Statement: Asian American Studies @ Ohio State on the Atlanta Shootings

On March 18, I published this statement as Director of Asian American Studies. I’m reposting it here.

Dear members of the Ohio State community:

The Asian American Studies Program at Ohio State (AAS) strongly condemns the murders of six Asian/Asian American women — along with two other victims — by an Atlanta shooter on the night of March 16. We mourn the loss of life and keep the victims’ families in our thoughts at a time of unimaginable grief.

This tragedy is a terrible reminder of the violent and combined impact of white supremacy, misogyny, and patriarchy on Asian women, and the specific forms of racism that they have always faced in the United States and elsewhere. Our communities are reeling. In pain and grief, and in solidarity, we stand with them today.

AAS adds our voice to the various campus leaders and organizations calling on us all to support Asian/Asian American/APIDA members of the campus and central Ohio communities, to be vigilant against racism in all forms, and to participate in changing the climate all around us in the direction of justice.

  • Please see the resources listed on the statement from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), including Counseling and Consultation Services (614–292–5766 or ccs.osu.edu) and go.osu.edu/mymentalhealth.
  • The Multicultural Center (MCC) staff has been holding space for healing and action for Asian/APIDA students, staff, and faculty. The next one is today, Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 4:30 pm. Register here to attend. Please contact Sophia Antoun, the APIDA Intercultural Specialist for more information: antoun.5@osu.edu
  • Please look to the MCC, ODI, and AAS websites for future programming and events, including an April forum on anti-Asian racism that we are planning in AAS.

Please bring your concerns and fears, your willingness to listen and support each other, and/or your ideas for next steps. We are in this together.

For scholars of Asian American history, culture, literature, and ideas, informed by decades of scholarship in ethnic studies, feminism and queer studies, we have an added task beyond calling for empathy: to remind the OSU community that although these incidents are horrific, they are not at all uncommon or unexpected.

The Atlanta murders take place in a year that has seen a sharp rise in hate crimes against Asians — in particular, people of East and Southeast Asian descent (and perceived to be such).

The coalition Stop AAPI Hate reports nearly 3800 instances of discrimination against Asians in the past year — including verbal harassment, physical assault, civil rights violations, and online harassment. It is widely acknowledged that this number reflects only a fraction of the racist incidents Asian-Americans have had to face.

Severe anti-China rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic by ex-President Donald J. Trump, combined with a much longer bipartisan legacy of competition and conflict with China, has contributed to the ramping up of anti-Asian attacks.

But this larger context, too, rests on a much longer history in which anti-Asian racism has been constantly available as a way to scapegoat, demonize, and marginalize Asians as and when it suited the interests of U.S. elites.

Far from being “un-American” — as the well-meaning but incorrect phrase goes — anti-Asian hate has repeatedly served the function of marking us as “un-American” in order to define U.S. citizenship along narrow racial, cultural, and religious lines.

This history has always been about gender, sexuality, and class as well as race — and violence against Asian/Asian American women has to be understood as occurring at these intersections.

The Atlanta killer’s reported statements, full of racist misogyny, reflect views of Asian women that have long been prevalent in our society. As the Circle for Asian American Literary Studies puts it in their statement, “Asian and Asian American women are routinely dehumanized, sexualized, and depicted as subservient objects of male violence in literature, popular culture, and public discourse.”

Selecting events from a long and complex history risks simplification.

And yet our collective knowledge of basic facts of historic violence against Asian/Asian American/APIDA persons is so little that it seems important to offer examples.

Please remember that within each of these examples, race, gender, sexuality, class and other aspects of social identity are intertwined, whether visible or not.

Consider:

  • the deportation of 33 refugees back to Vietnam earlier this week, an example of the ongoing rounding up of Asian working class and refugee communities as part of a broader attack on undocumented immigrants;
  • the regular demonization, incarceration, and deportation of Arab, South Asian, and other Muslims since 9/11;
  • the shooting of Indian American Srinivas Kuchibhotla by a vigilante (KS, 2017);
  • the massacre of Sikh worshippers at a gurdwara (WI, 2012);
  • the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi after 9/11 (AZ, 2001);
  • the murder of Filipino-American postal worker Joseph Ileto by a white supremacist (CA, 1999);
  • the mainly Southeast Asian schoolchildren killed in the Stockton school shooting (CA, 1989);
  • the murder of Indian American Navroze Mody by the Dotbusters gang (NJ, 1987);
  • the murder of Chinese American Vincent Chin by laid-off, anti-Japanese auto workers (MI, 1982);
  • the refugee crises caused by US wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Korea (1960s-1970s);
  • the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans (1942–45) as suspected enemies and traitors (1942–45);
  • the barring of South Asians from naturalization and citizenship (United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 1923);
  • the Pacific Coast race riots targeting South and East Asians (US and Canada, 1907);
  • the colonization of the Philippines in the name of liberating them from Spain (1898–1946);
  • the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) representing racist labor and citizenship laws;
  • the historic bans on Asian women’s migration to the US in order to restrict Asian families and settlement (e.g., The Page Act of 1875);
  • the lynching and shooting of dozens of Chinese immigrants (CA, 1871).

We challenge you to consider that a deep transformation in our society is necessary, to recognize that racism and white supremacy have many forms that are different but linked together. That there are those who benefit from divide-and-conquer policies that see Asians as “forever foreigners” and make it easy to scapegoat us — and pit us against Black and Latinx and other people of color. That in a world dominated by competition and war, racism is constantly rejuvenated to make some people feel “at home” while turning others into outsiders.

We challenge you to recognize the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality in the Atlanta crimes — defying simple assumptions about who Asians are and what anti-Asian racism looks like. We invite you to contest the idea that greater degrees of policing and surveillance will somehow protect Asian/Asian American/APIDA communities from violence.

We challenge you to recognize and engage in the hard work that needs to be done to transform this place, the United States of America, that was founded on genocide and land theft, slavery, and the exploitation of immigrant labor, and whose endless wars and global policies rest on the demonization of non-white peoples.

To our beloved community: these are devastating times, but you are not alone. We hold you in our hearts, always.

Peace and solidarity,

Dr. Pranav Jani

Director, Asian American Studies Program at Ohio State

jani.4@osu.edu

Associate Professor of English (Postcolonial & Critical Ethnic Studies), The Ohio State University. He/him. Opinions are my own. @redguju

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store