Earlier this week, a white man opened fire in three separate Asian-owned businesses, taking the lives of eight people — six of them Asian. Immediately after, the media and society at-large began speaking for the Asian community.
People began hypothesizing ulterior motives and denying the plausibility that these heinous acts were indeed hate crimes. Within 24-hours, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s office publicly humanized this domestic terrorist, attributing his killing spree to the effects of a “really bad day”.
My social media feeds were flooded with performative allyship — friends and family posting memes about standing with the Asian community, while oftentimes simultaneously arguing that the shooter was simply a sex addict. All of this before we learned the names of these women. All of this before we gave these women a voice.
say their names
We now know the names of all eight victims: Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, and Paul Andre Michels. Their lives mattered. I hope we can shift the conversation from the killer to the victims — interview their friends and families, hear about their struggles and successes, humanize them, instead of allowing their identities to fade into the background.
If you really want to stand with our community, right now, we need you to understand that we’re heartbroken and terrified. We’re frustrated and fed up — but we’re not shocked. This mass shooting, and its aftermath, have roots in longstanding anti-Asian beliefs. Their sentiments are echoed throughout the nearly 4,000 hate crimes committed against Asians in the U.S. this past year.
It all starts with desensitization to micro-aggressions and overt racism at a young age. Offensively-caricatured Asian faces (i.e., buck teeth, narrow eyes, wide noses) in seemingly innocuous children’s books (oh, hi, Dr. Seuss!) dulls kids’ perception of bigotry. Playground taunts like “Ching, Chang, Chung”, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, [you know the rest]”, “where are you from? NO REALLY, WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHAT ARE YOU?” create an “Us vs Them” mentality. This ultimately influences an undercurrent of racial divides that spans generations.
I’ll never forget my first time being belligerently welcomed to the United States by an elderly white woman. Even after informing her that I was born and raised in my small, seaside, predominantly white town, she insisted that I was a foreigner — here for a visit during an annual Japanese-American cultural celebration. I’m Korean. And I’m an American. Listen to me. Stop speaking for me.
Friends and acquaintances have asked, “how do you tell Asians apart?” like we’re a group of similarly-hued puzzle pieces that are too difficult to place…cast aside in the background, and unrelated to the main picture. I don’t think their inquiries are rooted in malice; nonetheless, questions like these make you feel unimportant, and marginalized. Voices muffled.
Growing up as an Asian girl, you quickly learn that society has long fetishized your being. Movies and pop-culture references enhance the over-sexualized Asian female sub-character – a woman whose role serves nothing more than that of a hypersexual token. Terms like: “me love you long time” and “miso horny” teach boys that they can tell their partners things like: “you’re my first Asian” — like we’re a conquest and not a treasure. I’m still haunted by inquiries of my college friend asking, “Is it true, do Asian women have sideways vaginas?” Silenced by repulsion. And deep-rooted rage.
Supercharged anti-Asian sentiment was thrust into the forefront of our national psyche when former president Trump declared Covid-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu”. Asian-Americans, and the FBI, pushed back, warning that such dangerous rhetoric would have a correlative effect on increased hate crimes against Asians. Further propelling that “Us vs Them” mentality and feelings of marginalization. This time, however, amidst the fear of a novel and highly dangerous pandemic. Hate crimes spiked almost instantaneously, and continue to rise. Silenced out of fear. Silent to stay safe.
This recent mass murder represented the intersectionality of all previously defined sentiments: the hyper-sexualization of Asian women, an “Us vs Them” mentality, belief that: you don’t matter because you’re not a definable individual, only a blurred background member, and that Asians are disposable because we’re diseased.
If you’re really here in support of our community, let our voices be heard. You can start by:
- Diversifying the thought leaders you follow to include AAPI voices
- Amplifying AAPI stories
- Visiting your local bookstore and asking for recommendations of works by Asian authors – make our voices count on a larger, monetized scale
- Supporting your local Asian-owned businesses and spreading the word
- Listening to us, and refraining from reframing our narrative and perspective
- Defending us against racist jokes and aggressive sexual comments about Asian women
Lahna Son-Cundy lives in Newport, RI with her husband and two kids.
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