I know what it’s like to be left for dead. I know what it’s like to plan your outfits, days, and nights around keeping yourself safe. I know what it’s like to scream for help or try to run away and have no one intervene. I know what it’s like to be followed and violently attacked in your own home. I know what it’s like to be targeted, pursued, harassed, and assaulted because you are a woman, and not just a woman, but a woman of color. I am all too familiar with the intersections of racist, gendered, and sexualized violence.
Who am I? I’m a 35-year-old Korean woman living in NYC and part of a country that’s seen a 339% increase in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) hate crimes, two-thirds of which have been targeted towards women (NBC). To say the recent murder of Christina Yuna Lee hit home is an understatement (NY Times). Learning that same week (through social media, not the news) of the murders of Sihui Fang and Mary Ye, less than a year after the shooting in Atlanta, felt like utter devastation (ABQ Journal, AsAm News). More than sorrow though, I feel a deep, unrelenting rage at the white supremacist systems that birthed these situations, this trauma, and this pain. And an urgent need for folks to understand the roots of racist and gendered violence in order to prevent it.
Historically, Asian women have been seen as both docile/submissive and exotic/hypersexual. We are often seen as a desired object or fantasy, not as human beings. Whether you look at the 1875 Page Act, white sexual imperialism in WWII and the Korean/Vietnam Wars, or portrayals of Asian women in movies and media — racialized, sexualized, and gendered violence against AAPI women is normalized in U.S. culture (History, Vox).
This violence is, of course, part of a larger systemic issue of violence against women of color by colonial powers like the United States. From misogynoir to missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women, the dehumanization and objectification of women of color create a very specific type of violence. A type of violence that’s normalized when we’re continuously viewed or portrayed as a commodity or something to have and control. A type of violence that runs rampant when we’re silenced and our stories aren’t shared. A type of violence that is excused or justified in a society based on upholding white supremacy.
None of this should come as a surprise when we reflect on the origins of the United States — a country that was founded on capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, that colonized Indigenous peoples, and that normalized rape culture as a form of social control. This racialized and sexualized violence has been a way of maintaining power and control to this day.
This history reinforces one of the many reasons Kimberlé Crenshaw’s 1989 theory of intersectionality is so important (Chicago Unbound). Using the example of Black women, Crenshaw suggests that the oppression of women of color is more than just adding racism and sexism together. Asian American women face specific stereotypes and oppression, as recent attacks show. Christina Yuna Lee’s murder and countless other murders, disappearances, and assaults of women of color must be reviewed through an intersectional lens.
It’s imperative that we all reflect and unpack the assumptions we make about women of color. What are we basing our assumptions on? How are women of color portrayed in the TV shows and movies we watch? Who are the people who make it to the news cycle (ARD)? How does respectability politics come into play in whose voice or story is centered? Each of us as individuals is responsible for what we consume, and we must think critically about how it influences our day-to-day actions.
Consider the intersections of race and gender and make it a critical part of your anti-racism education. Learn more about how history has created and depended upon us to uphold these harmful stereotypes and assumptions. Reflect on the significant and unique violence women of color experience. See if your local community has de-escalation or bystander intervention training or volunteer your time to ensure people get home safely. Learn from, support, and center organizations led by Asian women, such as the Asian American Feminist Collective.
Keep intersectionality front of mind, materially support Asian women and gender minorities in your community, and remember we’re more than just reports and statistics. We’re humans who need to be recognized because each of us deserves safety — no matter what we look like. Each of us deserves to be seen fully, beyond stereotypes and tropes. Each of us deserves to be protected and supported by our communities — and by yours.
• Two-thirds of the 339% increase in AAPI hate crimes have been against women.
• Women of color experience a specific type of violence that is racialized, sexualized, and gendered.
• The dehumanization of women of color is rooted in capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.