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Please, Call It A Hate Crime: A White Man Has Killed 8 People, 6 Of Whom Were Asian Women

This event crystallises a long history of racism, misogyny and anti-Asian imperialism, it is not isolated

Content warning: this article discusses gendered violence and racial trauma.

Eight people have been murdered—including six Asian women—and another has been injured after a series of shootings at three spa and massage parlour businesses in the Atlanta area. According to initial reports, four of the people who were killed by the white male 21-year-old shooter were Delaina Ashley Yuan, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Yan and Daoyou Feng. The man arrested for the shooting has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.

The violence comes following a year of increased racially-motivated attacks and hate crimes against Asian people in the United States. To be clear, anti-Asian racism is not new. Racism and xenophobia have seen an increase in frequency internationally, including here in Australia. These shootings crystallise a long interconnected history of the fetishisation of Asian women, racist immigration laws that specifically linked Asian women with sex work and the dehumanisation and criminalisation of sex workers.

Anti-Asian rhetoric has been insidiously spread by media outlets and political figures like Donald Trump long before the last twelve months: it’s important to be aware that this spike is not an isolated moment. Characterising the pandemic as the “Chinese virus” or “Kung-flu” has tangibly led to an increase in racist attacks on Asian people, both in the U.S. and Australia.

“There has been a documented pattern of recent attacks against our community, as we have received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents across the country since March 2020. Not enough has been done to protect Asian Americans from heightened levels of hate, discrimination and violence. Concrete action must be taken now. Anything else is unacceptable,” wrote the coalition Stop AAPI Hate in a statement.

The shooting occurred on Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant stated that authorities couldn’t make a determination if the shootings were a hate crime. President Joe Biden has also declined to confirm the connection between the deaths of these eight people and an interconnected racist and misogynistic motive. 

“We understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people, but knowing the increasing level of hate crime against our Asian brothers and sisters, we also want to speak out in solidarity with them,” Biden said, also saying, “We are not yet clear about the motive.”

Media coverage of the Atlanta spa shootings is being decried as lacking and incomplete by many Asian activists and leaders. In keeping with the patterns we’ve seen before with mass shootings carried out by white men, many outlets are either unwilling or unable to call the shooting a hate crime, domestic terrorism or even racially motivated—or interrogate the ways racism and misogyny are deeply intertwined.

Many were also frustrated by the humanising and sympathy shown toward the shooter, who was named long before his victims. Others are pointing out the remarkable restraint and nonviolence police showed towards this white male shooter. His nonviolent arrest stands in very stark contrast to the police brutality that peaceful demonstrators faced during numerous Black Lives Matter actions last year.

To be clear, this is not to say that violence from police is ever admissible, but rather there is a very clear racial dimension at play here. Per Buzzfeed News, the cop who said the spa shooter had a “bad day”, has previously posted a racist shirt that claimed the COVID-19 virus was imported from “Chy-na.”

The shooter told officials that he had “sex addiction issues” and that the attack wasn’t racially motivated. These were Asian-owned massage parlours and Asian women that he targeted. The hypersexualisation of Asian women and the dehumanisation of Asian people cannot be disentangled from this attack.

Many are criticising media attention on this particular facet, as opposed to the other factors at play, as ignorant silence at best and a complicit upholding of white supremacy at worst.

This attack is bringing up racial and gendered trauma for many Asian people right now. Many are sharing the instances of being fetishised, assaulted and exploited. Nobody should have to reiterate their experiences of microaggressions, racial attacks or gendered violence in order to find empathy and justice. We should not have to keep justifying our humanity over and over again, especially when the people who are killing us face no such challenge.

Asian Australians can find holistic mental health resources and lists of Asian Australian mental health practitioners at Shapes and Sounds. You can find resources on ways to support Asian people in the face of anti-Asian racism and hatred here.

Content warning: this article discusses gendered violence and racial trauma.

Content warning: this article discusses gendered violence and racial trauma.

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