific Islander knows to be true — that there is no real protection here, particularly against the white men who continue to have their hate stroked by prevailing ideas like white supremacy and misogyny. It's what communities of color have tried to warn for ages, particularly when former president Donald Trump offered sentiments and sympathy to white nationalists from the highest office in the country. So long as there is a place for these ideas, ranging from pop culture to policy, there will always be an open door for radicalized white men to commit violence against the folks most at risk.

While President Biden's administration has addressed the wave of AAPI crimes in the past year, awareness alone does not offer protection. Action does. And it starts with not spinning Atlanta's shooting by portraying the gunman as an unstable victim of "sex addiction" and call it for what it is: a deliberate act of violence against the Asian American community and the sex workers in it.

Allowing the gunman to rewrite his narrative and spin it as a mental health issue feels like a hate crime in itself. It does a massive disservice to those who struggle with mental illnesses and it only further contributes to the damaging narrative that they're dangerous to society. Not for the first time, it's AAPI women who were the ones caught in the crossfire of state enforced violence and the excuses made to cover it up. 

Make no mistake: the six Asian American women who were murdered died for an idea. That idea is the intersection of white supremacy and misogyny and it won't be the last time unless something radically changes. 

Even in death, Asian American women face the crude injustice of having their humanity erased so America won't have to look at its complicity fully. It's not enough that their lives will now be overshadowed by their murders, the community they were taken from will also shoulder the insult of not receiving the full justice they deserve. 

To move forward, what's needed isn't just "checking in on you" texts on your AAPI friends; it's pushing for concrete action that will offer real protection to sex workers and marginalized communities of color. It's calling out racism when you see it, offering safe spaces to those who need it, and giving support (whether financially or otherwise) to organizations doing the groundwork of dismantling racism and misogyny. Anything short of that is just empty platitudes towards a community that's long deserved better.