With the murders of eight people in an Atlanta massage parlor taking up the entire news cycle (and, as I’m editing this, the mass shooting in Colorado), it’s been difficult for me to concentrate on personal finance. Many people assume I feel scared or angry because of the Atlanta murders. The murders were horrific, and of course I’m saddened by them. But mostly I feel frustrated because I have a lot of problems with the movements coming out of them – #stopasianhate or #stopaapihate. To me the movements are counterproductive and rife with stereotypes that Asian Americans have been fighting for decades, if not centuries. Mostly I’m trying to make sense of all of this.
My Unique Perspective
A friend once told me, “Everything you say makes sense, but no one thinks like that.” This is my disclaimer that this post is my own opinion and not those of other Asians, or, likely, anyone else at all.
I’m a Chinese-American woman. I care about issues that affect Asian-Americans and women, because they would affect me. But I don’t necessarily empathize more with Asian people or women than others. Being Asian-American and being a woman are two of my identities, but not necessarily the strongest ones. I more closely connect with lawyers, immigrants, East-coasters, those with a similar sense of humor, etc. Further, Asian-American is a broad category that encompasses people of vastly different appearances, foods, languages, and cultures. I have more in common with someone in America than, say, someone in Vietnam.
Being a lawyer also skews my perspective in that lawyers argue about minutiae, whereas many people talk in sweeping generalizations. I’ve been accused of denying that racism exists when pointing out that an allegation of a hate crime or of racial discrimination does not satisfy the factors to prove such a crime. The answer, friends, is don’t get into fights on Twitter with strangers.
My Brushes with Racism
One time my dad overheard two impudent young men arguing who had more patriotism in their family – one with his father serving in the military or one with brothers in the service. When my dad talked about his service in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam, they both shut up.
I’ve been called a chink. Someone once told me to go back to Vietnam. People ask me why I can speak English so well or where I’m “really” from. A man once followed me off the metro shouting that I needed to speak to him in Japanese. People have guessed that my name is “Grace” or “Christina” (note to all: never guess someone’s name, particularly if you’re just perpetuating a stereotype). And I always get confused with any other Asian woman in an organization/room, no matter what the other woman looks like.
People often try to guess what my ancestral background is. I’ve gotten Hawaiian, Bangladeshi (people apparently do NOT know what Bangladeshi people look like), Latina, half-Asian of some sort, and, mostly, Korean (“you’re so pretty, you must be Korean!”). That MIGHT be a compliment if I were Korean.
I know racism exists. But that doesn’t mean I see racism everywhere or in every instance. And I try to see racism as infrequently as possible. Some would say I put on blinders but perhaps I’m just maintaining my sanity.
The Stereotype that Any Crime Against Asians is a Hate Crime
I find it problematic to assume crimes are hate crimes when no racial animus can be shown. There’s a certain “boy who cried wolf” pragmatism to it. After some period of crying racism without evidence, anyone and everyone starts to doubt. Further, I’d prefer to believe fewer people hate me than more.
I’ve seen journalists and spectators plead for authorities to substitute their own judgement based on current events over the Atlanta murderer’s stated motive. Many are in a rush to condemn the murderer as a racist.
He murdered people. If we find out he’s a racist, I won’t think, well NOW he’s a monster.
It’s a little worrisome that being a murderer isn’t sufficiently bad enough. Sometimes I wonder if people think that being a racist is worse than being a murderer. Me, I’d prefer you hate me than murder me. But that’s just me.
The Stereotype of the Perpetual Foreigner
I noticed an Asian American serving as the leader of an organization, ironically with the mission of unification, write in her newsletter: “I texted my closest friends, fellow Asian American women I knew would understand how I was feeling. Friends I wouldn’t have to explain my sadness to.”
There’s a stereotype of Asians only looking out for themselves or for other Asians. #stopasianhate plays into that, emphasizing Asians caring about their own. This is not how Asian people are; this isn’t how any people are.
Asian Americans somehow think that other Asians sympathize with them but that other Americans won’t understand, even though non-Asians make up the bulk of mass murder victims. If we only care about other people of our race being victimized, that makes us racist jerks.
