On March 16, a white gunman opened fire at three spas in the Atlanta, GA metro area, killing eight people, most of them Asian or Asian American women. The reporting and the reactions to this horrific event have illuminated the urgent need for reckoning with the ways white supremacy continues to victimize Asian Americans through tokenization, erasure, and objectification, which escalate too easily into incidents of chilling racialized and sexualized violence. The reporting and public discourse around this horrific event have also illuminated how seamlessly the white supremacist underpinnings of this kind of violence are minimized and obscured in broad swaths of American society.
We, scholars and administrators at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, grieve for Soon Park, Hyun J. Frant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Paul Andre Michels. We were horrified, though not surprised, by this hate crime, given the troubling recent crescendo of anti-Asian racism emerging from American lawmakers, certain segments of the media, and even out of Stanford itself. We were also horrified, but not surprised, by the way the racial dimensions of the killing spree were quickly downplayed by law enforcement. We are infuriated by the callousness and disregard for the victims’ humanity and dignity. Moreover, as feminist scholars (and administrators engaged in promoting feminist scholarship), we are deeply troubled by the way the intersections of racism and sexism that are so central to the ongoing nature of such hatred have been elided by major media.
In the wake of these acts of terrorism, we share the outrage, sadness, and pain felt by the more than 40 different Asian American communities in the United States. As people who study, and enable others to study, matters of race and gender for a living, let us be unequivocal:
1.) Situated as we are on a campus created by a man who, as Governor of the State of California, called Chinese immigrants an “inferior race” and “degraded and distinct people,” we are painfully aware of the role anti-Asian racism has historically played in white supremacy and settler colonialism at Stanford and the United States. We also acknowledge the central role gender and androcentrism have always played in this violence. And we emphasize the fact that this racism was never just about individual antipathy (or “race hatred”), but was rather part of a system designed to safeguard the power of white men. We believe both that those who have stoked anti-Asian stereotypes during the COVID-era bear responsibility for the murders in Atlanta, and that the events in Atlanta cannot be understood as separate from this country’s long collective history of white supremacy.
2.) We also want to point out that the dehumanization and objectification of Asian women cannot be disentangled from the long history of US imperialism in East and Southeast Asia. Violence against Asian women in the United States has to be understood in the context of widespread and routinized sexual violence at the hands of US personnel in the Philippines, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. And while the phobic construction of the Asian sex worker precedes US interventions in the Philippines, Korea and Vietnam, this construction has been normalized and mainstreamed in tandem with US imperialism.
3.) We wish to acknowledge plainly that the kind of “himpathy” extended by law enforcement to a man who murdered eight people in cold blood is directly related to the killer’s race and gender. The invocation of his “sex addiction” flows from a cultural logic that posits women’s bodies as a resource for men, and marks out racialized bodies even more so. We work in a building next to which stands a plaque with the words of Chanel Miller, whose sexual assault (and the offensive exculpation of her white rapist) roiled the Stanford campus in 2015 and 2016. The racialized dimensions of that assault and the rapist’s lenient treatment remain too little acknowledged even here.
4.) We also acknowledge that the shocking callousness displayed by law enforcement (and certain segments of major media) toward the victims emerges from American society’s treatment of sex workers as ultimately disposable bodies. The profession of the victims is irrelevant: everyone deserves to be safe at work. To be clear: we do not know whether the victims were sex workers, but we do know that they would not be treated the way they are if there weren’t a chance that they were.
5.) We argue that the idea that America’s police departments should now swarm Asian American neighborhoods to protect residents is profoundly misguided and actively harmful. American law enforcement routinely treatens the bodies of women of color (and especially women of color suspected of sex work) as disposable. Therefore, increased policing will never decrease violence—at least not until American policing radically re-evaluates its relationship to white supremacy and misogyny.
We stand against racism and sexism. We demand justice and accountability. Finally, as a research institute, we encourage others to do what they can to be more informed about the long history of anti-Asian racism, white supremacy, and misogyny.
List of scholarly resources:
Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
Rosalind Chou, Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism
Laura Hyun Yi Kang, Traffic in Asian Women
Nicole Dejong Newendorp, Chinese Senior Migrants and the Globalization of Retirement
Adrian Daub, Director
Alison Dahl Crossley, Executive Director
Shivani Desai Mehta, Director of Programs
Natalie Mason, Event Coordinator
Cynthia Newberry, Communications Manager
Wendy Skidmore, Fellowship Manager
Jennifer Portillo, Program Administrator
Laura Goode, Media Affiliate; co-host, “The Feminist Present”
Lin Li, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Melissa Brown, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Jessica Gold, Clinical Assistant Professor, Pediatrics, Clayman Faculty Fellow
Young Jean Lee, Associate Professor, Theater and Performance Studies, Faculty Fellow
Shane Denson, Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies, Faculty Fellow