On March 16, a white man traveled to three Atlanta area spas and took the lives of Soon C. Park, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong A. Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiajoie Tan and Daoyou Feng. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver wasted no time in jumping into this story — starting with how Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said the aforementioned white man who killed these eight people — six of them were of Asian descent — was struggling with a sex addiction and was at the end of his rope. Apparently, all of this was the result of a “bad day”, basically sympathizing and humanizing a white man who went on a shooting spree.
“Absolutely, f*cking not,” said Oliver in reaction to footage of Baker’s press conference. “You get that this is a press conference about mass murder, right? You don’t get to minimize what happened like that.”
Oliver added that Baker said the white man’s attack wasn’t racially motivated and as details continue to be released about the mass shooting, authorities are still unwilling to call this a hate crime.
“I will say, a white man driving across counties to two different towns, going to three Asian-owned businesses, shooting and killing six Asian women, in a city that’s only about 4% Asian sure as sh*t seems a lot more like a hate crime than a ‘bad f*cking day’,” Oliver said bluntly.
As the host pointed out, this is just the latest development in a disturbing pattern of hate-related incidents against Asians and Asian Americans. In a recent study from Stop AAPI, data shows that were nearly 3,800 reports of these hate-related incidents reported last year.
President Joe Biden did speak to the violence against Asians and Asian Americans saying, “Vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who’ve been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated… It’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it must stop.”
“Yeah, it must,” agreed Oliver. “And I am really glad he condemned hate crimes against Asian Americans there, but to say that they are ‘un-American’? I’d love to visit the nation that exists in Joe Biden’s head, because it’s a place where racism is ‘not who we are’ and racial attacks against Asians are somehow ‘un-American’, despite the fact — and far be it from me to explain this to someone who seems like he’s lived through most of American history — Anti-Asian racism has long been a fact of American life.”
This is where Oliver started to bring out receipt after receipt of moments in America’s anti-Asian racism history that continue to be swept under the rug. There was the horrible treatment of Chinese railroad workers in the 1800s as well as the Chinese Exclusion Act. Let’s not forget the Watsonville Riots in 1930 in which a white mob rampaged through a Filipino community and then there was the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
On top of all that, Asians are often subject to racial scapegoating. For instance, Vincent Chin was murdered by two white autoworkers in Detroit in 1982. Witnesses said the two white autoworkers mistook Chin, who is a Chinese American for being Japanese. They blamed him for taking their jobs and beat him to death. Oliver stated, “And by the way, even though they’d reportedly used racial slurs during the attack, the men still tried to claim they were not motivated by race. So not only are hate crimes against Asian Americans very much American, so is denying that they’re racist.”
Oliver said, “And our long, ugly history of Anti-Asian racism — and the fact it often peaks during times of crisis — is the very reason why, just last year, many were loudly warning that Trump calling Covid names like ‘the China virus’ was likely to lead to a rise in violence against people of Asian descent, an argument at that at the time, not everyone seemed to find convincing.”
Many were trying to bring the surge of violence against Asians and Asian Americans to the spotlight last year when the pandemic first started as a result of Trump using racist terms to describe the virus. I even wrote a story about the violence against Asians in March 2020 and although it garnered some attention, it, like every other warning sign didn’t make a big enough dent in the zeitgeist.
In a clip from Meghan McCain said that she didn’t care what people called the coronavirus because it did originate in Wuhan. Oliver jabbed, “Take the word from a wealthy white woman who’s dressed like she’s about to lay off 47 people over Zoom.”
Earlier this week McCain posted a “Stop Asian Hate” graphic on her Twitter page and Oliver didn’t really have a problem with the fact that she threw that up after the fact, but he did add a caveat: “There has to be an understanding that saying, ‘I don’t have a problem with calling it the China virus’ is very much giving space for that hate to grow.” I seriously doubt McCain understands that.
Oliver then went on to talk about the concept of the “model minority” and how it impacts the Asian community. “The minimization of racist rhetoric plays into the harmful stereotype of Asian Americans as a ‘model minority’ pitting them against other minority groups and pressuring them to swallow their experiences without making a stink, because that’s how you earn white acceptance,” he explained. “That is something that takes its toll.”
A clip of NBA basketball player Jeremy Lin talking to Anderson Cooper about how he was called “coronavirus” on the court. Lin explained why microaggressions like people asking “Where are you really from?” and calling it the China virus adds fuel to the “model minority” fire. These microaggressions build up and turn into acts of violence.
“Comments like ‘Where are you really from?’ are constant reminders of how Asian Americans throughout history have been regarded as outsiders — as people who don’t belong,” said Oliver.
The comfort people have with diminishing and othering Asians is pervasive. Case in point: remember Sheriff Jay “Bad Day” Baker? Before the Atlanta mass shooting, Baker took to social media to promote T-shirts that said “Covid 19, imported virus from Chy-na”.
Oliver then opened another layer to anti-Asian racism: “The fact the killer chose these particular women working low wage jobs as targets for his ‘sex addiction’ speaks to how Asian American women, in particular, have to deal with hypersexualization and how Asian workers to the extent that they are seen at all are seen more for the labor that they provide rather than the full three-dimensional humans that they are.”
There’s a lot to be confronted and many Asians and Asian Americans have been saying all of this for years and decades. In a clip from CBS This Morning Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, she reiterates how the shooting in Atlanta was a racist incident because the way Asian American women experience racism in America
“This isn’t just a conversation about this week,” said Oliver. “It’s a conversation about the centuries leading up to it.”
Some have responded by proposing various solutions such as increased police presence — but we all know that won’t work because of their reputation as of late. Once again, just take a look at Captain Jay “End of His Rope” Baker. That’s not somebody I want to have protecting me.
Oliver went on to say, “Asian American and Asian immigrant communities have been feeling extremely vulnerable for a long time and especially so right now. And for a group whose suffering has historically felt invisible to the media and the country at large, it’s important that we acknowledge that pain right now.”
For those who want to help, there are many organizations that you could look into such as Stop AAPI Hate, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, AAPI Women Lead, Send Chinatown Love, and National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. However, it goes beyond all of this and is about dismantling anti-Asian prejudice and fighting to release the chokehold white supremacy has on this country.
“Because as we’ve seen since its foundation, and continued to see this week, people will bend over backward to call racism anything other than what it is,” Oliver said. “And that is unfortunately very f*cking American.”