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

The seventh annual Interior Savings Unplug and Play Family Literacy Week is scheduled for April 18 to 24. (File photo)
Annual Unplug and Play Week scheduled for April 18 to 24

Activities include making craft bags, neighbourhood hidden gems bingo, a scavenger hunt and more

A West Kelowna home was damaged in a fire that occurred overnight on Saturday, April 17. (Photo courtesy of West Kelowna Fire Rescue)
West Kelowna home damaged in overnight fire

The cause of the fire is undetermined and has been deemed unsuspicious

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Black Crow Cannabis is just one of Vernon's many pot shops now open in town. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Kelowna has highest cannabis fees in Okanagan

Vernon’s 14 stores pay second highest business licence fees

Serving alcohol has been altered in the Central Okanagan Public Schools policy regarding rental of school facilities for after-school hours events. (Contributed)
Alcohol option opened up at Central Okanagan school facilities rented for events

Central Okanagan Board of Education retains final approval for after-hours event approvals

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

An Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XRVI) climate change event in 2019 saw a large crowd occupy the Johnson Street bridge. Black Press File Photo
‘In grief for our dying world’: B.C. climate activists embark on 4-day protest

Demonstrators will walk through Vancouver for the first two days before boarding a ferry Sunday morning

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Valen a student of Coldstream Elementary writes advice for adults amid a pandemic.
‘We can get rid of COVID together’: B.C. kids share heartwarming advice

Elementary students share their wisdom to adults in unprecedented times

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. health minister says delay in Moderna vaccine ‘disappointing’

‘The sooner we get vaccines in people’s arms the better, and inconsistency in delivery is a consistent problem. This is simply a reality and not an issue of blame,’ Adrian Dix said Friday

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Most Read