To Be an Asian American Woman Living in a White Supremacist Patriarchy
On March 16, 2021, around 5 p.m., eight people in the Atlanta area were killed in a mass shooting hate crime.
Six of the victims who died were Asian American women. Know their names. Learn how to pronounce their names properly. It’s been too damn long that we have allowed white America to butcher the ethnic names our parents have given us, serving as the last eternal remnant of the country they have left. Here is the Asian American Journalists Association pronunciation guide.
The perpetrator was a 21-year-old man. I’m not going to name him or include his photo, simply because the media has done way too much to humanize him. We don’t need to see his face, he is a heinous murderer.
He went to not one, not two, but three different Asian-owned massage parlors to carry out the mass shooting. Apparently, this still isn’t enough to declare the attack a hate crime, and we all know why: he is afforded the white privilege of being infantilized by the authorities.
“These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him—something that he shouldn’t be doing, an issue with porn—and that he was attempting to take out that temptation. He was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
— Jay Baker, Cherokee County Sheriff's Office Captain
It’s no surprise that Baker is empathizing with the perpetrator. He is the same man who promoted T-shirts with the slogan “COVID-19 Imported Virus From CHY-NA.” We’re seriously letting someone who is fueling Sinophobia decide whether or not the shootings are anti-Asian. That’s America for you!
I feel sick to my stomach, seeing his name and picture constantly popping up on every little piece of news coverage. Since his arrest, the media has been informing us every tiny detail about his past, but absolutely nothing about the victims—not even their names. I fear that even in their death, white America will not be spelling and pronouncing their names correctly.
And so far I’ve been proven right, because when the names of the remaining four victims were released by the Medical Examiner's Office, they replaced the second character of the Asian American women’s given name to a mere initial. Korean and Chinese names are said with all three characters; to reduce the second character of our given name to an initial is dehumanizing. This is what I mean, every second that passes just reaffirms my hopelessness.
Without fail, the white murderer blamed his sex addiction for going to Asian-owned massage parlors to kill Asian women. To think that he is only a year older than I am, slaughtering Asian women my mom’s age—it really puts everything into perspective. My heart breaks for the victims’ loved ones, but especially their children. It is almost an unspoken truth that our immigrant Asian moms live for us. They move across the world, enduring all kinds of discrimination, existing as perpetual foreigners, all in hopes that we will rise up to live the life they dreamed of. Their invisibility that was once a shield has fired back on them, as hatred has taken on the form of mindlessly executing the most atrocious thoughts. Their death is unbearable, because for so long, they have done the best they could to not take up even the most minuscule of space, only to be brutally shot by a man who was “having a bad day.”
In this case, we have to talk about the intersectionality of race, gender, sexuality, sex work, and socioeconomic status. Starting with the racialization of Asian women, it’s no secret that they have long been the victim of hypersexualization by white men. The first federal law to restrict immigration was the Page Act of 1875, prohibiting “any subject of China, Japan or any Oriental country…the importation of women for the purposes of prostitution.” It prohibited East Asian women, but especially Chinese women, from entering the United States, under the assumption that they were all prostitutes.
It is the Orientalist gaze on Asia and the white sexual imperialism, through rape and war, that have allowed white men to feel so entitled to possess Asian women. We have to pivot back to the U.S.’s military-industrial complex in Asia that conditioned American soldiers to colonize Asian women’s bodies through prostitution. The result is the fetishization and hypersexualization of Asian and Asian American women, fostering the “white man’s fantasy” that stereotypes them as excessively submissive and sexually compliant. In the white savior’s mind, we are the epitome of exotic hyper-femininity and our only mission in life is to satisfy them.
Yet, when we speak up about hypersexualization, we are condemned and told that we are lucky to be fetishized. We are gaslighted to the extent that we doubt our own experiences. Our voices are undermined, because simply put, we live in a white supremacist patriarchy. White women in particular internalize this and see us as the ultimate enemy, allowing racial capitalism, misogyny, and white supremacy to prevail.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, ladies. Every guy’s gonna leave you for an Asian woman. They’re smarter, they laugh like this *covers her mouth* cause they know men hate when women speak. And how do they bring it on home for the win? Oh, the smallest vaginas in the game!”
— Amy Schumer, Self-Proclaimed “Feminist”
Watch the Comedy Central episode here
It is this intersection of being Asian and a woman that forces us into this distinct romantic and sexual narrative, constantly wondering if we are being overly cautious when interacting with men. No one listens to our concerns about yellow fever, because it is “a good problem to have.” We are told it is flattering to be every man’s “type,” but what people don't realize is that there is a thin line between having a “type” and fetishizing us. We are dehumanized, perceived as solely eroticized bodies available for sex without resistance. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “41 to 61 percent of Asian women report experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. This is significantly higher than any other ethnic group.”
