The mass shootings in Atlanta that caused the deaths of eight people, six of whom were Asian, can be said to be nothing short of racially motivated. Experts on the case claim that the murderer had sexual frictions with spa and massage parlors. But this period of anti-Asian sentiment running rampant across the nation discloses racist footings that experts seem to ignore. 

There is no denying the cultural implications in the deaths of these six women rooted deeply within the foundation of this “American” soil. 

A portrayal of Uncle Sam is kicking a very racist depiction of a Chinese man in the rear. Uncle Sam holds up a document that reads "Magic Washer Under Penalty of Being Dirty"
[Image Description: The Page Act of 1875 was the first anti-Asian legislature signed] via KCET
It started with immigration. The late 19th century marked the burgeoning of a prospering American economy marked by the rise in the industry, creating a new social relationship between the boss and the laborer. Cheap as they come, the American interest relied on low-cost labor. There was immense competition, but Chinese immigrants were found to be eager to do dangerous work for inhumane pay, compared to their white counterparts. This, however, brought early-onset “Yellow Peril” as they were now perceived as economic threats that were minimized to their race. 

Asian women were brought in handfuls as prostitutes and were gracefully extended this same sentiment. They were popularly ostracized, said to be unclean, and sexually tainted. This tension culminated in the Page Act of 1875. It explicitly prohibited the immigration of Asian sex workers and was one of the first anti-immigrant policies and a violation of reproductive rights. Coupled with explosive propaganda,  then suppressed the Asian female identity, legally stigmatizing the demographic as a repulsive yet exotic body – a forbidden species of people.  

A shot from the Broadway musical "Miss Saigon". A man in an army uniform holds a Vietnamese woman in his arms. Both are singing.
[Image Description: The popular Broadway musical “Miss Saigon” portrays the Vietnamese protagonist local as a “lotus blossom”] via Entertainment Weekly
This hypersexualization manifested into a “dragon lady” stereotype. She is a sexually alluring creature shrouded in enigma and mystery – an object to discover. Conversely, there is the Lotus Blossom Lady, the opposite of the dichotomy. She attracts with her demure, obedience, and, most of all, her dependence on the white man. These two stereotypes are polar in definition, yet it’s in their ability to contain the Asian female solely to this role that aids the perpetuation of this stereotype, by the white man. 

In conjunction with domestic patrol, there is the matter of white sexual imperialism, coined by psychotherapist and writer Sam Louie. In the 19th century, during the throes of imperialism, there was a dark underbelly of American soldiers who inflicted sexual dominion on local women and were permitted to do so because of their stature as white, military men. 

The image is from the Philippines-American War. A soldier helps a Filipina woman down.
[Image Description: The Philippines-American War helped conserve a permanent separation between the Asian woman and the white man] via Google Arts & Culture
US troops stationed in the Philippines during the Phillippines-American War exploited women who were pressured into the sexual workforce, because of the warfare economy. Subservient and dependent, these women evoked feminine qualities that were marketed towards men. The relationship between both parties, the soldier and the temptress, was more complex as the sexual workforce burgeoned into lucrative opportunities, but still withheld themes of fetishization. Filipina women were coveted for their submissiveness and helplessness, and this notion is reinforced with American media and by increased servicemen during the Vietnam War in 1977.

The sexual workforce capitalizing off of fetishism by the white man prospers in the majority of Asian countries. It would be economically natural for these women to prosper economically by creating an entire genre of Asian porn to cater to the white man’s fetish. Porn in its totality works to objectify the woman. By extension, Asian women are then seen as bodies for pleasure, a dangerous stigma that extends to how others perceive them, even into the quotidienne

All that’s said before has been related to that of the Asian immigrant, yet the Asian-American experience diverges. There is a paradox within the Asian-American identity, an internal discourse. They are outwardly objectified and diminished to their race, contrasted by their self-identification as Americans, not unlike those men who perform the objectification. Whether through plain acts of sexual racism or microaggressions, Asian-Americans feel isolated in their own land. The ramifications of this explosive history are not contained but persist through generations. 

The foundation of anti-Asian sentiments, especially that against women, is deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, the evidence all points to them. So why do Americans pause so readily at the slightest of indications that society is the perpetrator of such stigmas? Why is the problem still not addressed, after 3,800 incidents in the past year alone? What will it take for the problem and its roots to be addressed? 

People line up to march alongside a bright yellow banner that says "STOP AAPI HATE" on behalf of a domestic surge in anti-Asian hate crimes
[Image Description: A recent surge of anti-Asian hate crimes has propelled a movement against Asian-American Pacific Islander hate] via New Times San Luis Obispo
America stands in the eye of cultural reckoning. One in which movements like Black Lives Matter and now Stop Asian-American Pacific Islander Hate demand a change against the casual acceptance of racism. Now, it’s a matter of embracing the country’s unequal foundations and moving forward together as people.

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  • Julie Ham

    Julie Ham is a current high school senior. She hopes to study the intersection between computer science and journalism.