On March 16, 2021, a young white American man named Robert Aaron Long went on a shooting spree targeting Asian spas in Atlanta, Georgia. He killed eight people, including six Asian women. This piece was written and read out for Af3irm’s Speak-out Against Femicide on March 23, 2021.
I understand the Atlanta massacre as an instance of femicide, the killing of females by males because they are female, as defined by the late South African-born feminist activist, Dr. Diana Russell. Femicide is an extreme form of the global and ancient institution of male violence against women, which includes domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, prostitution, and pornography. The institution of male violence against women rests upon misogyny, or woman hating, and sex inequality as its ideology and organizing principle. The logic of any hierarchy, or inequality, necessitates that the superior exert power and control over the inferior, otherwise there would be no hierarchy. Violence can take many different forms like physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, economic violence, political violence, and so on, but what it boils down to is that the perpetrator exerts power and control over the victim in some way. Murder is the ultimate form of violence, the ultimate form of power and control. The murderer acts out the ideology that one is so superior to the other that one is entitled to decide whether the other lives or dies, when, where, and in what manner.
Specifically, I understand the Atlanta massacre as an instance of white men’s racist femicide of immigrant proletariat women, whose only possessions of significant economic value are their bodily being and labor, the demand for, perception of, and conditions surrounding which are shaped by rich white male power.
How has rich white male power shaped society, and what is the place reserved for immigrant proletariat women of color in it? Today I am talking about Amerikkka, but I am also talking about every other empire like it, and every other state that wishes to be like it. Amerikkka’s rich white male rulers ordered their troops to wreak havoc in other lands in their quest for dominance in global geopolitics and deprived entire nations of their wealth, peace, and dignity. Generations of people from such nations have needed to leave their home, some because they were no longer safe there, some because they were taken against their will, and others because they dreamt of a better future for themselves and their children. Rich white male rulers in Amerikkka, ever since they massacred the thousands of Indigenous Peoples and stole their land, have spent centuries greedily and obsessively guarding this land and all the wealth that flows from it for themselves, with their laws, their weapons, and every single aspect of the social structure they built and controlled. This same group of rich white males enslaved millions of human beings for their profit, forming a legacy and culture of exploiting, raping, and murdering people who do not look like them.
Maybe it’s because this country was built on so much devaluation, destruction, and dehumanization of so many people, it’s ridiculous, really, but it is the largest, richest, most powerful empire in the world and it cannot even value its population enough to provide them with basic necessities for survival like healthcare, education, housing, and food. Then there is the sexual thing-ification of women, including the racist sexual dehumanization of women of color in pornography, which literally means graphic representation of sexually enslaved women. A lot of pornography is scenes from the sex trade through a camera lens.
Where do we think white men’s racist misogyny, sexual objectification, and fetishization of Asian women even come from? Do we really believe that white male babies are born with such hatred of us? Just type in Asian women in any Internet pornography website. Korean, Filipina, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, you name it, they have it. Asian women rope-bound, hanging from a hook, hanging from a tree, Asian women being tortured, strangled, weeping, screaming in pain. When survivors rose up and told the truth about the pornography made of them, when they declared that the pornography violated their civil rights as equal human beings, rich white male liberals in Amerikkka mobilized to call it free speech, so they could continue to derive pleasure from the sexual dehumanization of women, so they could continue to share the profits of the global sex trade.
Rich white males created and maintain the economic, political, and cultural conditions for the intersectional powerlessness and lack of freedom of all women including Asian immigrant women. The gross economic inequality in this country ensures that there will always be a supply of impoverished, disenfranchised, and isolated Asian immigrant women who are deprived of any other viable option except enduring exploitation of and violence against them to survive. Note how no immigrant proletariat woman of color in the history of the world has had any choice but to try to survive in these freedom-depriving, unequal, and exploitative conditions.
The six Asian immigrant women who were murdered by Robert Aaron Long represent some of the most oppressed, most disenfranchised, most unequal, and most un-free in Amerikkka. Now, the dead cannot tell us what the minutes, the hours, the days, the weeks, the years leading up to their deaths were like. But it is not unreasonable for us to imagine that theirs must not have been easy, carefree, sheltered lives free from violence, even before the white man’s bullets found them.
Without white male supremacy’s obsession with systematically depriving, diminishing, and dehumanizing Asian women, without its command and demand for Asian women to exist as their sexual objects, without its murderous violence against them, where would the six women be, what would they be doing now? Maybe they would be daydreaming of one day becoming a homeowner, maybe they would be saving up for a visit back home to Korea, maybe they would be working towards a GED to finally achieve a childhood dream, maybe they would be preparing a nice meal for a grandchild.
Sisters, I think about the task before us. We know there is a monster coming after us, hurting and destroying our own, it thirsts for our blood, it will not stop until it devours our last woman standing. This monster has not just one but many heads, one of them being race inequality, another being sex inequality, class inequality, and so on. Trying to cut off just one head, we will not succeed in vanquishing the monster, because its heads are so entwined and they sustain and revive one another. It is truly a fiendish enemy, because it is at once here and there, everywhere, one can never be safe from it anywhere in the entire world, and it does not lay dormant or die a natural death, it’s been around for so long, it feels like it’s been here since the big bang. But you know what Gerda Lerner said, patriarchy has a beginning, and it will have an end. Do we believe her? Whether we do or not, we need to will ourselves to give birth to that end. We need to be the organized resistance to every kind of oppression that tramples any woman, even just one.
But enough of all this talking and political grandstanding from me now. We must get to work. I am speaking to you, my transnational feminist sisters across the globe. A good place to start is with the immigrant working women of color, wherever you are. Find them, huddle together with them, keep each other safe, do whatever you need to do to lift this group up, not just a few lucky, exceptional, and prominent individuals from this group, but the entire group, no woman gets left behind. Get this group of women whatever they need from you, from your community, from your state, and from the world outside your state, whatever that would free them and you from having to submit to some man’s dehumanizing use of us, from being in harm’s way, from hatred, from poverty, from exploitation, from male violence, from state violence, from war, from anything unnatural that would rob us of our “one wild and precious life.”*
* from Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day