Last night, a gunman went on a rampage at three separate spas in the Atlanta area, killing eight people. Six were of Asian descent and all but one were women. The gunman told police that he had been motivated by a possible “sex addiction” and was looking to quell “temptation.” Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. I expect the stories still to emerge will be heartbreaking.
“Whatever the motivation was for this guy, we know that the majority of the victims were Asian,” says Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “We also know that this is an issue that is happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful, and it has to stop.”
It’s also important to note that Asian people have been unsafe in the U.S. for a very long time — an ugly history which raceAhead covered in more detail here. It is a particularly vicious trap for AAPI women, caught in a web of complex stereotypes which diminish their power, personhood, and agency, while fetishizing their sexuality. I can assure you that today is a deeply painful day for them. “I write words for a living and yet cannot find the right ones to describe the mix of grief, fear, and loss of seeing the news and thinking: I am an Asian woman, too,” tweeted Karen Hao, a tech reporter and AI expert, as the story unfolded online.
In an NBC Asian America news report released hours before the shooting, reporter Kimmy Yam cited new data showing that anti-Asian hate incidents — everything from harassment and shunning to violence — is greater than previously reported, and that women are being disproportionately targeted.
The research released by advocacy organization Stop AAPI Hate showed that nearly 3,800 incidents were reported during the pandemic year, and 68% of those reporting were women. Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, told Yam that the stereotype that Asian women are meek and submissive fed into these numbers.
“There is an intersectional dynamic going on that others may perceive both Asians and women and Asian women as easier targets,” he said.
And while recent attacks against the elderly may have focused public attention on the spike in hate crimes, the people Long targeted were at-risk in other ways — underemployed, immigrants, and associated with sex work, a uniquely stigmatized population long seen as less-than and disposable. And in a city known for a lively strip club and sex work scene, it’s hard not to see how they were specifically singled out.
“That the Asian women murdered yesterday were working highly vulnerable and low-wage jobs during an ongoing pandemic speaks directly to the compounding impacts of misogyny, structural violence, and white supremacy,” said Phi Nguyen, Litigation Director at Asian American Advancing Justice – Atlanta in an online statement.
So, when the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference earlier today, remarks made by Captain Jay Baker came as unwelcome confirmation. “He was really fed up and at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him,” he said, when asked what detectives had learned from Long. “[A]nd this is what he did.” Shrug.
Indeed. Rather than spend too much time unpacking the grotesque infantilization of a violent young man — or that he was apprehended alive — it’s time to pick up the conversation where others have failed. The advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta are asking for new crisis intervention services for AAPI community members, “including in-language support for mental health, legal, employment, and immigration services.” I would add a concerted effort to decriminalize sex work, too, but that’s for another column.
In addition to advocating for these changes, it’s important that anyone with a leadership role denounce this particular act of violence and deepen the work of supporting AAPI friends and colleagues. Here are some places to start:
If you are in a position of influence: Say something. Don’t dance around it, and don’t worry about whether or not the perpetrator said racist things. Denounce this incident and all hate directed toward the AAPI community. If you don’t know what to say, begin by checking in with your human resources or diversity colleagues to make sure you know what resources are available for employees who are alarmed or suffering. And then show up. “Leaders make the mistake of wanting to put a band-aid on things, then trying to get everyone right back to work,” Alison Davis-Blake, professor of business and former dean at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan told raceAhead after Philando Castille and Alton Sterling were killed. Instead, think of it as a time to grow as an organization. “A leader needs to ask themselves, ‘how would I like us to be different and better as we heal from this trauma?’ It’s a simple idea, but very hard to do.”
If you are interested in systemic change: Ask employees to say something. Begin with a well-crafted internal survey delving into company culture to find out what’s top of mind for employees or to understand more about how safe people truly feel. In this case, ask specifically about AAPI women. I’ve touched on this before; research shows that psychological safety has a marked impact on employee performance and happiness. If you’re an organization that’s having “candid conversations about race” make sure you’re talking about this, too. If you’re not, it’s time to start.
If you want to be an ally: Ask for or seek out bystander training. Would you know what to do if you saw someone being harassed in public? Belittled in the office? Intervening effectively is a skill. If your organization doesn’t offer this training, consider finding an outside resource for yourself or your team. Hollaback is a nonprofit that offers bystander and de-escalation trainings, among other services. Find out more here.
If you are an idiot: Go ahead and post a pointless and racist yellow square in solidarity. Yes, it appears that people have been changing their avatars or Instagram posts with yellow squares in solidarity. I’m not going to link to them and I’m not going dignify the impulse with any further comment. Don’t do it.
*By the way, if you need proof that Hao writes truly excellent words for a living, here is her must-read piece on the hate speech problem at Facebook. I won’t bury the lede: “The company’s AI algorithms gave it an insatiable habit for lies and hate speech. Now the man who built them can't fix the problem.”
MIT Technology Review
The model minority in the time of pandemic Michael Kraus and Eunice Eun, both from Yale’s School of Management, argue persuasively that the anti-Asian racism that has been unleashed by COVID-19 is symptomatic of deeper issues associated with the model minority myth. In a culture that prizes whiteness, progress is the real myth. “Racial equality, even for seemingly high-status model minority groups, is not something that unfolds automatically with the passage of time,” they write. Further, the stereotypes associated with high-status Asian demographics — good at math, polite, hard-working, strong family values — encourage people to overestimate the degree to which individuals of Asian descent are thriving. Until something goes wrong. Embedded in the model minority framing is the idea of “foreignness.” “This foreignness component, when paired with a foreign viral contaminant spreading to people across the U.S. and the world, heightens bigotry and racism toward Asian communities,” they say.
Yale School of Management
David Dao, from yellow menace to model minority and back again Remember when David Dao was dragged off a United flight? Frank Guan took that incident and used it to deconstruct the historical elements of bigotry and resentment that were already at play in the lives of Asian Americans post-Donald Trump and pre-COVID 19. By leaking his past criminal troubles, “David Dao is being forced out of one narrative, that of the dutiful, nonblack professional, into another narrative: that of the recalcitrant, nonwhite criminal.” The price for non-compliance is worsening as people of color are increasingly framed as inherently guilty: The sneaky Chinese “raping our economy”, the Hispanics overrunning our borders, the Muslims who hate our freedoms. While clearly Black people remain the central targets of authority, “[t]he social power that permits one to safely refuse the commands of the state will never be extended to anyone who is not clearly middle-class as well as white.” The “model minority” notion was embraced by white elites to congratulate themselves for instituting a meritocratic education system after WWII. But an increasingly threatened “majority” has been encouraged to consider all people of color as suspicious interlopers, who are taking what’s rightfully theirs.
New York Magazine
Older Asian Americans suffer from high rates of depression and anxiety But, explains Kimberly Yam — an outstanding reporter — they rarely seek help. “Mental health is a touchy subject in the Asian-American community, especially for the senior population,” she says. “But experts say it’s time to start talking about it.” Older Asian-Americans are afraid to talk about their mental health for fear of bringing shame upon their families. But secrecy is taking a terrible toll. The American Psychological Association reports that Asian American senior women have the highest suicide rate of any racial group, though Asian Americans as a whole are three times less likely to seek any sort of mental health care.
raceAhead is edited by David Z.Morris
Today's mood board
Steven Yeun in Minari, the story of a Korean-American family struggling to adjust to life in Arkansas in the 1980s. It is perhaps the most critically acclaimed film of the past year, with six Oscar nominations, among other nods.