CN: extensive discussion of institutionally sanctioned violence and discrimination against Asians-Americans as well as other races; Discussion of mass shootings, white supremacy, the intersection of racism and sexism, the pandemic, the 45 administration, and sexual harassment; Mention of genocide.
In March of 2021, eight people were killed in a shooting that targeted spas and massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia. Six of those people were Asian women. The shooter later said that he wanted to “eliminate the temptation” and “help” fellow sex addicts by targeting these locations. Given the long history of hypersexualization of Asian women in the US, it would not be a stretch to call this a hate crime. And yet, although it was clearly race-related, the police investigating the incident were initially dismissive of this angle, saying the shooter just had “a really bad day.” (Perhaps this officer related a little bit too much to the emotional state of a mass murderer who killed primarily people of color?)
Anti-Asian bigotry is an aspect of racism that hasn’t been discussed terribly much on this blog. The manifestations of racism that are specific to the Asian-American community are different from the racism faced by Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities in several notable ways. While I was aware anti-Asian racism is still alive and well in 2021, until recently, I had very little understanding of what the long history behind it looked like or what the specific nuances of that community’s experience was.
Soon after the Atlanta shootings, activist and entertainer Eugene Lee Yang released a documentary entitled, “We Need To Talk About Anti-Asian Hate” on the Youtube channel he runs with his three friends, the four of them collectively known as “The Try Guys.” Though their channel is focused on comedy, their content has included activism, fundraisers, and building awareness for difficult issues, increasingly over the years. Yang also made waves in June of 2019 when he released his beautiful and heart-breaking video “I’m Gay”, which follows the evolution of his developing sexuality and its relation to the outside world, through music and dance. (The video includes metaphorical depictions of anti-gay violence, as well as many other heavy themes. Only watch if you are ready to have a good cry afterward.)
The release of this documentary was actually not a response to the Atlanta shootings, despite the timing. It was in response to the steady increase in hate crimes towards Asian Americans that has been happening in the US since the onset of the pandemic. Bigots in the US have taken to blaming anyone who “looks Asian” for the rise and spread of the pandemic, despite this being quite obviously untrue. Before Yang had finished making the documentary, the Atlanta shootings occurred, further reinforcing the message behind the video, and the necessity of its existence.
I am not anywhere near knowledgeable enough to offer you the kind of comprehensive education on anti-Asian hate that I strive for on this blog. But this documentary does an excellent job in offering that. It covers a wide range of well-researched and nuanced topics, with dozens of incredible guest speakers, as well as bringing a willingness to tackle uncomfortable truths even within the Asian community.
There were many topics that I was completely unfamiliar with prior to watching this documentary, and many facts that, like me, you likely are unaware of, such as:
- The US’s long history of characterizing East-Asian Americans as dirty or carriers of disease
- How Asian immigrants have been the targets of hundreds of riots and burnings in the US since the 1870’s, most of which have been left out of history books entirely
- How the US went from banning Chinese immigrants completely in 1882, to exclusively accepting Asian immigrants who were highly educated and from the upper class (such as doctors or engineers) in 1965
- How the mechanism of “The Model Minority” was used to dismiss the fight against white supremacy and to reinforce the oppression of other races
- The story of Vincent Chin and how the two white men who beat him to death never served time in jail
- How Black and Asian-American activists worked together against white supremacy during the Civil Rights Movement
- The violence and pain that caused the alliance between Black and Asian communities in the US to later fracture
- How, counter to media representation, there is a huge variation in education level and class within the giant category of “Asian American”
- The existence of a generational divide on political opinions within the Asian community in the US
- And the nature of the work that we all need to be doing, going forward
I highly recommend you watch this documentary, as well as donate to the “Stop Asian Hate” Gofundme that is linked directly below the video if you watch it on Youtube. Thanks to the Try Guys releasing this documentary on their main channel which has over seven million subscribers, they have raised over $140,000 to fight anti-Asian bigotry.
In addition to the documentary, Yang also released an episode of the Try Guys’ podcast to talk about misogyny against Asian women, where the three white men who are usually the stars were replaced with three Asian-American women. Yang spoke with these women to dive deeper into the themes specific to the Atlanta shooting and to lend a different, more personal angle to the topic. Yang intentionally centers the conversation around the women and largely limits his own contributions to moderation and and introducing questions for discussion, though he does touch some on his own intersection of oppression of being Asian and gay.
During the podcast they discuss:
- The societal pressure for Asian women to be quiet and small
- The sexualization and fetishization of Asian women
- How media representation alters people’s views of Asian people
- And the intersection of racism and sexism specific to Asian women
You can watch the filmed version of the podcast below or find it on podcast streaming services like iTunes or spotify.
I hope you’ll make a point to watch both of these power pieces of content, to internalize what you learn there, and to share them with your own community.
About the writer: Kella Hanna-Wayne is the creator, editor, and main writer for Yopp. In addition to creating a collection of educational resources for social justice, she works as a freelance writer specializing in content about her experience with disability, chronic illness, mental health, and trauma. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, The BeZine, Betty’s Battleground, and Splain You a Thing. You can find her @KellaHannaWayne on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Instagram.