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Why We Turn to Intersectionality to Confront Anti-Asian Violence

Friday, March 19, 2021

by Alice Y. Hom, Equity and Social Justice Director, Northern California Grantmakers

This has been a hard week of swirling emotions since I learned six Asian women and two other people were shot in Atlanta amidst the rise of anti-Asian violence here and nationwide. The names identified so far are: Soon Chung Park (74), Suncha Kim (69), Yong Ae Yue (63),Hyun Jung Grant (51), Xiaojie Tan (49), Daoyou Feng (44), Paul Andre Michels (54), and Dalaina Ashley Yaun (33). I am sending my deep condolences to their loved ones, families, and communities. Rage, grief, and sadness course through me as I wake up and tend to my work, check in with kin and kindred, read the news, and skim social media. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed.  

I am not surprised the shooter, a white man, denied that race motivated his attacks against three massage parlors and spas. But I’m angry at the denial and the shortsightedness of law enforcement, the media, and others who relay the shooter’s explanation and enable the claim that racism doesn’t play a role in his actions.  

Instead, let this be a moment to challenge the idea that anyone might ever be entitled to inflict violence on the pretext that they are driven by “sexual addiction.” This violence should be understood as the deadly expression of racialized and sexualized stereotypes of Asian women, specifically migrants who work at massage parlors and spas whose low income and status as immigrants expose them to risk. Our country’s wars and military operations throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim have, over many years, reinforced sex trades and racialized sexual violence toward Asian women.  

Here we must challenge ourselves to consider race, gender, heterosexuality, and class not as separate forms of identity, but interacting together, to deepen our understanding of the deaths of these women and our Asian elders here in the Bay Area. This concept of interlocking identities is not new and comes from Black lesbian feminists organizing in the 1970s under the Combahee River Collective.  

The term intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, who explains, “It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these.”  

This approach helps us make sense of the violence against Asian women and the way it’s connected to violence faced by women of color, Black and Indigenous women, in particular.  I hope the following articles, statements, and interviews provide some insight and support you taking action to strengthen our collective fight against the intersecting oppressions of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism.  

In these moments, we draw strength by calling upon the rich connections of our movements, the power of our voice, and the resources for social justice over which we have influence.   


What We're Reading 

 
1. And it is time for philanthropy to do a lot more to curb the rising violence and hatred by using the power of its voice and its grant dollars. 

As Violence Against Asian Americans Intensifies, the Moment for Philanthropy to Act Is Now, Chronicle of Philanthropy

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2. “To be an Asian woman working in the US South in the massage industry means being an object, not a subject; being neither Black nor White and thus seen to have honorary white status, which in practice conveys a false belief that you aren't subject to White supremacy.”  

To be an Asian woman in America, CNN

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3. Listen to 6 minutes of the history of violence against various Asian ethnic communities with linkages to misogyny, militarism, and the economy. 

The Deep History of Anti-Asian Violence in the U.S., New York Public Radio

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4. “Removing the anti-sex-work component really removes the crux of what this specific kind of racism is about: the fetishization of Asian women’s bodies, the objectification of their bodies and the assumption that Asian women are obviously going to be providing sexual services at massage parlors.” 

'A specific kind of racism': Atlanta shootings fuel fears over anti-sex-work ideology, The Guardian 

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5. Asian women, along with Black and Indigenous women and other women of color, endure racism and sexism in intersectional ways constantly, and they have throughout history. 

Atlanta spa shooting suspect's 'bad day' defense, and America's sexualized racism problem, NBC News 

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6. Even if you're unfamiliar with the term misogynoir, which is anti-black misogyny that specifically targets black women, you've likely seen it in action or experienced it firsthand. 

Why you need to know what 'misogynoir' means right now, Mashable

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7. Empathy and Justice Beyond Just Us

Why the trope of Black-Asian conflict in the face of anti-Asian violence dismisses solidarity, Brookings

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