R A C I S M – I N T E R N A T I O N A L
Tahia Afra Jannati
As the coronavirus dishevels American life, where shockingly the pandemic has been mishandled from the very start, Asian-Americans face a double threat. Not only are they battling with how to avoid the virus itself like everyone else, they are also contending with growing racism in the form of physical and verbal attacks. The community which has been feeling increasingly vulnerable with each new attack, is now frustrated on a national scale after a White man named Robert Aaron Long was charged with fatally shooting eight people and injuring another, including six women of Asian descent, at multiple spas in the Atlanta area on 16 March. The Atlanta shootings and other recent racially motivated attacks have exposed another ugly but all too familiar tradition of shameless racism in a country which has failed to protect its diverse communities throughout its history.
The Atlanta shootings
Among the eight victims, seven were women and six of them were of Asian descent, including four who were Korean. The victims were hard workers, dedicated mothers, and striving immigrants.
Although Long denied his actions to be racially motivated, the shootings have been characterised as a hate crime on the backdrop of rising anti-Asian sentiment in the US. According to the perpetrator, his actions were influenced by his sexual addiction that clashed with his religious beliefs. The authorities are hesitant to label the attack as a hate crime, but the question is…why believe the words of a murderer?
The Atlanta tragedy lies at an intersection of race, gender, and class. The shooter was a visitor of at least two businesses which had been the site of 10 prostitution arrests. This mass murder is a product of a system that repeatedly leaves women of colour and sex-workers in a place where they are invisible, vulnerable, and targeted. Identifying these actions as a hate crime should not be just about semantics because it quite certainly is a hate crime.
Robert Aaron Long now faces malice murder and aggravated assault charges.
The alarming situation of racism since the beginning of Covid-19
The shooting incident comes amid a rise in acts of discrimination, hate and violence against the Asian-American community during the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent study shows that anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked 150 percent since the start of the pandemic; not to mention that hate crimes and violence motivated by anti-Asian sentiment in New York City alone jumped by 1900% in the last year, according to NYPD data, which is simply shocking.
Unfortunately, many incidents involving racist attacks have either not led to arrests or have not even been charged as hate crimes, making it difficult to reflect, with reliable data, the extent to which Asian-Americans are being targeted.
This string of anti-Asian hate and violence makes this a national crisis in the US. The community, too often threatened by racism, is living under a cloud of fear. The racist attacks and incidents involve verbal harassments, shunning or avoidance, physical assaults, and even virtual harassment.
The casual racism that has been pervasive over the past 12 months sheds a light on the link between language and actions. The rising violence can be described as a real consequence to the racist rhetoric used by ignorant politicians, such as former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly called Covid-19 as “Kung-Flu”; Mr. Trump and his republican allies have been adamant on calling the coronavirus “the Chinese virus”.
The Asian-American community has been grappling with two viruses from the start of the pandemic; the pandemic itself and the xenophobic stigma which continue to have a devastating effect on the Asian-run businesses. Small businesses across the country continue to feel the economic misery stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and racism.
American customers in general are avoiding Asian businesses; and the severe impacts intensified by discrimination have slowed down the recovery process of Asian businesses, causing a number of Asian-Americans to stay unemployed for longer.
A long legacy of hatred
America cannot hide from its own racist past or present. The country has a long, violent history of discrimination against Asians. Despite people of Asian heritage having resided in the United States for more than 160 years, they are regularly subjected to bigotry and it’s been the same from the very start. Asian immigrants came to be seen as threats to local White jobs and were scapegoated as aliens, filthy, and disease-ridden. Theories such as The Model Minority Myth and the Yellow Peril Myth have influenced many anti-Asian acts and policies of violence throughout American history. Many Asian-Americans also blame the cultural stereotypes that deem them — especially women — weak, timid, or submissive targets for playing an active role in the racially motivated attacks on their community.
The sexualised racism
The Atlanta shooting was especially horrifying for Asian women and it’s no coincidence. The suspects were motivated by sexual addiction, and this reflects the motive behind the killings which is rooted in a history of misogyny that is all too familiar for Asian and Asian American women. They face harassment because of sexual stereotypes related to their race, such as being seen as exotic, submissive, and docile. They are fantasised, fetishised, and hyper-sexualised; which is inextricably intertwined with racism.
Many women of Asian ancestry are working in the service sector and sexual service industries; and are falling victims to the same racism that broadly affects the Asian-Americans. Asian-American women are often eroticised and objectified in media and popular culture; depicted as faceless, quiet and invisible, or as sexual objects. These stereotypes contribute to experiences of marginalisation, invisibility and oppression of Asian-American women.
As documented incidents of racially motivated harassment, assault, and discrimination against Asian Americans have escalated during Covid-19, hundreds of thousands around the country have rallied to “Stop Asian Hate” and “Stop AAPI Hate”, especially after the Atlanta tragedy. The hashtag “#StopAsianHate” started circulating in social media after the Atlanta shooting, which has now turned into a movement against anti-Asian violence.
A growing number of prominent Asian voices have expressed frustration on social media over the crisis level of anti-Asian violence and how seldom it breaks through into mainstream discourse. According to many advocacy groups, anti-Asian violence and harassment is still vastly under-reported.
However, in the meantime, another important issue is not comparing the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement to the #StopAsianHate movement, as this exemplifies a tendency to contrast public responses to anti-Asian racism with public responses to anti-Blackness; there should be no competition in proving which race is the more oppressed one, because it downplays the struggles and the racism both races have to face. Both communities have much in common when it comes to battling White supremacy. What is happening in the Asian community is horrific and needs to be addressed, but that also needs to be done without directly incorporating other movements like BLM.
After the Atlanta killings, The House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on anti-Asian discrimination in three decades on 18 March and President Biden declared his support for the proposed Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, which he claimed would facilitate tackling anti-Asian hate crimes. After the Atlanta tragedy, calls for gun reform have renewed.
History shows that during periods of great tension in the country, economic instability and insecurity; fears and anxieties rise, and undercurrent of racism tends to overflow in the United States. Asian-Americans across the country are now afraid to go about their lives in public; this underscores a racial reckoning that is far from over. Asian Americans of all types experience this perception of being “forever foreigners or the others”; whether latest violence and vitriol on Asian American community are proved to be hate crimes or not, race plays a historic and significant role. Americans, especially the White Americans need to understand that the coronavirus is a real problem which affects every race equally, and recognise basic humanity, and acknowledge America’s identity as a nation of immigrants.
Tahia finds solace in reading; she wholeheartedly believes she is similar to Jane Austen heroines. She wants to build a life worth living and has a list of countries she wants to visit. She is an optimist but an overthinker; ambitious but a procrastinator.