The Stereotype of Selfishness
A journalist tried to explain the outrage at the Atlanta murders to white people as: “it’d be a similar feeling to hearing that a mass shooting happened inside your favorite restaurant.” But people don’t need to have the same skin color of a victim to feel bad that someone was murdered.
I’ve never heard someone say “school shootings don’t bother me because I’m not a student.” Or “I can’t understand being upset about that mass shooting because I don’t like Batman movies.” We all care about each other, and self-interestedly, we all care about ourselves.
I worry that people will see Asians only caring about crimes against Asians, whites only caring about crimes against whites, etc. and think this is typical. It doesn’t give me more pain to learn that victims are Asian. I don’t gain an iota of happiness if all the murder victims are white or black or Hispanic. I’m as heartbroken about the Colorado shooting as the Atlanta one. When one American, nay when one person, gets attacked, we all get attacked – no matter what color we are.
The Stereotype of the Black-Asian Divide
During the BLM protests, some people started cataloguing the instances where black and Asian activists fought together for civil rights. The articles were more interesting for their gaps than their evidence. They started and ended their history of cooperation in the 1960s. They astutely ignore the 1990 riots and anything more recent. But tensions have always been there and may be increasing.
Recently, the incoming Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Alexi McCammond, a black woman, was pressured to resign due to allegedly anti-Asian and homophobic tweets from a decade ago. Some tweeters felt that McCammond was a scapegoat to the #stopAsianhate pressure. Others expressed sadness for the stalling of a black women’s career.
In San Francisco, some are calling for the resignation of School Board Member Allison Collins, also a black woman, also for alleged anti-Asian tweets. San Francisco has a large Asian population that seems to be using their sway to topple a powerful black woman.
[Shout out to Champagne and Capital Gains for pointing out the latter news story to me]
#stopAsianhate may be being used as a tool against black people, which in the long-run might inflame tensions against Asians. People are already starting to balk. If you’re not showing empathy for their side, why should they show empathy for you?
The Stereotype of the Model Minority v. Everyone Else
Much of the reason Asians are being caught up as victims of crime is because crime has skyrocketed in most major cities in the past year. Murder in New York City increased 40% in 2020 over 2019. Homicide is up 50% in Chicago.
Yes, 6 Asian people and 2 white people were murdered on March 16, 2021. On that same day, there was a shooting that left 4 people dead in Phoenix. They were Hispanic so it didn’t fit an easy narrative and the media didn’t cover it.
Why are we hearing about Asian hate crimes instead of the 750 murder victims in Chicago in 2020- the vast majority of whom are Black? Maybe because Black victims of murder get less coverage in the media.
I remember hearing someone say that they were nostalgic to that period of time after 9/11 when the “country came together.” And then I heard a Muslim woman say “that’s not my memory.” Instead, that period of time was terrifying as she was targeted for her beliefs.
Some day maybe people will look back at this movement as solidarity for Asians. But others might see this as a terrifying time because they share the skin color or religion of the perpetrators. We can’t fight for Asians without fighting for everyone. If we hold out Asians as some exemplar worth fighting for, I think other groups would very justifiably feel left out in the cold.
The Dragon Lady Stereotype
The dragon lady is a stereotype that Asian women, among other attributes, are extremely sexual. The media is playing into this stereotype by calling the Atlanta attack an attack on sex workers. No one has identified any of the women killed as sex workers. Though the massage parlors attacked were targeted for police investigation, it doesn’t mean that there was sex work performed there or that the particular women killed performed that work.
I have nothing against sex workers. But the people murdered included a heterosexual couple getting massages and their masseuses so it does seem like they are real masseuses. Any speculation about their other work is just speculation.
Assuming that these Asian women are all sex workers is a stereotype that Asians (especially Asian women) have been trying to extinguish for decades. So as with the journalists engaging in race-baiting, let’s stop extrapolating about the victims’ occupations before we know what’s going on. You know what they say about assumptions . . .
The Stereotype That All Asians Look Alike
An Asian reporter wrote that her experience of the Atlanta murders was like “watching people who look like you die.” The victims’ photos and names hadn’t been released yet. This statement only makes sense if you think all Asian people look alike.
