Tuesday, March 23, 2021
A week has passed since we first heard the horrific news from Atlanta, a week that has forced us, once again, to take a hard look at the defects and evils that plague our society. In this instance, racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, and the hypersexualization and fetishization of Asian women intersected with the inequities of class, income, and the distinct struggles of immigrant working women.
We haven’t yet learned if this mass murderer had met any of his victims, but we can be sure that he didn’t know them.
He didn’t know or care that they were mothers, wives, and grandmothers; that one was a former teacher, another a devout Catholic who volunteered to help feed the homeless, and a single mom who often worked two or three jobs at a time to give her kids the opportunities she never had.
The killer didn’t know them, hear them, see them, or recognize their humanity in any tangible way. For him, they were “the others.”
Throughout our history, we’ve experienced this “otherization” of people who don’t fit into the norms of the white dominant culture. Race, religion, ethnicity, ideology, language, gender, sexuality, and economic status have all been used as criteria to separate and diminish.
In an El Paso Walmart, “the others” were Latino shoppers; in a Pittsburgh synagogue, they were Jewish advocates for refugees; in Orlando, they were gay men in a night club, in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, they were worshippers; and at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, they were Black people gathered for Bible study who welcomed their killer to join them.
This is the most terrible and final destination of white and male supremacy: a place where hatred, fear, and resentment are given rein to fester and twist into a white-hot rage until the killer feels not only emboldened to commit heinous acts of violence but entitled to it.
And along the way, there are the less-newsworthy acts of cruelty and aggression—the hurtful slurs and taunts, the opportunities denied, and the unrelenting assault of daily injustices.
This is our legacy of white supremacy. And it is a scourge upon our nation.
“This is not the first time that AAPIs (Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders) have been systematically ‘othered,’ scapegoated and erased,” writes Virginia State Delegate Kathy Tran, a former Vietnamese refugee, and a JFON friend. “I urge you to learn our history. See how deep our roots are in this country and how deep are the roots of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny against us. And then see how we persisted.”
In fact, the very first restrictive immigration law in the U.S.—the Wade Act of 1875—was a specific prohibition against the entry of Chinese women. Seven years later, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act would also ban the immigration of Chinese men.
A history of exploitation and discrimination followed, culminating in the shameful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
And now, spurred by a former president and his cronies who insist on labeling COVID-19 as “Kung Flu” or “Chinese Flu,” there are those who resent Asian Americans and choose to blame them for the pandemic job losses and economic uncertainty.
The subsequent rise of anti-Asian attacks—both verbal and physical—is alarming but not surprising. Stop AAPI Hate reports a whopping 3,795 such attacks over the last year, with the victims being overwhelmingly (68%) women. Likewise, cities across the country are reporting increases in hate crimes against Asians where there were few or none the previous year. In 2019, for example, there were three hate crimes against Asian-Americans in New York City; in 2020, there were 28.
“While we may feel vulnerable in this moment, we must honor everyone who has fallen victim to hatred by standing together, speaking out, reporting hate crimes, and demanding change,” writes Delegate Tran.
“Be an ally. There is light ahead. We will rise.”
Are you ready to stand up against hate crimes? Sign up for bystander intervention training sponsored by Asian American Advancing Justice (AAJ). This training will prepare you to interrupt anti-Asian harassment.
For 21 years, the JFON network has served thousands of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants and refugees—from Myanmar, China, the Philippines, Nepal, Fiji, and others.
Many of these clients fled civil war, political oppression, and religious persecution. They came to the U.S. to be safe. They came, hoping, wishing, and praying to be free.
With its own clinic in Chinatown, New York Justice for Our Neighbors serves a large Chinese and Asian-American community. On the morning after the shooting, their Executive Director, Rev. Paul Fleck, wrote this short letter to the clinic’s volunteers. We think it articulates both the grief and faithful steadfastness we feel as we go forward and share it with you now:
Dear NY JFON Volunteers,
I want to express my heartfelt sadness and anger at the recent anti-Asian violence that has occurred around the country.
My love goes out to our siblings at Chinese United Methodist Church. Know you are in our prayers. I pray that both together and individually, we can resist the hatred and xenophobia exhibited from NY to Atlanta.
Our project is a testament to the fact that we can be welcoming to all, welcoming individuals with compassion, dignity, and love.
May it be so.