Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League
“I can’t remember ever having experienced racism separate from sexism. When I turn into a lane too slowly on the streets of Los Angeles, I am not surprised if someone rolls down the window to call me a ‘c—- b—–.’ When I reject or ignore sexual propositions from white men, some come back at me with racial slurs and even threats. Even the perception that I will not fight back if I am attacked racially is a form of racism intersecting with sexism. This is the lived reality for too many Asian American women.” – Sociologist and author Nancy Wang Yuen
This week our nation suffered another deadly shooting spree inspired by misogyny and racism, enabled by irresponsibly lax firearm regulation.
A self-described “sex addict” seeking to rid himself of “temptation” fatally shot eight people at Atlanta-area massage parlors, six of them women of Asian descent. The initial response of investigators, who downplayed the role of race in the killings, revealed a disturbing ignorance of the nation’s history of sexualized racism and violence.
Even the agency investigating the shootings appears to be steeped in anti-Asian sentiment. Not only did its spokesman express empathy for the shooter, saying he was “at the end of his rope” and was having “a really bad day,” but that same sheriff’s deputy has made anti-Asian social media posts and promoted a racist t-shirt.
The suspect purchased a gun just hours before the killings; Georgia requires no waiting period for firearms sales. The state has earned an “F” from the Giffords Law Center on its on their annual scorecard of gun laws in all 50 states. Easy access to firearms – most background checks take about 100 seconds, according to Giffords’ executive director – is especially deadly in a climate of rising hate crimes and record levels of white supremacist propaganda.
Just last week, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University reported that hate crimes targeting Asian people rose by nearly 150 percent over the last year, stoked by former President Trump cynically seeking a scapegoat for his tragic mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.
White supremacist propaganda in the form of flyers, stickers, banners and graffiti doubled in 2020, reaching the highest level ever recorded by the Anti-Defamation League.
Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition addressing anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents over the last year, ranging from verbal harassment to workplace discrimination to physical assault. When women are the targets, racial slurs are often accompanied by crude references to sex.
“Killing Asian American women to eliminate a man’s temptation speaks to the history of the objectification of Asian and Asian American women as variations of the Asian temptress, the dragon ladies and the lotus blossoms, whose value is only in relation to men’s fantasies and desires,” Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the nonprofit National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said.
The National Urban League rejects the objectification, fetishization and stereotyping of women of color. Our hearts are with the families who lost their loved ones, including Delaina Yaun, mother of a 13-year-old boy and an 8-month-old baby girl; Paul Andre Michels, an Army veteran and business owner; Xiaojie Yan, owner of the spa where she was shot; and Daoyou Feng. Police have not released the names of the other four victims, but our prayers are also with them and Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, who was wounded.
Last month, the National Urban League and other civil rights and social justice groups outlined a comprehensive set of actions to combat anti-Asian hate and violence. These include:
- Enacting comprehensive hate crime laws at both the state and local levels and ensuring that law enforcement agencies fully implement and enforce them;
- Uniform Crime Reporting agencies need to standardize and include more details in their documentation of hate crimes;
- Local law enforcement and state agencies should fully comply with the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, and efforts should be made to include detailed data on the Asian American and Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander communities;
- A public campaign to push back on hate speech promoted by government officials and those running for office; and
- Greater investment in linguistically and culturally competent community resources.
After four years of policy, rhetoric and messaging at the highest levels of government that fanned the flames of bigotry and inspired acts of violence against communities of color, the pandemic has brought us to a crossroads. It exposed America’s racial fault lines in nearly every indicator – health care, economic stability, justice, and democracy -and forced the nation to confront its legacy of white supremacy. We must seize the opportunity to create lasting change by emerging from this crisis a stronger nation determined to achieve a more perfect union for all its people.