March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of when much of the U.S. entered various forms of social distancing lockdown as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a year filled with loss and trauma, disproportionately experienced by those already marginalized in our societies. This public health crisis has been further compounded by the continuation of visible and horrific acts of violence against Black people, perpetrated by the police and everyday citizens who feel entitled to enact hatred, carry out executions, and justify these actions.
The shootings in Atlanta on March 16, 2021 which resulted in eight deaths, six of them Asian American women, must be understood in the context of the racialized hatred associated with the pandemic. Elected officials fueled anti-Asian hatred, characterizing COVID-19 as the “China” virus and “kung flu.” Nearly 3,800 incidents of anti-Asian harassment and violence have been documented by Stop AAPI Hate during this pandemic year (and the actual number is likely way beyond that) with women and elderly most likely to be targeted.
The shootings in Atlanta also stem from a long history of the racialization and sexualization of Asian/American women, going back to the Page Law of 1875 that sought to prevent Chinese women from immigrating to the U.S. based on their presumed status as prostitutes; the cultural representations that reinforce white male orientalist fantasies of Asian women as geishas, China dolls, prostitutes who provide rest and recreation, and mail-order brides; the creation and ongoing impact of the military-sexual complex through over a century of hot and cold wars in Asia; and the economic stratification that channels Asian/American women into service jobs and emotional and sexual labor.
As scholars of the histories of women, gender, and sexuality, we believe it is critical to reframe what is at stake, especially when public officials and members of the public seek to dismiss acts of violence as having “a bad day” or that anxieties about sexuality can be divorced from race. As teachers, we support our students and remind them that words, ideas, expressions of collective grief and solidarity, and acts of protest matter. As scholars of the past, we illuminate the persistent and intersectional forms of violence, both spectacular and everyday, as well as long histories of resistance.
A 76-year-old Asian American woman was attacked in San Francisco two days after the Atlanta shooting. Punched in the face by a man who came up to her unprovoked, she fought back. We can, too.
- Jennifer Ho, President of the Association for Asian American Studies, “To be an Asian Woman in America”
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Atlanta Community-Centered Response
- American Council of Learned Societies Statement Condemning Anti-Asian Violence
- Association for Asian Studies Statement on Anti-Racism and Violence
- Circle for Asian American Literary Studies Statement Regarding Atlanta Shootings
- NWSA Condemns anti-Asian Violence and Racism statement
- Stop AAPI Hate National Report
March 21, 2021