For Asian American women, racism and machismo are inseparable
Attack on massage parlors, which left eight deaths, opens debate on increasing this type of hate crime
After eight people, six of them Asian women, were shot dead this week in an attack near Atlanta, a police officer said that, in the sniper's own words, his actions "were not racially motivated" but were caused by "addiction." sexual".
According to Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Police Department, one of the three massage parlors hit is located, the investigation is in its early stages. But the implication was clear: it had to be one reason or the other, not both.
The statement was met with disbelief by many Asian American women, to whom racism and machismo have always been inextricably linked. For them, racism often takes the form of unwanted sexual actions and sexual harassment is often overtly racist.
With reports of attacks against Asians emerging after the Donald Trump administration has repeatedly emphasized China's connection to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is evidence that most hate crimes, unlike other types, were directed at women .
"People are debating whether it was a misogynistic attack on women or a racist attack on Asians," wrote Jenn Fang, founder of an Asian-American feminist blog, on Twitter. "What if it's both?"
Baker's statement on Wednesday included a statement that the sniper, who is white, was having "a very bad day", which many women interpreted as another way to excuse violence against them. His comments were widely criticized and it was later discovered that he had promoted sales of anti-Asian t-shirts.
The police department later said in a statement that Baker's comments "were not intended to disrespect any of the victims" or "to express empathy or sympathy for the suspect". But the apology seemed to do little to lessen the feeling that the authorities were getting past the point.
- Law enforcement and society in general tend not to really understand how racism, hatred and prejudice are directed at Asian Americans and certainly do not understand how they are directed at Asian American women - said Helen Zia, activist and writer that fights Asian violence. - Therefore, the instant reaction is usually to diminish and reject this violence.
Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, said that when she first came to the United States to study in 2000, she was “stunned, stunned, horrified” by the way she was often approached by strange men who said love Korean women.
Men, she said, varied in age, very young to very old, and never seemed to understand that their compartment was not flattering.
- I experienced racism. I experienced sexism. But I never experienced both the way I lived when I came to the United States - she said, who also said that many Asian-American women saw Tuesday's shooting as the culmination of this racialized misogyny. - I'm telling you, most of us didn't sleep well last night. Because that was what we feared all along: we were afraid that the objectification and hypersexualization of our bodies would lead to death.
Government data suggest that, across the country, the victims of most violent hate crimes are men. However, a recent analysis by the Stop AAPI Hate group, which collects reports of hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Island communities, shows that of the nearly 3,800 incidents recorded in 2020 and 2021, more than two-thirds came women.
Hate crimes against Asian women are certainly underestimated, and Zia said one reason is that crimes with a sexual dimension tend to be classified as sexual crimes, erasing the racial aspect. Stereotypes of Asian women as submissive may encourage aggressors, she said.
- We are seen as vulnerable. And you know: the object that doesn't fight back.
Very little is known about the Atlanta sniper's motives, but organizations that track hate crimes have increasingly paid attention to misogyny as a "gateway drug" for other types of extremism, such as violent racism.
Kyeyoung Park, professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that Asian immigrants have historically been seen exclusively through the lens of their work or business. In the case of massage parlors in Georgia, “capitalism based on racial exploitation has been intertwined with the sexualization of Asian women, and particularly Korean women over many decades ”.
The police did not clarify whether any of the three locations affected were linked to sex work.
"I believe the origin of these massage parlors can be traced back to Korean War brides and military wives," said Park.
Abroad, poverty and the privations of war have given rise to a prostitution industry that provided cheap sex for US military personnel in Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, combining stereotypes of Asian women as exotic or manipulative sexual objects that try to arrest American husbands .
Many women who were in the sex trade were brought to the United States as brides, and some of them, who were later separated or divorced their husbands, started massages, a story that probably helped to form a perception of all managed spas. by Asians as illicit and the women who work on them as sex workers, explains Park.
The fetishization of Asian women was reinforced in popular culture, mainly with the lines spoken by a sex worker in a scene “Full Metal Jacket”, a film the Vietnam War, when two soldiers try to bargain their price: “Me with so much lust . I have loved you for a long time. ”
The speeches became a stimulus used in what Ellen Wu, a historian at Indiana University Bloomington called "a specific type of racist slur".
"A few words put an entire story together in one sentence," she said.