The African American Policy Forum is horrified and heartbroken by this week’s killings at three Atlanta-area spas. The attacks laid bare the vulnerability of working Asian women to misogynist, anti-Asian violence, and made clear a broader societal failure to address the lethality of intersectional vulnerability. The dismissive nature of Sheriff Jay Baker’s description of the targeted attacks — that the killer was having a “bad day” — serves to underscore a tragic reality: we have failed to confront the legacy of centuries of stereotyping, decades of denial, and a year of exacerbated violence experienced disproportionately by Asian-American women.
Our collective capacity to see racism through a gendered lens has always been limited. Yet it remains shocking that the racial dimension of this violence could be denied or obscured by the very stereotypes that constitute the vulnerability. To say the murderer’s actions were about sexual desire, and therefore not about race, is a fundamental intersectional failure: it denies the racial dimensions of the hyper-sexualization of Asian women, and reproduces the environment that makes Asian women particularly vulnerable to harassment, abuse, and murder.
Intersectional vulnerabilities are not simplistic identitarian claims; they are explanations of the multiple dynamics at play in what we witnessed this week. Indeed, the root causes of these killings — misogyny, racism, and economic precarity — are only further entrenched by the erasure of certain dimensions of this violence. For Asian Americans, and Asian-American women in particular, the bullets that ended the lives of so many in Georgia were the endpoint of a cultural frame that makes them vulnerable to racist, sexualized violence.
An intersectional frame allows us to surface Asian massage workers' distinct vulnerability to violence and exploitation from non-state perpetrators as well as their criminalization at the hands of repressive laws and policing. Following racist and sexist tropes, Asian massage parlors are often framed as illegal and immoral sites that justify criminalization, surveillance, raids, and deportation. As a result, many cannot safely call police for protection when harmed without risking arrest and incarceration themselves.
We demand now that the voices and needs of Asian massage worker communities be heard and centered. Grassroots collectives and regional AAPI organizations like Red Canary Song and Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Atlanta are organizing support and funds toward the families of victims as well as survivors. Additional resources and organizations can be accessed here.
To respond to this tragedy, we need a deeper commitment to understanding white supremacy and its various dimensions across the social plane. While some deny the urgency of this reckoning and seek to censor the ideas that help us confront injustice, the acclaimed scholar Mari Matsuda noted in a recent op-ed that we desperately need frames like critical race theory to help confront “anti-Asian racism through a historical and structural analysis of U.S. racism.”
Anchored in outrage from the lives we have lost, let us now come together to support those who have been intentionally scapegoated and made unsafe by the reinvigoration of anti-Asian racism — fully inclusive of its misogyny. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberlé Crenshaw and The African American Policy Forum