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Anti-Asian Attacks: The Hate Crimes That Fall Through the Gaps

The recent Atlanta shooting that left eight people dead, six of them being Asian women, has sparked a global outcry. The attacks shocked the world and struck fear into the Asian community, which has increasingly been targeted during the pandemic. The police arrested Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man who confessed to the murders. Long claimed that the attacks were not racially motivated and that his struggle with sex addiction was instead his motivation. Although the question of his motivation is still under investigation, Long’s narrative rings untrue for numerous individuals.

According to Jooyoung Lee, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, the facts speak for themselves. Knowing that the offender went to three massage parlours, all of which were owned by members of the Asian community, and six of the victims being Asian women, it is illogical to argue that race has no relevance in this case. Nancy Wang Yuen, author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism says that the police’s inability to see racism as the cause of this tragedy is an example of their ignorance, a sentiment which has been shared by many other activists, academics and legal experts.

When Race Intersects with Gender

The offender argued that sex addiction was the motivation for his crimes, as he was trying to eliminate the women that he saw as a ‘temptation’. This reveals the way in which sexism, racism and anti-sex work sentiment led to violence against women of Asian descent. Whilst it is not known whether any of the victims at the massage parlours provided sexual services or not, the offender’s description of the parlours as a ‘temptation’ reveals the sexualization and objectification of Asian women. In this context, it becomes impossible to separate race from gender.

The word ‘temptation’ assumes that all women working in Asian massage parlours provide sexual services, revealing the fetishisation of Asian women’s bodies. Esther K, the co-director of Red Canary Song, claimed that “The conflation of massage parlours and sex workers without any nuance is very specific to anti-Asian racism against Asian women”. Ultimately, the word ‘temptation’ implies that the real problem lies in the existence of these parlours and pushes the responsibility away from the offender.

Mass shooting or just a ‘bad day’? – Institutionalised Racism within the Police

The way in which these brutal attacks have been described by the police seem to support Long’s attempt to justify his actions. During a news conference, Captain Jay Baker called the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since August 2019 a “really bad day” for the offender. This choice of words downplays the violence that Asian Americans are currently facing, whilst also revealing the structural racism within the police force. Captain Baker’s words shocked and angered people, drawing widespread criticism. According to Vincent Pan, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, an organisation fighting against Asian hate crimes, Baker’s comments do not “give community members confidence that our experiences and the pain and the suffering that we’re feeling are being taken seriously”.

Hate Crimes on the Rise

While more details about the shootings are still emerging, the broader context should not be neglected. This tragedy took place during an upsurge in Asian hate crimes, violence which has been fuelled by racist terms employed by the former president Donald Trump. On several occasions the former president referred to the virus as the “Chinese virus”, or “kung flu”, a label which has fuelled bigotry against the Asian American community. Framing the problem in this way, the ex-president gave people permission to falsely blame Asian Americans for the pandemic.

Statistics show that between March 19th 2020 and February 28th 2021, 3.795 crimes against people of Asian descent have been reported. The number of hate crimes is likely to be higher as the statistics indicate only the crimes that have been reported. A recent survey emphasised that fear of retaliation as well as language barriers are the most important reasons for which Asian hate crimes go unreported. Considering the lack of police training on how to identify and report hate crimes, the current numbers are likely to represent only a tiny fraction.

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The Atlanta shootings are an unspeakable tragedy which caused great pain and suffering for many families. But these attacks are not an isolated incident. In fact, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Hours before the Atlanta mass shooting, a 77-year-old man of Asian descent was attacked in Oakland, California, and a 60-year-old man was left partially blind after being pushed over in San Francisco. These are only some of the horrible incidents which continue to terrify people of Asian descent and impede them from living in freedom and security, a fundamental right every human being is entitled to.

The Asian community’s experiences with hatred and violence have often been described as “not surprising” and “nothing new”. This choice of words is heart-breaking. The risks Asian Americans are currently facing are the result of a long history of racism and sexism, a result of the system’s cruel ignorance towards people’s suffering, pain and discrimination. This crisis highlights the urgency to acknowledge and address hatred in whichever form it may come. It is a clear call to action.

If you would like to show your support for those affected by violence and help raise awareness, you can donate to the Support the AAPI Community Fund, a collaborative effort between GoFundMe and Asian fashion industry insiders Philip Lim, Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon, Carol Lim, Susie Bubble, Bryanboy, and Eva Chen.

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