“Disgusted, angered, and heartbroken,” said Ting Ting Li when questioned on her reaction to the recent Atlanta shooting targeting Asian Americans. Ting Ting, a Chinese-American sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School is one of the many Asian-Americans whose past year, and most notably this past month, has been characterized by tremendous fear, uncertainty, and pain. Since the coronavirus pandemic put the world on pause, the rise of anti-Asian hate has skyrocketed tremendously,primarily as a result of racist language and derogatory comments fueled by former President Donald Trump.
“When something as destructive as a global pandemic occurs, it is so easy to want to blame an outside force for all of the death and destruction that it has brought. The scapegoat, in this case, has been Asian-Americans,” said Hana O’Looney, a Japanese-American junior at Richard Montgomery High School. Hana continues, “what seems like inconsequential word choice and rhetoric by the leaders of the United States- ‘China Virus’, ‘Kung Flu’ - has led to the assaults and murders of numerous members of our community.” An analysis of United States’ police department statistics has revealed that anti-Asian hate crimes had risen by a horrifying 150% in 2020. While Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) were enduring these blatant racist attacks and comments for the past year, our nation stayed silent. However, the murder of eight individuals working at spas in Georgia (six of which were women of Asian descent) finally broke our country’s long overdue silence on the discrimination against the Asian community, releasing cries of outrage across the nation.
When Mila Henry, a Filipino-American junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, first heard the news of the shooting in Georgia, she was devastated. “It’s honestly very scary seeing people of your race being targeted for something they cannot change about themselves,” she said.
“I was disgusted at how the shooting even occurred,that society had gotten to this point,that the articles I saw were not calling the shooting a hate crime and that the police were excusing the actions of Aaron Long as ‘a bad day’ and trying to blame his ‘sexual addiction’,” said Ting Ting.
While anti-Asian hate has recently surfaced in the news, it’s unfortunately not something that Ting Ting, Mila, Hana, and the Asian community as a whole are unfamiliar with. “I’ve always dealt with a lot of normalized racism in school when comments would be made about my appearance, the food I ate, or the language,” said Hana, “and as I grew older, those comments began to evolve into hate-filled slurs, usually spoken by anonymous users and trolls on the internet looking to cause harm.”
Throughout Ting Ting’s life she has “been grouped up with many of the microaggressions and stereotypes that are attached to my identity.”
Mila said that often “classmates and friends have made offensive and insensitive comments that made me feel uncomfortable,” going onto explain how she recalls “being the only Asian person on a school bus and someone I didn’t even know the name of said ‘bye Ching Chong girl’ to me.” Mila and Ting Ting both shared their experience with the ‘model minority’ myth aka the perception of universal success in the Asian community which has assisted in the normalization of anti-Asian hate.
“In school, it's expected that due to my race, I should do really well in math and science.” said Ting Ting, “it also creates this image that I should avoid advocacy, stay quiet, and just avoid making impacts and changes which is literally the opposite of me.”
Research released by the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate revealed that “women report hate incidents 2.3 times more than men,” noting the extent to which anti-Asian hate has targeted females. Out of the 3,292 incidents that occurred in 2020, 68% were reported by females compared to 29% reported by males. The reasoning behind these statistics is directly as a result of the portrayal of Asian women in pop culture and the movie industry. The hyper-sexualization and fetishization of Asian women in the media has generated the intersectional experience and compounded discrimination of female Asians in our society. “I definitely see a lot of portrayals of Asian women being prostitutes with broken English in movies” said Mila. Since their early decades on screen, Asian women have been portrayed submissive, obedient, and frail with unparalleled sex appeal. The trope of the hypersexual yet tame Asian woman has depicted female Asians in such a way that has permanently labeled them and perpetuated the normalization of microaggressions and hate crimes.Like Ting Ting mentioned, the Atlanta shooter’s actions were blamed on his alleged sex addiction as he stated that the spas were a‘temptation he needed to eliminate’ which clearly derives from the normalized hyper-sexualization of Asian women within the media.
Hana explains how this leads “to racialized misogyny reflected in hate crimes like what we saw last week,” continuing to say how “it is the harmful stereotypes that have completely dehumanized our population, and led to incidents like what we saw in Georgia.”
Going back to the model minority myth, Ting Ting said that “it adds another layer to expressing how the Asian female community is easier to remain silent because the myth portrays them to be quiet and obedient.” The way in which Western films speak to issues of gender, race,and cross-cultural relationships have a substantial impact on how we perceive each race and identity. These perceptions, once developed, make themselves extremely apparent in our everyday lives, severely harming those communities which are targeted through stereotypes, insensitive comments, and violence.
As more alarming information regarding anti-Asian hate crimes is released, one can only imagine the effect it must have on the Asian community, especially the younger female generations. “We’re tired. I’m tired,” said Hana,“I’m tired of constantly having to hear about more members of our community being spit on, stabbed, and murdered in the streets as the perpetrators continually get the benefit of the doubt and walk away without being charged with hate crimes.” For Hana, the feeling of fear that “any of the Asian women in [her] life could be targeted” has loomed over her since the shooting.“That could've been my mother. That could’ve been my grandmother,” she said.
“It has left me feeling so angry. I wonder why people just don’t care enough to educate themselves,” said Mila. “I get frustrated hearing the same insults and ‘jokes’ that are meant to be funny. They are actually harmful.”
“I felt angered by all that had been occurring and still is occurring,” said Ting Ting who took matters into her own hands to create the organization ‘Asian Advocates’ (@asian_advocates_on Instagram) to help create a voice for the Asian community.
While Asians have unfortunately been experiencing racism for centuries, these recent attacks have transformed the community. Mila said that “it left [the Asian community]devastated. It took long enough for other people to finally realize that racism against Asians is a problem. We have dealt with decades of racism, but it’s just now coming to light. We are all just scared of what could happen to us.”Ting Ting adds, stating how “everyone is fearing for their lives more than ever. I fear for my parents' lives each day they go to our restaurant, my friend fears for her grandparents just walking down the streets.” The recent hate crimes have left members of the Asian community on edge, worrying about the next possible headline regarding another distressing attack on an Asian individual or business.
“Watching, reading, and listening to all of these hate crimes breaks my heart every time,” said Ting Ting, “Everyone is human, but that has never made us all the same.”