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

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

BC CDC data showing the geographic distribution of COVID cases in the province. (BC CDC photo)
One new case of COVID-19 in Golden

Cases continue to surge in surrounding areas

The Golden Golf Club will open for a new season on the links beginning April 24. (Claire Palmer photo)
Golden Golf club eyes April 24 start

The golf course is supporting local businesses with the driving range and mini-golf

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A in Princeton

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a truck fire on Dallas Road in Vernon April 15, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
WATCH: Vernon firefighters quick to douse fully involved truck fire

The fire was near multiple structures and spreading along the ground upon crews’ arrival

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

Fire crews tend to a collision that is causing severe traffic delays on the William R. Bennett bridge headed east into Kelowna. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
7 vehicle collision on WR Bennett Bridge under investigation

The collision backed up traffic on the William R. Bennett bridge for much of the morning

Kelowna company celebrates milestone of producing 46 million masks in under a year.
46 million masks and counting: Kelowna company reaches 1 year milstone

In under a year, Breathe Manufacturing Ltd. in Kelowna has hit production of 46 million masks for front-line workers

The organizer of a Kelowna protest against COVID-19 restrictions was fined by the RCMP for the third time Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna RCMP investigating hit and run involving 11-year-old

Police said the boy suffered minor injuries

Most Read