Here are some photos of Olivia Munn out in LA yesterday, before she would have found out about the shooting in Atlanta. Eight people are now dead, six of them Asian women, as the murderer targeted multiple locations, all of them either spas or massage parlours. Authorities have not declared this a hate crime, but given the ethnicity of most of the victims and the businesses where the killings took place, Stop AAPI Hate is raising awareness about the fear and pain in the Asian American community that was already at a high point, and is even more profound now:
The reported shootings of Asian American women on Tuesday in Atlanta is an unspeakable tragedy â€“ for the families of the victims first and foremost, but also for the AAPI community â€” which has been reeling from high levels of racial discrimination. https://t.co/rBVPnrEBps— Stop AAPI Hate (@StopAAPIHate) March 17, 2021
To go back to Olivia though, she’s been active on her social media accounts over the last few months, and certainly last night as she and other members of the community processed what happened. When I saw these shots of her this morning, and I hate myself for what I’m about to tell you, my first thought was, oh, OK, now I have pictures I can use to segue into the situation. Like I needed an excuse. Because I was worried that I’d have to have a celebrity angle to connect it to, coward piece of sh-t that I am.
But the thing is, that’s how it can be to be Asian in the west. That’s the model minority – shut up, don’t complain, work hard, take whatever small space whiteness will lend you as long as you abide by the colonial rules. As much as you try to unlearn that conditioning, it’ll come to the surface unannounced and along with it the shame, humiliation, smallness.
The model minority myth has fueled the perception, a false one, that Asians are successful and safe, that they have opportunity, that everything is fine, that the status quo works. Of course it’s wonderful that there are Asian success stories that are out there, and movies like Crazy Rich Asians should have a place in the layered and nuanced landscape of Asian representation but there should also be space for a film like Minari, featuring a Korean American family struggling to get their farming business going in Arkansas. Because the fact is, here in Canada, for example, “Chinese and South Asian groups make up almost half of racialised persons living in poverty”:
“For racialized persons living in poverty, the East and Southeast Asian groups were the most frequently cited ethnic origin (40%). The category was dominated by the Chinese group, followed by …Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese groups.”
This is of course not about who has it worse. Black and Indigenous communities, as we have seen, are marginalised and hunted, and experience serious economic disparity and lack of access to resources. But that’s the point. White supremacy and racism are everyone’s problem – and using Asians as an example of the bullsh-t model minority only upholds a status quo that was built to benefit white domination.
That domination is already in full effect as seen in media coverage of this tragedy. Authorities have said that the gunman apparently told police that he had a “sex addiction” and that his crime was not racially motivated. Which the press is taking at face value, without any consideration of how the investigation itself might be lacking in perspective. Who, after all, is talking to the witnesses? Talking to the people who were there? How are they communicating with them in order to get accurate information?
As E Alex Jung pointed out:
that sinking feeling that a korean language journalist of enormous empathy would need to be on the ground in ATL to properly report this out from the outset— E. Alex Jung (@e_alexjung) March 17, 2021
This is after he referred to a Korean news agency with a reporter who was able to speak to a Korean witness sharing details that western media has not yet covered:
Some people might be all like, well, yeah, western media has to investigate it for themselves, right, but who are the reporters representing western media who’ll be able to make that connection with the people in this community? They’re talking to Korean media – because that’s who was able to communicate effectively with them.
There’s also the issue of identifying the victims and how that identification will be presented in the western news media. At the time of this post, not all victims’ names have been released. Over the last few years, we’ve had many conversations about how BIPOC victims of racist violence are portrayed – from their photos to how their backgrounds are described, and in this case, when you’re dealing with an Asian community, with some members who may not speak English as their first language, there is a risk, just like with so many Black and Indigenous victims, that they’ll be further dehumanised. Like with the pronunciation of their names, and with who even gets to tell their stories. If the media can even find photos to begin with. North Americans may be accessible on Facebook or Instagram but many people in East Asian communities use other social media platforms that are a complete mystery to western outlets. Which means that in death these victims may be as invisible to people as they were in life.
This is the reality for so many members of Asian communities, especially those living on small incomes or below the poverty line – and it’s why prominent Asian Americans today are illuminating that this is an issue of race and class and sexism and so you can’t just be all like, the murderer was a “sex addict” and wave it all away. Jenn Fang said it best:
For the better part of the last year, Asian American women have been trying to draw attention to the intersections of race, gender, class, etc in the way anti-Asian violence is disproportionately experienced.— Jenn | Reappropriate (@reappropriate) March 17, 2021
For the better part of the last YEAR.
People on here literally debating if this was a misogynistic attack against women or a racist attack against Asians.— Jenn | Reappropriate (@reappropriate) March 17, 2021
What if - wait for it - it was both.
Which is why people like Jenn should be part of the coverage as the investigation unfolds:
Before reports emphasizing â€œsexual addictionâ€ as motive for GA shooting suspect go any further, media needs to center voices of Asian American feminists & organizers like @reappropriate @SuhAlexandra @ButterflyCSW @RedCanarySong @AAAJ_Atlanta #StopAsianHate https://t.co/2dbbHlXqBM— Scott Kurashige (@scottkurashige) March 17, 2021
So that we can avoid headlines like this:
Do better @nytimes. It is flagrantly irresponsible & ignorant to report suspectâ€™s motive was â€œsexual addictionâ€ and â€œnot racially motivated.â€ Itâ€™s no coincidence that a white Christian man looking to eradicate the source of sin would target Asian women. 1/2 #StopAsianHate pic.twitter.com/IKuXanlT4O— Scott Kurashige (@scottkurashige) March 17, 2021
And start refocusing the conversation back to #StopAsianHate as one part of the bigger collective effort to end racism and combat white supremacy alongside other movements, like Black Lives Matter. One of the ways white supremacy operates is division – by splitting up BIPOC communities, advancing the model minority myth, and resulting in times when people from racialised backgrounds worked against each other. This is how white supremacy harms all of us.
Here's another example of it – Topps released a series of trading cards after the Grammys and the BTS card is…well… f-cked:
bts arenâ€™t the only ones who didnâ€™t win a grammy so why are they the only ones to be portrayed like this? they arenâ€™t given a name, their illustration is violent and disturbing,letâ€™s not forget the â€˜bopping kpopâ€™ label. itâ€™s fucking racist how you portrayed them as RODENTS @Topps pic.twitter.com/2BeWaTy0Ww— saanviðŸ¦¦ (@starfishs4v) March 17, 2021
The backlash about these cards was happening online concurrently with the news coming out about the shootings in Atlanta. So you have a real life situation where Asian women were murdered and then a pop culture item being sold that depicts Asian artists being bludgeoned while not being named. Topps has since issued an apology:
But the question remains – how did this even pass go? How was this illustration even conceived? Who WASN’T in the room to tell them that it was the worst idea? The same people who aren’t in the newsrooms right now putting together the news coverage.