And they don’t.
There are some two billion Asian women on the planet and we don’t all look alike. You can’t stay stuff like this and then get angry that other people say all Asians look alike.
I’ve seen other Asian people inadvertently perpetuate this stereotype too. Two Asian women told me they wouldn’t date Asian men because it would be like dating their brother. What a stupid perspective! I don’t look at an Asian man and think, are you my brother? I don’t look at an Asian woman and think is that my sister? We don’t all look alike.
The Stereotype that Model Minorities Don’t Face Discrimination
I’ve seen some people conclude from the media blitz on anti-Asian crimes that the Model Minority stereotype must not exist, because Asian people get discriminated against. The Model Minority stereotype is that Asians overcome discrimination to excel, NOT that Asians don’t face discrimination. OF COURSE Asians are discriminated again. Successful people still have problems and they faced problems achieving their success as well.
People trace Asian hate crimes back to Trump’s comments about the coronavirus. But the data does not correlate. The rise in hate crimes predated and postdated his presidency, and recent incidents have been concentrated in liberal cities and perpetrated largely by minorities – not Trump’s demographic. Further, hate crimes have not increased significantly in areas where Trump is popular. Also, this kind of explanation ignores that hate crimes against Asians have been occurring for centuries. Hate did not start with Trump and it’s certainly continuing without him.
The Myth of the Explosion of Anti-Asian Hate
I think the situation of hate crimes needs some perspective. Overall hate crimes decreased 7% in major cities in 2020, even as Asian hate crimes increased (I think overall this is a good thing because fewer hate crimes is good). The #stopAAPIhate tracker of Asian “hate crimes” was founded during the pandemic (so it can’t show an increase from a previous year) and it includes incidents that aren’t crimes. It’s very difficult to compare incidents over time because the data is so spotty.
For comparison, in 1989, there were 19 hate crimes in L.A. against Asians compared with 15 anti-Asian hate crimes in L.A. in 2020 (representing a 114% increase over 2019). In 1994, there were 452 reported violent hate crimes against Asian Americans and 417 physical assault Asian hate crimes reported in 2020. Granted, it is not good that it’s a recent increase or a return to 1990 levels. But it’s not unprecedented, it’s not new. We’ve gone through this before. People who tell me this is new, well if you’re under 21, I’ll grant you that. Otherwise, learn some history.
The Stereotype of the Bad Guy
I know we are supposed to pile on the sheriff who described the murderer as having a bad day. (But given the context of the officer’s statement, he was merely repeating what the murderer said to him, not excusing him).
I do some grassroots work in restorative justice. Thus, I am around people who are working on reducing the prisoner population, including prisoners who previously committed violent crimes.
Too many people think that criminal justice is about helping beautiful nonviolent prisoners. But it’s actually murky and challenges the boundaries of your mercy and empathy.
I heard a podcast about the downsides of empathy, which is basically that empathy for one person can cost those for whom we lack empathy. So in this case when we look at empathy towards Asian victims, we are putting more vitriol on the perpetrator.
Anything that stands in the way of our empathy for all is a barrier to restorative justice and a barrier to healing our communities. And I don’t say this as an excuse for the murder, for white people etc. Restorative justice would have its biggest effect on minority perpetrators and communities.
The Wrong Ways to Help – #StopAsianHate
I saw it tweeted as a suggestion that you start pronouncing Asian names correctly to fight hate crimes against Asians. Umm let’s work on reducing crime. Pronounce my name any way you like.
I’ve also seen people blaming everyone and every institution NOT responsible. I don’t see the purpose of blaming the church if the church did not teach that it was ok to murder. The shooter is responsible for himself. We don’t need to have more scapegoats.
This is all to say there are lots of wrong ways to fight against anti-Asian hate crimes. The wrong way to Stop Asian Hate is perpetuating Asian stereotypes in order to elevate crimes against Asians over crimes against others. Instead of dividing ourselves by our differences, we need to join together by our similarities.
How to Help: #StopAsianHate? What about #StopCrime?
