When I’m having a bad day, I tend to either spend the afternoon taking it out on my punch bag, or I lock myself in my office to write. I do not go on a shooting rampage. I’m certain everyone reading this could say the same. But unfathomably, that, according to Atlanta police captain Jay Baker, is exactly what happened on Tuesday: a white man was having a particularly “bad day” and eight Asian people died, six of whom were women.
Days later I am still struggling to untangle my thoughts. One sentiment that I can’t shift though, is that I am shocked but not surprised. Though the suspect, named as Robert Aaron Long, has denied a racist motive, the past year has seen an increase in anti-aidan hate crimes worldwide.
A new study from the University of California suggests that former President Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric around Covid - referring to it as the “China virus” and even “kung flu” - helped spark anti-Asian Twitter content and "likely perpetuated racist attitudes." And in the past year, there have been 3,800 reported incidents of anti-Asian violence according to the group Stop AAPI Hate - mostly against women.
What happened in Atlanta is horrific and deeply upsetting for all Asians over the world. There has been a flood of #s out there notably #StopAsianHate. Whilst I can’t speak for others, I’m not a big fan of ‘Asian Lives Matter’ because it feels like it’s hijacking the ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ movement. That’s not our fight. It is hard to dismiss the feeling that Asians don’t matter as much – we’ve been portrayed as submissive, hardworking, quiet immigrants. We’v been left out of the general conversation regarding racism for so long that it feels like society is only finally waking up to anti-Asian hatred and crimes.
I would also argue that this tragic incident is a result of the way Asian women are stereotyped and hyper-sexualised, particularly in film, television and in the media. I’ve lived with these stereotypes most of my life. When someone asked me why, if I’m from Hong Kong, I don’t have ‘chinky eyes’, I was shocked but not surprised. When I was asked if I speak ‘ching-chong’ language, I was appalled but not surprised. Even when I was dubbed the ‘Dragon Lady’ at a previous place of work by a white male colleague, I was angry and hurt but not surprised.
I believe in part, this is cultural. I can only speak from the point of view of someone who grew up in colonial Hong Kong, but I was always taught to be obedient, quiet, hard-working and ‘not to cause trouble’, even if I knew the other person was doing wrong. If a white man jumped the queue in front of us, we never said anything. If white men were rowdy in bars or clubs in Hong Kong, if they were handsy with the local patrons or staff, situations would be diffused defused with politeness, and often resulted in the white men being allowed to continue and repeat the same behaviour.
Growing up we were taught that ‘white was right’, ‘white is King’ – the white man could do whatever he wanted and however he wanted. He was haloed. I experienced this first-hand. I myself am half-white and know all too well the personal privileges whiteness brings. I witnessed how my ex-pat white friends got away with things locals never would.
On screen , we are portrayed as ‘China Dolls’ - the hyper-sexualised submissive petite bodies waiting to satisfy the fetish of the white man - ‘Dragon Ladies’; accomplices in this service.
In Full Metal Jacket, the only time an Asian woman speaks is of a Vietnamese prostitute approaching two American soldiers. In Ex Machina, Sonoya Mizuno plays a mute Japanese servant who was only created to serve Nathan - a white man. She is depicted as obedient, compliant and dances erotically for Nathan’s pleasure. When she collaborates to be free of her mistreatment, Nathan destroys her.
In 2012 Amy Schumer’s standup, the tightness of Asian women’s genitalia was used as a punch-line. Asian women were essentially accused of stealing white women’s boyfriends on account of having ’the smallest vaginas in the game’.
In Kill Bill vol.1 Lucy Liu plays O-Ren Ishii who only rose to the top of the crime organisation Crazy 88 through her utter ruthlessness. The film does not depict the complexities of how and why O-Ren Ishii’s story expect a very brief scene form her childhood.
In Rush Hour 2 where the only named female Asian character Hu Li played by Zhang Ziyi is a villain. Or in the same film there’s a scene where Carter and Chan are at a massage parlour in Hong Kong. An Asian ‘Madam’ pulls back a curtain to a group of Asian women, lined up like they would be produce in a meat market ready to serve any main, to be picked out like something out of a Chinese takeaway menu.
This was the image that immediately flashed up in my mind, as I read the shooter had targeted massage parlours. Though there is no indication the locations he targeted provided prostitution services, by claiming he was punishing Asian women responsible for his “temptation” by “eliminating” them, the shooter had inadvertently pointed to exactly the crux of the problem. This tragedy is what happens when white supremacy, fragile male ego, misogyny and a culture of hyper-sexualisation of Asian women intersect.
This piece was published in the Telegraph on 20th March and can be viewed HERE.