“I Fear We Will Never Be Allowed To Mourn”: Asian-Australians React To The Attacks On Asians In Georgia

Four Asian-Australian women on the devastating killing of Asian women in the United States’ city of Atlanta.

Last week, eight people, most of whom were Asian-American women, were killed by a 21-year-old man in Atlanta, Georgia. The US state, known for being the birthplace to the late Martin Luther King Jr., has been rocked by the shootings, with many seeing it as the inevitable outcome of the racist, anti-Asian sentiment invoked by former US President Donald Trump.

They may be on the other side of the world, but for many Asian-Australians, particularly women and non-binary people, the wilful killing of these women feels profoundly personal. Not only are Asian-Australian women lumbered with a uniquely noxious combination of racism and sexism, they also experience the added Australian insult of having their experience trivialised and dismissed.

The violence of the Atlanta shootings brought up a multitude of emotions in Asian-Australians; from fear to frustration to anger. So often these feelings lie dormant, suspended in the shadows. Until they don't.

Here, four Asian-Australian women speak to the thoughts, frustrations and pain that the attacks in the US brought up for them.

On Mourning

It is something so cruel to not be allowed to mourn. Before the news of the six Asian women killed in a targeted racist and misogynistic attack in Atlanta could even sink in, it generated a slew of discourse. There were people who had never spoken up about Asians before posting the hashtag #StopAsianHate. There were headlines trying to erase the killer's racist motivations, focusing instead on the women's sex work. There were pro-Chinese Communist Party tankies blaming leftist critiques of Chinese imperialism for the women's deaths.

I and others who discuss anti-Asian racism know the familiar feeling of this matter being dismissed when we bring up issues that our communities face. I've heard people say that Asians, especially East Asians, do not experience racism and should be considered "white". This is a fallacy, and every Asian who lives in the west knows it. Since the day I stepped into Australia I have known that my acceptance in this society is conditional, because my face and my name and the heritage I bear mark me out as 'other'. This is doubly the case for brown Asians. But until we can acknowledge the multifaceted experience of the Asian diaspora and the fullness and humanity of each one of us, until we can readily discuss Asians in the conversation about racism, I fear we never will be allowed to mourn.

Words by Jocelin Chan. Follow her on Twitter at @ptjchan.

A Reminder Of Our Pain 

These shootings have brought up a deluge of pain for many Asian-Australians, particularly Asian-Australian women. We are feeling this at visceral, physical and energetic levels – the pain that has been held by generations of women before us. When we saw these women murdered, we saw a part of ourselves being murdered and being reminded of our collective pain.

We re-experience the moments of being fetishised by non-Asian men. The moments where our experiences of discrimination were minimised. The times when we were told that we are the 'model minority' – heads down, do the work, keep quiet. Repeated experiences of colonisation – when we are told that we are not worthy. Of power and control in our personal spaces and the workplace. Of yet another experience of racism during COVID. Of oppression experienced by women in generations before us – 'comfort women', bound feet, concubines.

Again, it is taking the deaths of women for the world to just barely lift its head to take notice.

This act of terrorism has motivated me to further support and build the foundation for Asian-Australian women to live their own paths, to strengthen their own self-worth and to live in their truth and power. I am further driven to coach women to align their paths with their strengths, values and desires as well as holding spaces where the community can come together to connect and provide nourishment for one another.

Jean Sum is a life coach at Sum Of Jean where she provides coaching services for young Asian-Australian women. She invites readers to reach out to her for support. 

The Relentlessness Of Sexual Racism

I feel triggered by the Atlanta shootings. It's a confronting reminder that the oversexualisation of Asian women can have tragic consequences. My experience of racism in Australia has always been gendered, and I feel targeted everyday as an Asian woman leaving my front door. To many people, my citizenship, my job, my education nor my dignity exist; all I am is a race-gender match to their victim profile. I see the swell of speaking out in the media and rallying in the streets in the US but here all I hear the deafening silence. Only a week after tens of thousands of people came together in March 4 Justice, where are those voices now for the Asian sisters?

In Melbourne, when Korean women were being trafficked into the sex industry, I was crossing the street when an old white man asked if I was Korean, then he handed me a card and said to call him "if [I] want to make money". Another white man said "sex tonight" to my ear before walking away. Both happened in broad daylight, in the middle of Melbourne's CBD. And that's to say nothing of the endless other 'microaggressions' I experience on the day-to-day, like being mistaken for an old white man's girlfriend or ethnic fetishisation on the dating scene.

The hurt, the fear and the anger from these experiences shape the way I see Australia, and its treatment of people who look like me. For those Australians who choose to believe the Atlanta shootings were "not racially motivated": you are choosing to honour the words of a killer, despite a pattern of behaviour that speaks louder. This white man went to three different places killing six Asian women. One was even named 'Young's Asian massage parlour'. Could his intentions have been any more clear?

We also refuse to see the misogyny behind the attacks, as multiple media outlets peddle the narrative that the shooter killed multiple women to 'deal with his issues' around sex addiction. To this I say: dealing with sexual rejections and humiliations is difficult for me too. But never in my worst moments have I ever carried the kind of hate that reasoned murdering white men was the solution to my problems.

Anna Song lives in Melbourne. She writes a book review column called This Korean woman reads.

On Coming Undone

The Atlanta shootings hit a place in me that I thought I had gone buried. Like many Asian diaspora, I had convinced myself that I'd done the work, ridding myself of the internalised racism I had been taught. Then, a gunman shot down six women who looked like me. And in an instant, I was transported back to my childhood self. That little girl staring at the reflection of her dark eyes and even darker hair, wishing she was white.

For the first time in a long time, those thoughts returned. No matter what self-love mantras I chant to myself, no matter what cultural connections I rekindle, it doesn't change how the world views Asian women. I have no words of hope or reassurance. This past week has been a traumatising reality check.

Maggie Zhou is a Melbourne-based writer. Follow her on Instagram at @yemagz.

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