VIDEO: Asian women say Atlanta shootings point to relentless, racist tropes

FILE - In this March 19, 2021, file photo, flowers, candles and signs are displayed at a makeshift memorial in Atlanta, following a shooting. The murder case against Robert Aaron Long, a white man accused of shooting and killing six women of Asian descent and two other people at Atlanta-area massage businesses, could become the first big test for Georgia’s new hate crimes law. (AP Photo/Candice Choi, File)FILE - In this March 19, 2021, file photo, flowers, candles and signs are displayed at a makeshift memorial in Atlanta, following a shooting. The murder case against Robert Aaron Long, a white man accused of shooting and killing six women of Asian descent and two other people at Atlanta-area massage businesses, could become the first big test for Georgia’s new hate crimes law. (AP Photo/Candice Choi, File)
Grace Pai, director of organizing at Chicago’s Asian Americans Advancing Justice branch, works on her computer in her apartment Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Chicago. Pai and others have been busy working with community members as Asian Americans reel from Tuesday’s Atlanta-area shootings by a gunman who killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. “To think that someone targeted three Asian-owned businesses that were staffed by Asian American women … and didn’t have race or gender in mind is just absurd,” Pai said. (AP Photo/Noreen Nasir)Grace Pai, director of organizing at Chicago’s Asian Americans Advancing Justice branch, works on her computer in her apartment Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Chicago. Pai and others have been busy working with community members as Asian Americans reel from Tuesday’s Atlanta-area shootings by a gunman who killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. “To think that someone targeted three Asian-owned businesses that were staffed by Asian American women … and didn’t have race or gender in mind is just absurd,” Pai said. (AP Photo/Noreen Nasir)

For Christine Liwag Dixon and others, the bloodshed in Georgia — six Asian women among the dead, allegedly killed by a man who blamed his “sexual addiction” — was a new and horrible chapter in the shameful history of Asian women being reduced to sex objects.

“I’ve had people either assume that I’m a sex worker or assume that, as a Filipino woman, I will do anything for money because they assume that I’m poor,” said Dixon, a freelance writer and musician in New York City. “I had an old boss who offered me money for sex once.”

Tuesday’s rampage at three Atlanta-area massage businesses prompted Asian American women to share stories of being sexually harassed or demeaned. They say they’ve often had to tolerate racist and misogynistic men who cling to a narrative that Asian women are exotic and submissive.

Elaine Kim, who is Korean American and a professor emeritus in Asian American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, recalled being crassly harassed by white young men while she was in high school. Later in life, one of her white students made sexualizing comments about the Asian women in her class and lurked outside their apartments.

Kim was reminded of these moments when she heard that the man accused in the Atlanta-area shootings had said he had acted because his targets tempted him.

“I think it’s likely that the killer not only had a sex addiction but also an addiction to fantasies about Asian women as sex objects,” she said.

Two of the Georgia massage businesses had been repeatedly targeted in prostitution investigations in the past 10 years, according to police records. The documents show that 10 people had been arrested on prostitution charges, but none since 2013.

The suspect in the shootings, a 21-year-old white man, considered the women inside the spas “sources of temptation,” police said.

Grace Pai, a director of organizing at Chicago’s Asian Americans Advancing Justice branch, called that characterization of the attacks “a real slap in the face to anyone who identifies as an Asian American woman.”

“We know exactly what this racialized misogyny looks like,” Pai said. “And to think that someone targeted three Asian-owned businesses that were staffed by Asian American women … and didn’t have race or gender in mind is just absurd.”

Framing the women who were killed as “sources of temptation” places blame on the women as the ones “who were there to tempt the shooter, who is merely the victim of temptation,” said Catherine Ceniza Choy, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of ethnic studies and a Filipino American woman. She said this scenario echoes a long-running stereotype that Asian women are immoral and hypersexual.

