Racism and Sexual Harm: Seeds of White Supremacy and Anti-Asian Violence

an abstract image with a hand-drawn eye

In October 2015, I was only one month a blushing bride. I was still aglow. Dating, romantic partnership, and real love had eluded me most of my life until I met my husband. There is a significant back story, one that serves as an incredibly important backdrop to this larger narrative that I am about to offer. But, to put it simply is this: I am a Chinese, Irish, and German woman who has known only a white world. I attended white churches and schools where I was one of few BIPOC folks. My friends were always white and therefore my crushes and romantic interests were always white. I lived a life of confusion about who I was and what defined beauty and goodness, especially when the magazines and books I read, the music I listened to, the people I adored, even the Jesus I was offered were white and taught me that this is what is preferred, best, holy, and lovely.

One month after my wedding, I was invited to potentially participate in a film about “sexual brokenness” where I would offer my expertise in the realm of mental health and sexual harm. I had several email exchanges with the filmmaker and was invited to view the trailer as a means to familiarize myself with the intent of the film and begin to imagine how my voice might join a larger chorus of trusted names within the field.

The trailer left me highly disturbed, depicting a white, attractive Adam character and his “fall” or turn from the Father character. It is the story of the Prodigal and First Man interwoven and then made into a tale depicted in the luscious and gorgeous scenery of Hawaii. As the trailer moves through the narrative of connection and relationship between Father and Son followed by the Son’s departure, you see him become intrigued, curious, and excited by the “Siren” character who is a darker skinned Asian woman. She leads him into the green jungle and he becomes entangled in lust and moves toward darkness.

This scene for me is so familiar it feels etched into my being. The white man drawn and allured by the exotic Asian woman. The white man imagining that he can dominate the vulnerable and submissive. The white man who fetishizes the “lotus blossom” or the “dragon lady” (NYT, March 19).

So, I am not surprised by Tuesday night’s massacre. I am enraged. I am terrified. I am horrified. But, I am not surprised.

After I viewed the trailer, I sent written correspondence sharing my dis-ease, my concerns for what was being depicted. I voiced my belief of them having good hearts and wanting good out of what they were creating. They wanted men’s freedom from sexual shame. But, I also stated that as an Asian woman and a therapist working with survivors of sexual abuse, I was concerned about what it means to exacerbate an already highly problematic stereotype about Asian women.

I never received a response.

The silence is also familiar. The silence that, to me, communicated you’re crazy! That’s not what is happening here.

The now-former Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Captain Jay Baker, whose precinct is in charge of investigating the gunman’s attack on the six Asian women at the massage parlors in Atlanta, stated the gunman was having “a really bad day.” Even my trusted source, the New York Times, the day after the shooting, was communicating that it was unknown whether this was a racially motivated hate crime. This is another kind of silence. Rationalization. Excuse.

But, as my friend, Linda Royster, teaches, “Racism and sexual harm are two sides of the same coin.” That coin is White Supremacy. So, whether the gunman had intentionally set out to kill Asians as a form of hate, or he was soaked in sexual shame and killed out of the need to eliminate his temptation, both are birthed from that seed of White Supremacy. It is White Supremacy that feeds the fetishization of women of color. Let’s be clear: a massage parlor staffed predominantly, if not exclusively, by Asian women was sought and desired with particularity. The sex industry, sex trade, and sex trafficking world is disproportionately represented by women and girls of color whose main purchasers/purveyors are white men.

And here is what I’m asking you, reader, to consider. I’m not fearful of you taking a gun and going on a murder spree against people who look like me. I’m not fearful of you holding up signs with racist slurs or wearing t-shirts denouncing the “Kung Flu”. But, these biases and stereotypes run deep and are embedded in all of us. It was not even three years ago that I would offer up impressions of mockery of my grandmother’s Cantonese accent as a way to provoke laughter from my white friends. This bias is in me. It’s in my body. It’s in your body. So you and I may not commit acts of physical violence, but we commit acts of violence in our mindsets and our practices and in our ideas. Do you know them? Are you actively rooting them out?

You might be asking yourself how? How does one root out violence entrenched in mindsets, practices, and ideas? Action is good and necessary. We must also engage in deep self-reflection and personal work. Will you begin by asking, who are you drawn to and why? Who are you repelled by and why? We can choose to raise our voices, to march, to donate, to read, and to listen to podcasts. But if we are not rooting this out in ourselves, then it won’t change. Anti-Asian violence is in the proliferation of stereotypes of Asian men as meek, quiet, impotent, and asexual. Anti-Asian violence is in believing that my allure comes from being “exotic” and agreeable. Anti-Asian violence is in holding the standard of the “model minority” and speaking to us as being good at math, hard workers, and bad drivers. You may shudder at me calling this violence. But, any time an image-bearer, a child of God, is degraded, exploited, limited, or made to be small – this is an act of violence.

My invitation is this: will you root out the violence? Will you root out the defamation, the degradation, and the dehumanizing ideas? I would suggest that this is Kingdom work, the work suggested in Micah 6:8—“Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”