On March 16, eight people, including six Asian women, were killed in shootings at three massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia. Because the targets were mainly Asian women, many were left to wonder if this constitutes a hate crime, but that was yet to be determined.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
The identified suspect, Robert Aaron Long, told officials that the motive of these attacks traced back to his sex addiction, as the parlors were a “temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Besides this excuse simply being horrifying, it is important to note that sex addiction is not defined as a legitimate addiction or mental illness. Sex addiction has previously been rejected for inclusion in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the handbook used by health care professionals as the authoritative guide to diagnosing mental disorders.
Holding any merit toward sex addiction or other mental challenges distracts from attackers’ heinous and glaringly racially motivated acts. Even if sex addiction was a catalyst in this instance, the truth is the victims’ families have to wake up every day knowing their loved one is gone — nothing can excuse that.
Not only are long held systemic issues embedded within the murders of these Asian women, but there is also a clear racial bias in favor of their killer. Altogether, it disregards the injustices Asian women face and paints the suspect in a more sympathetic light.
These shootings are a grim reminder that Asian Americans are still victims of discrimination and hate, and this targeting has only grown worse during the coronavirus pandemic. According to NBC News, hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by nearly 150% in cities across the United States in 2020.
Asian American women have faced a long history of violence and sexualization. Assuming race has nothing to do with the attacks dismisses the harsh reality of Asian American women being fetishized, hypersexualized and objectified. Ellen Wu, director of Asian American studies at Indiana University Bloomington in an interview with Insider, stated that “the sexualization of Asian women historically goes hand-in-hand with other dehumanizing stereotypes about Asian Americans.”
Simply claiming the shooter had a “really bad day,” as justified by Cherokee County Sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker, does not only erase the Asian American experience, but it frames the privileged white male in need of coddling, completely wiping out his culpability.
Typically white perpetrators of violence are not deemed threatening. Rather, they are pitied, seen as victims of society or said to be mentally ill.
There is an inherent white privilege connected to perpetrators of violence and how they are portrayed. A study from Ohio State University found that white shooters are 95% more likely to have their crimes attributed to mental illness than Black shooters, and are more often described as a good person who was a victim of society.
Deemphasizing the responsibility white perpetrators hold after committing an act of violence paints a false narrative and makes it seem as if they acted out of character. This representation suggests that their actions are not connected to any larger culture, ideology or system that would initiate violence. Framing it this way allows people to avoid considering a larger narrative that would expose long-existing issues in society with regards to prejudice, discrimination and violence.
It is vital to stay educated and spread awareness about the victims who faced unjust abuse regardless of color. The hate crimes and acts of violence toward Asian Americans in recent months are not going to end by sheer luck that the world fixes itself. Speak out and keep pushing for the rights of all so this won’t go ignored.