“That may be the way the alleged shooter and killer thinks of it, that you can compartmentalize race in this box and sex addiction in a separate box. But it doesn’t work that way,” Choy said. “These things are intertwined, and race is central to this conversation.”

Stereotypes of Asian women as “dragon ladies” or sexually available partners have been around for centuries. From the moment Asian women began to migrate to the U.S., they were the targets of hypersexualization, said Ellen Wu, a history professor at Indiana University.

The Page Act of 1875 prohibited women coming to the U.S. from anywhere for “immoral purposes,” but the law was largely enforced against Chinese women.

“As early as the 1870s, white Americans were already making this association, this assumption of Asian women being walking sex objects,” Wu said.

Asian lives are seen as “interchangeable and disposable,” she said. “They are objectified, seen as less than human. That helps us understand violence toward Asian women like we saw this week.”

U.S. military deployments in Asia also played a role, according to Kim. She said the military has long fueled sex trafficking there, starting after the Spanish-American War, when traffickers and brothel owners in the Philippines bought and sold women and girls to meet the demands of U.S. soldiers.

During the Vietnam War, women from Thailand and many other Asian countries were used for sex by U.S. soldiers at various “rest and recreation” spots. The bodies and perceived submissiveness of Asian women were eroticized and hypersexualized, Kim said, and eventually these racist stereotypes were brought back to the United States.

In American culture, Asian woman have been fetishized as submissive, hypersexual and exotic, said Christine Bacareza Balance, an Asian American studies professor at Cornell University and a Filipina woman.

A prime example is the wildly popular 1887 novel, “Madame Chrysanthème,” a French narrative, translated into English, in which Japanese women are referred to as “playthings” and “China ornaments.” More recently, an Asian woman has generally been portrayed in films as either “a manipulative, dragon lady temptress or the submissive, innocent ‘lotus blossom’ meant to please a man,” Balance said.

Choy, the ethnic studies professor at Berkeley, said Tuesday’s shootings and subsequent efforts to remove race from the conversation is yet another example of the denial of the racism and sexism Asian and Asian American women face.

“In American society, Asian Americans are not seen and listened to,” she said. “We are seen in specific ways at times, as model minorities, as projections of white, male fantasy, but we are not seen as full-fledged Americans. We are not seen as full human beings. It’s a kind of erasure and dehumanization.”

READ MORE: Advocates call on Canadians to examine treatment of Asian Canadians

____

Associated Press writer Noreen Nasir in Chicago contributed. Tang, Fernando and Nasir are members of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Tang reported from Phoenix and Fernando from Chicago.

Terry Tang And Christine Fernando, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

racismUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Lookout Lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Traffic is backed up due to a crash on Highway 1. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)
Traffic backs up on Highway 1 westbound in View Royal after crash

First responders are reportedly on the scene in View Royal

A driver stopped by Saanich police following a road rage incident on April 15 was found to be impaired, in violation of a license restriction and in a damaged vehicle. They received a 90-day driving prohibition and a 30-day vehicle impound. (Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit/Twitter)
Driver stopped on Pat Bay Highway after road rage reports fails breathalyzer test: police

Several witnesses reported driver to Saanich police, school officer intercepted

Pacific Institution in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media file photo)
Inmate with ties to Victoria dies in Abbotsford institution

Brodie Bingley, who was sentenced for aggravated assault in Maple Ridge died April 13

The site of the proposed rental housing development at 2197 Otter Point Rd. (District of Sooke)
District of Sooke approves development with 77 rental units

New parking lot for John Phillips Memorial Park included in project

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

An armed officer walks outside Cerwydden Care on Cowichan Lake Road near Skinner Road Wednesday, April 14 around 5:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Police standoff at Duncan apartment ends peacefully

Officers surround building as homeowner held in apartment for nearly four hours by adult son

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

The District of Sooke will continue to flower with Communities in Bloom. (Pixabay)
Sooke will bud but not bloom in provincial competition

Council scales back participation in Communities in Bloom

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

Most Read