Anti-Asian Hate Has Long History in America

By Kari Mar

March 16, 2021 Atlanta shooting victims.

I was drinking my first cup of coffee and turned on the morning news just in time to hear Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker say that an Atlanta-area white shooter “was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”

A bad day?

The shooter murdered eight people. Six were Asian women. Is this what we call a bad day nowadays?

The details of the murders emerged. A white man had open fire in three Atlanta-area spas, killing eight and injuring one. Out of the six Asian women killed, four of them were Korean. The shooter told law enforcement interviewers that he had a sex addiction and targeted the spas because they were too enticing so he had to kill them. He told them it had nothing to do with race. And at this writing, they have agreed with him.

According to the organization Stop AAPI Hate (Asian American Pacific Islander), the number of hate attacks on Asians grew 149 percent over the previous year, or 3,795 by February 2021.

The organization Stop AAPI Hate (Asian American Pacific Islander) reported 3,795 hate-related attacks between March of 2020 and February of 2021, an increase of 149 percent. Attacks against women made up two-thirds of the reports. The murders of March 16 added eight more to the morbid tally: Xiaojie Tan, 50; Delaina Yaun, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Daoyou Feng, 44; Yong Ae Yue, 63; Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Soon Chung Park, 74; and Suncha Kim, 69. An unidentified man was also injured.

I wasn’t mad. I hadn’t gotten to mad yet. I was feeling a wave of familiarity. The stereotype of Asian women as delicate China dolls, lotus blossoms and exotic geishas create a unique entanglement of race and gender that has portrayed Asian women as randy, submissive, hypersexual sex workers. The U.S. federal government passed the Page Act in 1875, which barred “lewd” (read: unmarried) women from entering the country. Often, the law was applied to single Chinese women, casting them as prostitutes. In less than 10 years, Congress would pass the Chinese Exclusion Act to bar all immigration from China, and Chinese women were specifically accused of spreading sexually transmitted diseases.

Since I was a child, I heard some version of degrading and hypersexualized remarks:

I have a thing for Asian women.

Me love you long time.

Touch her skin. It’s like porcelain, like a China doll.

I only date Asians. White women are too demanding, and Asian girls do what you want.

You look like a Geisha.

You’re so exotic.

Most of these phrases are hurled at Asian girls and are based on a history of a unique type of racism against Asians, where racism and misogyny tangle to create a basic image of Asian women as pliable, forever compliant, hypersexual and disposable. To take the Atlanta shooter at his word, he reduced the women to almost nothing – human sex toys who were too seductive and tempting to live.

The headlines about the Atlanta murders flowed Wednesday morning. Massage parlor, Asian-owned, front for sex traffickers. No evidence of a hate crime. No evidence of prostitution, either. But before we even knew the victims’ names, talking heads and the Twittersphere were creating their own narrative, and it sounded a lot like the Page Act.

The circumstances were set just more than a year ago, when the press erroneously reported that the COVID-19 pandemic came from Wuhan China. It was an opening for then-President Donald Trump to take a shot at the Chinese, which he did publicly and often by calling COVID-`19 “the Kung Flu” or “China virus.” Since then, hate crimes against Asian Americans grew and started to surge at an alarming rate March when the pandemic started to ravage the country.

Trump didn’t invent anti-Asian hate or the intersection of bigotry against Asians and misogyny. But with his rhetoric, he gave it a new life and gave his followers permission to run with it.

And they did from the start. Remember Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker of “Yesterday was a really bad day for him (the shooter) and this is what he did.” Later that afternoon, photos from Baker’s Facebook surfaced of T-shirts printed with “Covid-19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”

In Seattle and across the country, Asian Americans aren’t waiting. Since last June, we have been doing neighborhood patrols in Chinatown, Japantown and Little Saigon. We check in on merchants, shoo away would-be vandals and generally be a positive presence dampening the opportunities for violence. At least four times the number of volunteers showed up to walk the Friday after the Atlanta shootings. We made extra trips past massage parlors because we knew they were a target. We’ve held positive rallies and marches. We are becoming more visible and more vocal about our past and our present, as we must.

As my coffee ran cold, so did my blood. For the next week or so, federal and state officials would offer thoughts and prayers and Atlanta’s law enforcement would continue to be confused about the role of race shootings. If the whole of them took the time to confront America’s own anti-Asian history, one might hope that the arc of hate crimes would decrease.