March 17, 2021
The Circle for Asian American Literary Studies (CAALS) is deeply concerned with the social context of literature and literary studies. As Co-Chairs of CAALS and as feminist scholars, we strive to lead according to principles of social justice and equity learned from generations of women-of-color scholars, writers, and artists.
Therefore, we write to strongly condemn the horrific attacks in Atlanta, Georgia that have left eight people dead, including six Asian/Asian American women. We express our sorrow and alarm, and we stand in solidarity with the victims’ families and communities. Each of the murdered women was a unique individual with hopes, dreams, and loves—and, most of all, a right to live in safety and peace. Yet structural factors, including intersecting racism and misogyny, rendered these women vulnerable and contributed to their violent deaths.
As scholars of race and ethnic studies, we know the recent surge in anti-Asian hate and violence echoes older patterns of oppression. We also know it affects Asian/Asian American women in distinct ways. Asian and Asian American women are routinely dehumanized, sexualized, and depicted as subservient objects of male violence in literature, popular culture, and public discourse. Violence, especially sexual violence, against Asian women is routinized both in real life and in the movies. Like most Americans, the suspect has no doubt consumed countless examples of racist, misogynistic tropes and stereotypes regarding Asian women, as well as portrayals of white, male entitlement to Asian women’s bodies. Moreover, law enforcement and our legal system have long criminalized women connected to sex work rather than protecting them against violence or exploitation. As scholars and critics of a biased social imaginary—the cultural realm of shared narratives, images, and discourses—we are unsurprised when men act aggressively towards Asian or Asian American women and blame the women for it.
Early suggestions by law enforcement officials that the suspect had “other motives” besides racial hatred show that they fail to understand intersectional oppression and are unequipped to address it. For this reason, and because of the anti-Black racism linked to police violence, increased law enforcement and criminal punishment should not be the response to the Atlanta incident.
We call upon allied individuals, organizations, and leaders to dismantle racism and misogyny and to condemn the biased narratives and images that make Asian and Asian American women especially vulnerable to violence. We call upon writers and scholars of literature to recognize how culture leads to violence and to actively work to change our culture. We do not and cannot stand alone in holding each other and white supremacy accountable.
Mai-Linh Hong and Aline Lo
Co-Chairs, Circle for Asian American Literary Studies (caals.org)
Joined by members of the CAALS Advisory Board:
Timothy K. August
Chris A. Eng
Caroline Kyungah Hong
Douglas S. Ishii
Joey S. Kim