Anti-Asian violence has been ignored for too long. It’s time to wake up
The recent attacks are a product of years of prejudice
The 300 per cent rise in hate crimes towards people of East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) descent in the UK since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic has been disturbing. However, racially fuelled hatred towards the Asian* community is nothing new.
From childhood bullying and exclusion, to the stereotypical representation of the Asian community in mainstream media, to the hyper-sexualisation of Asian women, to the West’s perception of the Asian community as the “good, quiet and assimilated model minority”, the recent attacks are a product of years of prejudice.
Being a mixed-race girl who grew up in the West, the foreigner mentality is an all too common experience. Constantly being labelled ‘Asian’ and perceived as ‘other’ (even though I’m genetically just as white as I am Asian) is only one of the minor things people like me have come to accept as normal.
It is easy to view modern race issues as a uniquely American problem, but speak to any Asian person who grew up in the UK and you will hear the frequent tales of micro-aggression and bullying experienced throughout childhood and teenage years. Whether it was the every day “ching, chang, chong”, eye pulling racism on the school bus, the racism that mates often passed off as a joke, or just outright exclusion – we all faced it at some point, and you all witnessed it.
There’s nothing discrete about the ‘casual racism’ towards the Asian community either, but it is embedded as normal practice within society and therefore often overlooked, ignored and unaccounted for. The media also does little to prevent this as 33 per cent of images used by the British media to report Covid-19 have been of Asian people.
So why are we suddenly acting surprised by the racially fuelled violence that is gradually becoming more and more common? After naively hoping this would all just go away, then came the fatal shooting of eight women at an Asian massage parlour in Atlanta.
“He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” These were the words spoken by Capt. Jay Baker about the domestic terrorist who massacred the eight women, six of whom were of Asian descent, on Tuesday.
Although this particular crime has not yet been proven to be racially motivated, it is undeniable that the rampant hyper-sexualisation of Asian women by the West plays a key role in the violence we face.
History is responsible for this. After the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many of the only women who took the risk to travel from China to America were those from poor families who left their homes to take up whatever work they could get. Most of this work was in the realm of prostitution. Consequently, Asian women became synonymous with prostitution in the eyes of the white American male.
This hyper-sexualisation has been carried into the 21st century, with the stereotypical image of Asian women as exotic, seductive and submissive creatures.
In the ‘Pornhub 2019 Year in Review’, four of the top six most searched terms of 2019 were Japanese, Hentai, Korean and Asian. This further highlights how widespread the fetishisation and hyper-sexualisation of Asian women is, and demonstrates the extent of this issue.
I’ve often told friends stories of having to background check my dates to see what their exes look like to make sure I’m not just a fetish, and stories about sexual advances I’ve received based on the perceived tightness of my genitalia. Stories about declining the offer of money in exchange for sexual favours whilst being compared to Asa Akira, all of which I just laughed off, but now I question whether I too have played an active role in the silencing of those who look like me.
The treatment of Asian women as sexual objects whose purpose is to feed men’s sexual curiosity is dangerous, and as we have seen, continually leads to violence against them.
Unfortunately however, the Western perspective of the Asian community as being the “good, quiet and assimilated model minority” has led to these racially fuelled crimes being ignored and often taken far less seriously than they should be. This only makes it more important for others to speak up about them.
*Where I refer to “Asians” throughout, I am specifically referring to those of East and Southeast Asian heritage.