If you’re an anti-racist, you may recognize racism in what happened to 8 people, including 6 Asian American women in Atlanta on March 16, 2020. If you’re Black or brown, you definitely do. Their murder at the hands of a young white man, Robert Aaron Long, and the subsequent media coverage of his crime, followed an all-too-familiar playbook.
Surge in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes
Before I get to that, let’s talk about where this comes from. There’s a long history of anti-Asian feeling in the US, but you don’t have to look too far back to see the hand of the orange one in this latest wave. In an effort to find someone to blame for his mismanagement of the pandemic response, he started using racially loaded terms like the “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” for Covid-19. And people who should have known better bought into it. No doubt, they’re part of that cadre of angry white supremacists who equate masking up with enslavement and who participated in the Capitol Coup.
Asian-Americans have been warning for a long time that the hateful rhetoric from the orange one and his minions, in relation to Covid-19 in particular, was causing a surge in hate crimes. The stats suggest that crimes against Asian-Americans surged in 2020, with thousands reported (imagine how many more weren’t). They further warned that this would lead to someone’s death. Sadly, they were right.
Reading From the Apologists’ Playbook
Immediately after the murders, the media playbook came out. You know, the one that comes out whenever an angry young white man in America murders someone who isn’t white. We’ve seen it most often in relation to the killing of Black people, but it’s the same damn playbook.
First, there is the “lone wolf” trope, as if this young man is acting in isolation from everything around him. How could he? As my sister so eloquently put it, how many lone wolves does it take to make a pack? There are too many of these incidents, too many of these murderers: Kyle Rittenhouse, Dylann Roof, the list goes on.
Second, there’s the question about his mental health, which somehow is never a worry for the Black people and people of color with actual, documented mental health issues who somehow end up dead at the hands of the police.
Third, there are the apologists, pulling out every reason why this “fine young man” shouldn’t be penalized. (This happens in relation to rape, too - remember Brock Turner?) There’s a reluctance to name crimes like this for what they are: white terrorism upheld by a white supremacist system.
Who Can Have a “Bad Day”?
The most egregious example in this case was the statement by a member of the same police force that’s supposed to be protecting people that “he was having a bad day.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve had bad days, terrible days, even, and they don’t result in someone else’s death.
In every case, these young white men are known to have killed people. Some have had guns in their hands while approaching the police. In every case, they are taken alive. Some even get to go for Burger King.
The mostly white police don’t see known killers who are young, white, and male as a threat to them. That’s so different to what happens to Black people. We don’t have to be doing anything to die at the hands of the police. As we know, we're not safe even when we're sleeping.
Compare those whitewashed tropes with the forensic dissection of murdered people’s characters. We’ve seen it with a litany of Black people who died, and now we’re seeing it with the Asian-American women. People of the global majority get blamed for their own deaths. (In this case, there’s also the inherent misogyny in blaming these women for the killer’s inability to control his sexual urges.)
These women were at work - it doesn’t matter what that work was - and they had the right to expect to be safe. We all do, and many of us never are.
As I say, I've never had a bad day that resulted in the death of 8 people. Nor would I be allowed to. A Black person who’d been holding that gun would already be dead.
So, What’s Next?
It’s all very well to say #StopAsianHate and #BlackLivesMatter, but sharing hashtags is only the beginning, because the system that resulted in the deaths of six Asian-American women and the literal whitewashing of their murderer still exists.
How long must we wait for people at the highest level to start tackling the structural sicknesses that are white supremacy and racism? Through the centuries Black people, Asian people, Indigenous people, Latino people have all suffered. It's time to root out the cause so no one else has to die.
P.S. As I’m not a member of that community, it’s not for me to say how we can best support Asian-Americans at this time, so here are some resources provided by Asian-Americans on LinkedIn as a starting point for all our learning:
There’s also some food for thought in this post from Di Pham.
Thank you for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.