August 02, 2021

Asian American Hate: Exploring the Intersection of Race and Gender

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

More than a year ago in my post, "Fear, Race, and the Yellow Peril," I explored many of the historical aspects of anti-Asian hate. Racialization of COVID-19 served as a catalyst for the increase of violence that has manifested in mass shootings, violent attacks, shunning, civil rights violations, verbal, and online attacks.

Equally disturbing are that most of the attacks have been directed toward women. This brings to mind dangerous stereotypes noted in the article “From Exotic to Invisible: Asian American Womens' Experiences of Discrimination,” where authors Shruti Mukkamala and Karen Suyemoto explore the consequences of the many stereotypes associated with Asian women. The authors note that Asian women are seen as docile and subservient, overly sensual or erotic ("The Geisha"), the manipulative and untrustworthy "Dragon Lady," or the hardworking, conscientious worker bee.

Essentially, the authors state that Asian women are thought of as faceless, quiet and invisible, or as sexual objects, representatives of the myth of the "Model Minority" and the "Forever Foreigner." These stereotypes are derogatory and also undermine how seriously Asian American women are taken in the public, private and legal sectors.

This has made me think about both limitation of how we see race and the need to be more inclusive of gender in racial model construction. In terms of race, it highlights many of limitations of the White–Black racial dichotomy that many scholars have critiqued. Social and legal practices of hypodescent (the one drop rule) created rigid racial and ethnic boundaries that made it impossible to challenge the social order. Africans were used to create the idea of the “other,” and essentially became the foundation for the creation of whiteness. But the racial realities that constructed race in the United States often neglect the circumstances of other racial minorities. It ended up with a half-measure understanding that fell short when examining the experiences and specific groups.

This magnifies the ways in which intersectionality is important. General ideas of race are often associated with masculinity, and thus is there is exclusion of women. This ignores the experiences and issues of women and gender minorities and mostly neglects their experiences all together on issues the primarily affect them (sexual violence, childcare, equal pay, etc.).  

Why is this important? In the context of anti-Asian hate, it suggests that to understand it, we have to look at the social historical roots of Asian Americans, gain a better understanding of Pan Asian community, the life outcomes in this country for different ethnicities, the role gender and stereotypes play in perpetuation of their oppression, and look at gender as a serious factor in both understanding race and in the violence.

We also must look the role national values play. Nativism and xenophobia draws upon COVID-19 to justify hate and violence. This has been seen historically. In  my previous blog, I noted that Erika Lee, historian and author of America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States discussed that during the outbreak of the bubonic plague in San Francisco in 1900, Chinatown was blocked off and its residents were barred from leaving after the first case was traced to a Chinese immigrant living there. An outbreak of the plague similarly led to the quarantine of Chinatown in Honolulu. In an interview with NBC news, Merlin Chowkwanyun also stated Chinese, Japanese and Mexicans were scapegoated for tuberculosis and smallpox outbreaks.

I think looking at horror is an excellent way to examine racial hate. Recently, there have been quite a few successful shows that explore racial terror and violence as subjects using horror. Some of the most widely known Afro horror selections stories are found in movies like Get Out, and Us, shows like Love Craft Country and Them. They use horror to explore the intersections of race, gender, class, time, space, law, geography, and relationships.

Thai writer Pornsak Pichetshote’s comic Infidel is a horror story set in the 21st century. The comic follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia. Maybe looking to horror literature is the best way to show the experience. Maybe it can scare the compassion into people as it weaves a fictional story of monsters that is not nearly as scary as the one in the real world.

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