The Atlanta spa shooting that took place on Tuesday, March 16 was shocking, but not surprising. That a man could be so self-important, deluded and entitled that he would murder several women instead of exercising control over his sexual “temptation” is shocking, but not surprising. That in the year leading up to the mass shooting Asian American communities endured rising hate and discrimination which went largely unaddressed by our government is shocking, but not surprising. That the lives of working-class women of color were treated as expendable is shocking, but not surprising.
Though the police and the federal government have yet to designate the Atlanta spa shooting as a hate crime, the dimensions of race, class and gender in this act of terrorism are all too apparent to ignore. And once again, we have been shown just how much violence and destruction pervade American culture — and just how often that violence and destruction is aimed at people of color and poor people.
As a Black person, I am far from qualified to speak on the racism and hate that Asian Americans endure. But I see undeniable commonalities between the struggles of Asian Americans and the struggles of Black Americans. A brief look at history shows us how white supremacy has had similar damaging effects on both communities.
The first major wave of East Asian immigration during the Gold Rush in the 1850s was met with extreme resentment and contempt, as white people reacted violently to the perception that Asian immigrants were stealing their jobs. In 1871, a white mob invaded an immigrant neighborhood, murdering nearly 20 Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles, California. In 1885, a mob of over 100 white men invaded Chinatown in Rock Springs, Wyoming, killing nearly 30 Chinese immigrants and burning the neighborhood to the ground. These tragedies eerily echo the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, in which a white mob attacked what was known as Black Wall Street, killing hundreds of Black people and leaving the city in ashes. While these events do not align perfectly, they show how both Asian Americans and Black Americans have been targets of white rage.
The intersections of race and gender in Asian and Black communities also resemble each other in several ways. Society’s hypersexualization of women has long been, and continues to be, an issue, and for Asian women and Black women that often comes with a distinct racial component. Asian women are stereotyped as passive and docile, only existing to be at the center of male fetishes. Black women are often seen as sexually aggressive temptresses who have the ability and desire to corrupt men. They are seen as exotic sexual conquests while simultaneously being devalued and discriminated against. They must fight harder than men of color to have their voices heard. The disproportionate amount of anti-Asian hate crimes directed at women and the ongoing fight to highlight the stories of Black women killed by police are evidence for that point.
The economic struggles of Asian Americans and Black Americans are linked, too. In 2016, Asian Americans and Black Americans were first and second respectively in intraracial income inequality, with the top 10 percent of Asian Americans earning 10.7 times as much as the bottom 10 percent, and the top 10 percent of Black Americans earning 9.8 times as much as the bottom 10 percent. These drastic levels of inequality often lead people to draw inaccurate conclusions about the efficacy of our economic system.
Asian Americans are designated the model minority, generalized as having an innate ability to succeed. This generalization erases the profound systemic challenges that poor Asian Americans face and turns their inability to climb the economic ladder into a problem of personal drive. Black Americans are stereotyped as lazy, and examples of exceptionalism are used to claim that the struggles of poor Black people are their fault alone. Together, these misconceptions are used to uphold a culture of individualism that is powerfully damaging. They pit Asian and Black Americans against one another, and they are used to argue against expanding social assistance programs that would pull many Asian Americans and Black Americans out of poverty.
These similarities, while dark and disturbing, give me hope. The struggles Asian Americans and Black Americans share offer a chance at collaboration, at a united effort to fight discrimination and dismantle America’s racial hierarchy. I don’t have the answers, and it will not be easy — there is a long history of tension between these communities. But there is also a growing precedent of solidarity.
But we have the opportunity to expand our solidarity. We can begin laying the groundwork for a revolutionary multiracial social movement that aims for a world in which we have economic and social equality. By working to create a just society, we can commemorate the lives of Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng and Paul Andre Michels, as well as the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
CALEB DUNSON is a first year in Saybrook College. His column, titled ‘What We Owe,’ runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.