After he was arrested, Robert Aaron Long, accused of killing eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, told investigators that he was not motivated by race and claimed to have a “sex addiction,” according to police. But even that explanation has racist undertones, according to Asian American leaders and academics.
Long said spas like those involved in the attacks are “a temptation” he wanted to “eliminate,” Capt. Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office told reporters Wednesday. While Baker said Long’s motive is still under investigation, he echoed the alleged shooter’s claim that he was not targeting Asian Americans, fueling discourse about the fetishization of Asian women and criticism that police were disregarding the underlying prejudice of the attacks. Asian American leaders, including Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), pointed to the shooter’s specific focus on Asian workers.
“The shooter said it wasn’t racially motivated, but on the other hand, he’s going specifically to these spas where Asian women work precisely to serve the sexual fantasies of white males,” David Palumbo-Liu, a Stanford professor and author of “Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier,” said in an interview, “so to disentangle them is really to do a disservice to the fact that these things are so linked together.”
Palumbo-Liu said there is a long history, extending past the Vietnam War, of the fetishization of and murderous intent toward Asian women, citing the Broadway musical “Miss Saigon,” which critics have said romanticizes an imperialistic relationship and portrays Asian women as acquiescent and self-sacrificing.
More than 68 percent of documented reports of anti-Asian harassment and violence have been from women, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition documenting anti-Asian attacks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Vivien Tsou, national field director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said Asian women live in fear after they have been “reduced to a sexual fantasy, an ‘easy target,’ and a threat at the same time.”
“I’m sick to my stomach thinking about the ideations that led to the violence in Georgia — steeped in xenophobia, sexism, imperialism, and white supremacy,” she wrote in a statement.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu.