Not Just a Bad Apple: How the Atlanta Anti-Asian Hate Crime Implicates Us All

Asian adults mourning outside behind flowers. Gold Spa sign in background. One person holding a sign reading “Stop Anti-Asian Hate Crimes”

I woke up on Wednesday morning to this text from a friend, “Morning- If you need someone who will listen, know that I am here.” I thought nothing of it, and assumed this was meant for someone else and wrote back a simple “?”.

I then went to browse the news, and began to see headlines about the Massage Parlor Massacre, Asian Hate Crimes, and the shooting spree in Atlanta. I quickly understood the text.

As more and more news came out, the more I began to see how one dimensional the conversation was becoming. Yes, this was an Asian hate crime. However, when stories are told in a one dimensional way, without nuance, they lose the ability to create change. When the news tells stories of how a single person committed a hate crime, it’s easy to pin the problem on that one person’s bigotry, rather than recognizing how embedded it is in our culture.

Instead, let’s name the nuance and muddy the water. We’ll do that in two ways: 1) looking at intersectionality and 2) looking at the ripple effects.

Intersectionality of Identities

Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the compounding effects of inequities based on identity. In this case, the victims were not just Asian, but they were Asian women. This combination of identities is central to the murders and, unfortunately, not surprising. When a friend and I were processing the news early in the day, I sarcastically hypothesized that this was going to be something related to the hypersexualization and exoticism of Asian women. Shortly after we spoke, the news came out that the perpetrator told police that he had a “sexual addiction.”

Gold Spa sign can be seen in lights in background, with a yellow “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape in the foreground.

It is likely that, like me, reading that “sexual addiction” was part of the motive was not surprising to the majority of people. The fetishism and exoticism of Asian women is so prevalent that it has been given its own term, “yellow fever.” In addition, we can see this in the way that Asian women are typecast into roles such as Fook Mi and Fook Yu (Austin Powers, 2008) or Trang Pak (Mean Girls, 2004). And so, we see that the killer wasn’t acting as an individual, but rather he was acting on a stereotype of a group of people.

Ignoring the intersection of these two identities does two things. It first overlooks the nuanced experience faced by a specific group of people (Asian women). It also erases the fact that not all Asians experience this by lumping Asian men and south Asians together. While these groups are all Asian, it’s only Asian women who experience racism in this way.

The Ripple Effects of this Hate Crime

Not only can we add nuance by bringing an intersectional lens, but we also need to zoom out to get a larger picture of which communities are impacted. The conversation should very much be centered around Asians, and especially Asian women. However, by neglecting the larger context, we also miss the impact that this act of hate has had on other groups. The two other groups impacted by this are the immigrant communities and the mental health community.

Not only was it Asian women who were attacked, but it was some of the most vulnerable Asian women. It was Asian women in the service industry, who often are immigrants and New Americans. While this act of hate was not directed at all immigrants, it does act as a reminder of the hate and violence other immigrant groups have experienced. Although Asian men may not have been the main target, this hate has ripple effects throughout the communities it impacts.

Another ripple impact of this hate crime is on the mental health community. We saw the County Sheriff show sympathy to the assailant, stating that the gunman was “at the end of his rope” and that this was “a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” As opposed to focusing on the individual suspect, we once again see mental illness as a whole, being scapegoated as the reason for someone’s racism.

Asian woman with a facemask holding a sign reading “We have “bad days” too but you don’t see us killing white people.

Words Matter

As we examine the impacts of this one hate crime, we must begin to bring more nuance to the conversation. Consider the 4 i’s of oppression. If we keep this simply in the “Interpersonal” realm, we can quickly write it off as a tragedy based on “one bad apple” and a few Asian victims. However, when we zoom out, add nuance, and examine the context, we see that this is in fact related to the “ideological” realm as well- that the stereotypes of Asian women, immigrants, and mental health are issues within our society. And, when we recognize our society’s role, we can then make change. We can intentionally disrupt language that we see that paints Asian women as exotic, immigrants as job-stealing, and mental health communities as dangerous.

And so, a way to act in allyship is to look for these ideologies in the world around you: in the media, in conversations, in advertisements, and in your thoughts. When you notice them, recognize them. If it’s someone else who says it, call them into the conversation. Every one of us has the power to make a difference- and it will take all of us to shift our society’s ideologies.

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Hannah Matthys

Hannah Matthys uses her multicultural background as foundation to make Equity Diversity and Inclusion concepts accessible. Learn more here: bebravediversity.com