On March 16th, 2021, an armed and psychotic twenty-one-year-old man named Robert Aaron Long went on a shooting rampage throughout three spas/massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia. Before being apprehended, Long murdered eight people, six of whom were Asian women.
Long’s actions were clearly a case of racially motivated domestic terrorism, a grand act of violence that was meant to instil fear in the Asian-American community. Long chose to travel to three local spas; he was not random in his choice of location. Representative Ted Lieu, a member of the house judiciary committee, told CNN, “It looks to me he knew he was going to places where disproportionately the people he shot up would be Asians and female, and I think the investigators need to look at these facts.”
After the shooting, there was a lot of speculation about Long’s motives, the consensus has been that an addiction fueled the shootings to pornography and sex. Sheriff Frank Reynolds of Cherokee County—the county in which the shootings took place—said of Robert Long’s motives for the murders “[Robert Long] made indicators he has some issues –potentially sexual addiction – and may have frequented some of these places in the past.” Later on, CNN reported that Long had recently been kicked out of his family home for “spending hours on end watching pornography.”
The murder of women for their sexual power and their femininity is unfortunately not anything new. Several serial killers like Ed Kemper have cited their reasoning for the murders as sexually motivated in nature. More recently, dubbed “the virgin killer,” Elliot Rodger went on a small killing spree that ended in his suicide in 2014, and left behind was his manifesto detailing his narcissism and his hatred for women for their lack of interest in him.
What makes this murder spree different from Ed Kemper or Elliot Rodger is that there is also a very strong racial overtone that is meant to instill fear in not just women but the Asian community as a whole. The motives regarding race and sexuality make these murders an act of both racialized terrorism and misogyny.
The Fetishization of Asian Women
For centuries, Asian women have been overtly objectified and sexualized by our Western culture. Especially, as the hyper-feminine Japanese school-girl aesthetic has become popularized in the United States and Canada by teenagers in the past few years, we’ve seen that fetishizing Asian women is alive and well today.
Stereotypically, Asian women (especially in American television and films) are portrayed as docile, submissive, small, thin, and childlike. Asian women in our media are presented as a walking object for the male gaze, further perpetuating the idea that Asian women and men are mysterious and unlike white people.
Clearly, this is how Robert Long felt about Asian women, especially Asian women in the service industry. His own issues with sex and sexuality hyper-fetishized these women into objects. He dehumanized these women because of their gender, race, and sexuality and turned his aggression and entitlement into a horrific act of racialized terrorism.
Robert Long is a product of a societal hatred and collective view of how both white women and women of color are supposed to behave. Long is a product of a world that views Asian women as disposable objects of sex and fetish, not human beings; Long is, of course, responsible for his actions, but we can’t ignore that he lives in the same world as all of us—one that dehumanizes women of color.
Covid-19 and “The Chinese Virus”
In early 2020, in the wake of the first wave of Covid-19, then-president Donald Trump coined the term “Chinese Virus” to replace “Corona Virus.” The President then used the term more than 20 times publically between March 16th and March 30th, and an image surfaced of one of Trump’s speeches, where he had crossed out “Corona,” and hand wrote “Chinese” in place.
The term “Chinese Virus” caught on quickly with his followers and other racists and actively motivated racialized violence toward Asian-Americans. For someone as prominent and influential as the President of the United States to spread outward and targeted racism at a group of people put potentially thousands of Chinese and Asian lives in danger.
The advocacy group Stop AAIP reported that there were 2800 recordings of hate incidents directed towards Asian people, and the New York City Hate Crimes Task Force investigated 27 hate crimes last year, numbers up nine-fold since the year prior. Some cities have had to set up hate crime units in their Chinatown.
With the climb of Covid-19 cases, there has also been a major climb in hatred toward and attacks against Asian people. Fear, blame, and misinformation has been spread about Chinese people and all Asian people from the top of the United States government all the way down to the people.
Although Long’s attack was an extreme act of terrorism, it’s one of many violent cases toward Asian communities and Asian women. Asian hatred has been on the rise lately and has been prominent in our cultures for centuries. The wake of Covid-19 has only served to marginalize further and other Asian people from the white population. There have been several acts of white supremacy toward Asian people in recent history. When is the end?
Who Should we Turn to?
It is a time of uncertainty, civil unrest, and fear. As a white woman, I’m not going to pretend that I know even the tip of the iceberg regarding how the Asian community must be feeling or how the community has decided to handle this recent tragedy.
I can tell you I’m going to take some time today to educate myself about Asian culture and racialized terrorism and understand how to be a good ally in this time. Here’s a small list of resources that I’ll be looking into today:
- A comprehensive list of Asian-Voices and Anti-Racist Books compiled by River Bend Book ShopThe Stop AAIP Hate National Report for statistics on racially motivated hate crimes
- Internet Star Eugene Lee Yang’s Podcast where he interviews Asian women about Misogyny towards Asian women
- https://stopasianhate.carrd.co/ where you can find lists of resources, places to donate, petitions to sign, and a place where you can report hate crimes
Today, in the wake of so much racism and misogyny, compassion, understanding, and anti-racist action are absolutely necessary. I’d like to leave off with the names of the victims who passed in this coward’s act of terrorism, racism, and misogyny.
Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33
Xiaojie Tan, 49
Daoyou Feng, 44
Paul Andre Michels, 54
Hyun Jung Grant, 51
Soon Chung Park, 74
Suncha Kim, 69
Yong Ae Yu, 63
Elcias R Hernandez-Ortiz, 30 (The only person to survive the attacks)
If you want to see who these people were and pay some respects to their character and the lives lost, BBC.com did a great compilation of who these victims are, and the lives that have been lost.