AAPI Hatred Has Been Invisible for Too Long

“The targeted murders of six AAPI women in Atlanta has jolted every fiber of my being. … I cannot be silent and not speak out against the racist, sexist treatment that AAPI women face.”

Rally to stop Asian hate in Washington D.C. (Victoria Pickering / Flickr)

“Ching chong ching chong ching chong,” the 8-year-old white boy said over and over again to me, thinking it was the funniest thing in the world. I ignored him, put my head down and tried to focus on my work. He wasn’t the only one though. Kids would say this on the playground, and sometimes one of the meaner ones would pull their eyes into slants at me, call me “China man,” or tell me to go back to China.   

This was part of the fabric of my childhood. So much so that I never even bothered to tell my parents or count how many times it’s happened because it is just called life. I accepted it as a fact of growing up AAPI in America—even in San Francisco where there is a heavy AAPI population.

As I got older, the harassment took on a sexual tone. People would not stop telling me that they “love Asian women” or “how sexy but submissive Asian women were.” And the street harassment would not so cleverly involve being screamed at with “me love you long time.” Yet again, this was something I just accepted as part of life and just what I had to deal with.

Then, when I got to Capitol Hill and was looking for a job, I was introduced to an older white man who worked for a powerful Member of Congress. He promised me he’d help me look for a job, but first, he needed to get to know me better. The coffee meeting was standard for informational interviews, but it was clear he wanted more—lunch, drinks, hanging out. He seemed to always find me when I went to lunch or was just walking through the halls. He’d lean close, back me into a wall, and tell me how he found “Asian women so sexy.” And always, he would dangle something in front of me, telling me he heard of a job opening or that he could introduce me to someone. I was afraid to say anything and offend him though because I was an intern and I needed a job. So when I couldn’t avoid him, I’d just grimace through our interactions. But I never told anyone because I just accepted this as how men were to AAPI women.

But the targeted murders of six AAPI women in Atlanta has jolted every fiber of my being. I am in deep pain and I am so exhausted—but I cannot be silent and not speak out against the racist, sexist treatment that AAPI women face.

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It is not acceptable that AAPI children are regularly attacked with racial slurs. One study by the National Women’s Law Center in 2017 found that 46 percent of AAPI girls report being called a racial slur. Another study by Stop AAPI Hate found that since the start of the pandemic, 12.6 percent of the hate incidents reported were made by youth.

It is unacceptable that AAPIs are continually treated as other and foreign, or made to scapegoat for Trump’s failure to control COVID-19. This is our country and our home. But Trump continually made us foreign and his harmful rhetoric helped contribute to a dramatic spike in hate crimes against AAPIs. From 2019 to 2020, hate crimes jumped 150 percent in the country’s largest 16 cities.

And it is unacceptable to talk about the Atlanta shootings without talking about how the shooter specifically targeted AAPI women. The shooter had a hyper-sexualized fantasy of AAPI women—we were objects of his temptation that he needed to get rid of.

AAPI women, like all women of color, have had to constantly fight the intertwined forces of racism and sexism. But too often, our struggles are invisibilized. We are invisibilized by those who continue to refer to AAPIs as the model minority, pitting the AAPI community against other people of color while making invisible our struggles. And we are invisibilized every time someone talks about the shootings and fails to point out that the shooter targeted AAPI women because he fetishized us. Enough.

We demand to be seen. We demand to be seen as our full selves—as AAPI and as women. And we demand that any response to the Atlanta shootings be intersectional, centering those most impacted both by the shooting and by this year long pandemic of hate against AAPIs that has disproportionately fallen on women and our elderly. I am not accepting anything less.

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Anna Chu is on the National Governing Board of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and is also the Vice President for Strategy and Policy at the National Women’s Law Center.