I know that everyone will conflate this with saying #AllLivesMatter. But Asians don’t make up a disproportionate number of crime victims, whereas black people are disproportionately affected by police violence. If Asians are just going to focus on the few crimes that affect Asians to the exclusion of crimes that affect everyone, then maybe #stopasianhate is a fringe movement that should be surpassed by something more encompassing.
I don’t care if you stop Asian hate. It’d be better for you if you stopped hating, but I don’t necessarily care if you stop any hate. I would take a bajillion haters in exchange for one fewer assault.
Crime is skyrocketing in all major cities. Asians tend to congregate in major cities. Many of the Asian hate crimes are related to this increase in crime. Let’s work on stopping crime and then we’ll have less crime and less hate crime across the board.
Stop Spreading the Hate
People are so desperate to attribute racism to the Atlanta shooter that they are creating fake social media posts alleging that the murderer was really against America’s China policy. We don’t have to attribute more hate than is necessary.
There’s no need to spread hateful ideas – whether said by Trump last year or otherwise. We can stop spreading those ideas and start working on rebuilding our communities. With better jobs, stronger communities, we can reduce crime, and that’s what we ultimately want.
Get Rid of Political Correctness
Local authorities have stated that they don’t want to draw attention to the perpetrators of crimes against Asians because, with so many perpetrators being minorities, it could create bias against those groups. And that’s fair. It goes to my point on empathy earlier.
In the same vein, let’s not attack white people because of the Atlanta murderer and then avoid discussing attacks by minorities. If you really care about reducing hate crimes, you have to tackle the hard issues with perpetrators that don’t look the way you would prefer. It doesn’t count as standing against Asian hate if you’re only against perpetrators that look a certain way and protect the others. So let’s not spread the guilt across similar looking populations (I don’t want to be blamed if a mass shooter is Chinese), but let’s concentrate on why the perpetrators did what they did. Also realize we will have to address crimes with minority perpetrators.
Strengthen the Community
A well-meaning friend sent me an email asking how I was and to let me know that she was being a good neighbor to her Asian community.
I dislike the idea that I need some special assurances when I don’t work at a massage parlor, I don’t live anywhere near Atlanta, and I don’t know the victims. Help the victims. I am not one of them.
Anyone could be a victim of a crime when crime has spiked so rapidly. Be a good neighbor to all your neighbors.
Fight Against Asian Discrimination
At least in my family, the calls for limiting Asian enrollment in elite educational institutions stirs up way more passion than hate crimes. Asian parents emigrate to America to give their children better outcomes through education. My own parents endured the 1970s and 1980s crime wave in New York City to search for a better life for their kids.
Education is our issue. Again, we just want to be treated fairly. I’m fine with money and resources being used to bring in more black or Hispanic students. But my bright little nephew should be able to say he’s half-Chinese without jeopardizing his educational opportunities.
Fight Against Fear
I don’t know why but people love being afraid. It was true before the pandemic. During the pandemic, fear has become a god. The increased coverage of alleged anti-Asian hate crimes has led to even more fear. People are just looking for reasons to stay in their homes together.
I don’t care if you never leave your house. But mind your own business. There are plenty of people who don’t have the luxury to stay in their homes, and many more who just don’t want to. The world is not as dangerous as the media tells you it is. Your home is not as safe as the media tells you it is.
Asian Americans are tough. And further, it’s safer with more people out and about. It’s like when I tell people I bike, everyone tells me it’s too dangerous. But if more people biked, the danger would go down for everyone. Cars and pedestrians would get used to the presence of bikers, there’d be changes to the infrastructure to increase safety and convenience for bikers, there’d be more people on the road to make other bikers feel safer. The more we fear and let that fear dictate our lives, the more the danger rises. The more we get out and live our lives, the safer everyone is.
Conclusion – My Problems with #StopAsianHate
The murders are abhorrent. We can’t change that. But we can change our response to something productive, healing, and nuanced. The current #stopAsianhate narrative seems to paint Asians in the stereotypical light that we’ve fought for decades to abolish. I hope we can increase in solidarity, but from what I’ve seen, it seems like people are becoming even more divided. But I believe the real way to #stopAsianhate is to come together.