To my Asian women readers: I’m here to tell you that your experiences are valid, because as the murder of Soon-Chung Park, Hyun-Jung Kim, Sun-Cha Kim, Yong-Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng have revealed, the fetishization of Asian women is very much flourishing.
“There’s this assumption that all these massage parlor workers are sex workers. That may or may not be the case. The majority of massage parlors are licensed businesses that also provide professional, non-sexual massages. There’s this assumption of sexuality and fetishization of Asian women’s bodies that is unique to this kind of crime. He’s absolutely taking no responsibility and putting all of that on the workers themselves and it also distracts from the race issue.”
— Esther Kao, Organizer with Red Canary Song
It matters that the perpetrator chose to go to massage parlors. Asian American women who work in the service industry don’t fit in the Crazy Rich Asians narrative, and their experiences are marginalized in the Asian American discourse. To be economically vulnerable and working a low-wage job during the pandemic, these Asian American women are subjected to commodification. They are perceived as sex workers, disposable objects existing exclusively for male pleasure. When we criminalize sex work in the Asian American community, we disproportionately target women migrants and poor women who often fall victim to sexual violence.
This brings up another point, what if the Asian American women were sex workers? Why does that matter? Sex workers are still human. This shouldn’t be a part of the discussion. What women do or don’t do with their bodies isn’t anyone’s business but their own. The fact is, the 21-year-old white supremacist murdered Soon-Chung Park, Hyun-Jung Kim, Sun-Cha Kim, Yong-Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng in cold blood. That in itself should be enough to charge him with committing an anti-Asian hate crime.
All of this has been very overwhelming, and I’m still grieving. Every news update, every Instagram post, every tweet, I am trying my hardest to not feel too much. But as it turns out, I don’t have control over my emotions, and the tears always come at the most unexpected moments.
“I sometimes avoid reading a news story when the victim is Asian because I don’t want to pay attention to the fact that no one else is paying attention. I don’t want to care that no one else cares because I don’t want to be left stranded in my rage.”
— Cathy Park Hong
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
Since last year, 3,795 anti-Asian hate crime incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate. However, white America has never acknowledged that they were racially motivated. All we got was a phony speech from President Joe Biden, on March 11th, deeming these anti-Asian hate crimes as “un-American.” Yet 4 days later, on March 15, ICE deported a plane full of Vietnamese immigrants from Texas on Monday in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
We must not forget that we must hold Biden accountable as well. While Trump explicitly reinforces the “Chinese virus” rhetoric, Biden has also been associating COVID-19 with China as early as his presidential campaign. So, what I’m getting is that being anti-Asian is unequivocally American.
I am furious, and my heart feels so heavy. It hurts so much to see supposedly “progressive” white people not spreading any awareness on what has happened. At the same time, it is not okay to just post without actually reading the news. Posting an infographic with the hashtag #StopAsianHate without having done any research, is perpetuating a cycle of performative activism. This phenomenon is even relevant in our own community. The fact that 88rising posted a yellow square to “raise awareness” is despicable. You would imagine that when their whole brand is based on the Asian identity, they would care more, especially with the amount of clout they have. But instead they are choosing to actively restore the racist color-metaphor that Asian Americans are “yellow” and co-opt the useless black squares from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which is inherently anti-Black. Since we’re on the topic, it is also not okay to say #AsianLivesMatter. We need to remember this is not the Oppression Olympics. There must be solidarity between Asian Americans and other BIPOC communities, we have to unite together to dismantle white supremacy.
In order for the Asian American community to heal, America needs to acknowledge that white supremacy is thriving and presenting itself in our everyday lives. This is especially directed towards our white allies who have the privilege to speak up, whose voices aren’t silenced on a daily basis, whose experiences are validated with every syllable that is spoken. Check up on your Asian American friends, but know that your words mean nothing until you have educated yourself on the history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S. Otherwise, you are just draining our energy in an attempt to cure your white guilt.
If possible, please DONATE to the victims of the mass shooting hate crime:
Soon-Chung Park, 74
Hyun-Jung Kim, 51
Sun-Cha Kim, 69
Yong-Ae Yue, 63
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33
Paul Andre Michels, 54
Xiaojie Tan, 49
Daoyou Feng, 44
Elcias Hernandez Ortiz (Survived)
Marcus Lyon (Survived)
Eun-Ja Kang (Survived)
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Thank you for writing out how a lot of the Asian community is feeling right now. I related and felt everything through your words. Keep advocating and let’s all make a change together.
Thank you for this piece Winnie! We need more voices like yours advocating for change. Glad to see you're helping lead the way!