Another Asian killing is plastered all over the news and it seems like we can’t get a break. However, this time, it was in Georgia, the state where I grew up in and involves people in my community.
On the late afternoon and early evening of March 16, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white domestic terrorist, went on a shooting spree targeting three massage establishments in and near the Atlanta area. Of the victims at those three massage establishments, six of the eight people shot and killed, were Asian women.
Due to the identities of the victims, many, like myself, speculate this was a hate crime motivated by racial intent.
As an Asian American teen who has family and friends living in the Atlanta community, this news shook me to my core. I was overwhelmed with grief and disbelief as I continued to read the barrage of posts, stories, and articles that poured across my social media feed. Remembering the dozens of Asian-owned businesses I walk past every day and seeing my community being attacked so ruthlessly leaves a hole in my heart.
Scapegoated and Targeted
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Asians have been scapegoated and targeted, with the help of now-former President Trump and other racist rhetoric such as “Kung-Flu” and “China Virus.” Although racism towards Asian Americans is not new, Trump’s ignorance and bigoted language stoked the fires of hatred and division in our country (At the very start of the pandemic, I wrote about how it felt to hear prejudicial remarks being made by my non-Asisan classmates).
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of Asian hate crimes has only increased. The rise in racism and xenophobia against Asians continues to skyrocket as ignorance is kindled by the sparks of white supremacy and prejudice. Furthermore, a recent study by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism shows that there was a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes during 2020. These statistics mirror the rates of discrimination many AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islanders) and Asians faced as a result of COVID-19 stigmatization.
America’s Double Standard
Additionally, law enforcement and mainstream corporate media continue to perpetuate the ideas of a white man being deeply troubled, unstable, mentally ill, a loner, etc. rather than blatantly stating the fact that this was an act of terrorism rooted in racial animosity.
This type of careful rhetoric is indicated through Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department Captain Jay Baker’s statement at a joint press conference with Atlanta Police held Wednesday: “He [Robert Aaron Long] 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.” (You can watch his comments here at 15:45 into the press conference. On Wednesday night, a Facebook account allegedly belonging to Baker and containing posts from 2020 promoting a T-shirt with racist language about China and coronavirus, had been deleted, according to the Associated Press and the Washington Post).
“Kill All Asians”
Ironically, the ones who are “pretty much fed up” are the Asian community. The ones who are “at the end of [the] rope” are the Asian community. The ones who had a “really bad” year are the Asian community.
Moreover, in headline after headline posted Wednesday, news articles stated that this was an act stemming from Long’s sex addiction, rather than an act of racial motivation. But this type of rhetoric side-steps the underlying cause of deep-rooted anti-Asian racism, whether Long and Cherokee County law enforcement officials realize it or not. Perhaps, not coincidentally, all the massage establishments were owned by Asians and six of the victims were of Asian descent.
Although Long did not claim to have a racial motivation, Chosun, an Atlanta Korean media outlet, quotes witnesses who were there during the shootings. Reportedly, an employee at the Gold Massage Spa “said that the suspect at the time of the crime said that he would ‘kill all Asians.’”
Hypersexualization and Fetishization of Asian Women
During Wednesday’s news conference, a reporter following up on comments made by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Dept, asked if the targeted establishments were illegal businesses of prostitution. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was quick to denounce those allegations stating, “We are not about to get into victim blaming, victim shaming here. As far as we know in Atlanta, we’ve not had any calls, 911 calls, from that location… And as far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally operating businesses.” (You can see her comments at 12:46 in the news conference).
Of the eight people Long has confessed to murdering, six were Asian women. According to police, Long stated that the massage shop employees were a “temptation for him [and] that he wanted to eliminate [the employees].” For many young people in Atlanta’s Asian American community, this was not only an act of racism, but an act fueled by misogyny.
Danielle Nguyen, an 18-year-old Vietnamese American student who attends Rockdale Magnet states, “Women are infantilized and seen as quiet, meek, domesticated, and submissive objects that can simply be made use of. Asian women are not domesticated sex objects and Asian men are not emasculate subordinates. Orientalism and years of anti-Asian propaganda have created these assumptions.”
This experience is preserved and perpetuated through Western ignorance in media, stigmatization, and cultural prejudice. This subconscious stereotyping only cultivates the ideas of hypersexualization against many Asian women, often leading to the objectification of their humanity.
Bee Nguyen, a State Representative for Georgia House District 89, tweeted, “It doesn’t require admission of a hate crime by the suspect in custody to determine if this is, in fact, a hate crime. Three Asian businesses, six Asian women killed, the sexualization & dehumanization of Asian women — that cannot be overlooked.”
It doesn’t require admission of a hate crime by the suspect in custody to determine if this is, in fact, a hate crime. Three Asian businesses, 6 Asian women killed, the sexualization& dehumanization of Asian women — that cannot be overlooked. https://t.co/xrJThPYZb6— Bee Nguyen 🐝 (@BeeForGeorgia) March 17, 2021
“This Could Have Happened to Me”
Many Georgian teens who identify as Asian felt the same horrors, anger, and grief I felt.
Candy Zheng, a 19-year-old Chinese American student at Georgia Tech tweeted, “One of the shootings happened just 10 minutes away from [Georgia Tech] campus. It was next door to the tattoo shop I got my piercings done a few months ago. To think this could have happened to me or anyone I know hurts.”
Although many Georgian communities are hurting, it is equally important that everyone stands in solidarity with the Asian community to combat these violent acts ignited by racism and hate. In the words of Atlanta Mayor Bottoms at the opening of Wednesday’s news conference, “a crime against any community is a crime against us all.”
If you’d like to learn more or if you want to donate to some of the organizations helping the cause for racial justice, here are some resources: