I stared incredulously at the photo of GuiYing Ma in the hospital after she was bashed over the head with a large rock. There must be something wrong with this picture, I thought, because the right quadrant of her head was missing, almost as if it had melted — like a Dali. Surreal. My disbelief converted to ire when I saw my mother and ajummas in Ma’s beautiful white hair and wise wrinkles.
I held my breath as I read of Christina Yuna Lee’s murder. Oh, no, not again, I thought. My consternation gave way to fury as I imagined my daughter walking to the train every morning, just a few short blocks from where Christina was killed.
In the wake of the recent torrent of anti-Asian violence, many of us Asian New Yorkers are afraid. But the emotion that rises in me is not crippling fear; it is un-fucking-adulterated rage.
Of course, I am not immune to the fear. Like all women, I live with the deeply internalized, incessant, insidious fear of assault. To paraphrase Margaret Atwood, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Further, I am a petite Asian woman careening through middle age. Like many of my city sisters, I have developed hyper-peripheral vision. I don’t listen to music loudly on my headphones, and at night, I avoid desolate streets and watch the shadows of those behind me elongate on the sidewalk when streetlamps grant me the rearview. That said, 27 years of Shaolin Kung Fu training has resulted in my reflexes, physical awareness and instincts being sharper and more potent. Furthermore, to many, I appear like a man and am less likely to be targeted.
Asian women make up almost 62% of the victims of reported attacks on our community, according to a study conducted by Stop AAPI Hate. It’s been just over a year since eight people were shot and killed in the Atlanta area — six of them Asian women. I still remember how my voice trembled with tears as I read out the names of the six Asian women who were murdered.
My anguish morphed into anger when it was suggested that the murders were not racially motivated. I and my sisters knew better.
As of last spring, 81% of Asian adults surveyed by Pew Research Center said they believed violence against us is on the rise. According to NBC News, anti-Asian crime was up 339% in 2021 from 2020. And we should assume the numbers are far greater, as many crimes go unreported.
Indubitably, the rise in violence against us was brought on by the abhorrent racist rhetoric around the coronavirus that granted gleeful permission for people to act out their racist fantasies against us. Remember the U.K. variant? Were people with British accents targeted? Hell fucking no!
But don’t get it twisted; Asians have faced racism and violence from the gate. As is the case with so many marginalized populations, the hatred is codified into law, thus undergirding the othering and fear of us — from the Page Act of 1875 to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Then there’s the MSG that enhances the hate recipe: the model minority myth, which gives everyone the impression that we’re all doing Gucci — taking their kids’ spots in the best schools, getting the top jobs, making the fattest checks.
But not so fast, cowboy. In New York, almost 1 in 4 of us live below the poverty line. The model minority myth is particularly draconian because it pits yellow against Black. You know; divide and conquer. When the crimes started accumulating, many of the images I saw were of folx of color, particularly Black people, perpetrating the attacks. As it turns out, Janelle Wong, professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, found that 75% of the crimes had been committed by white people. I believe that there have been perpetrators of color, and I do think that anti-Blackness, particularly in my community, accepted this narrative with a degree of facility. I can hold two truths simultaneously.
I have long thought that one of my responsibilities is to bridge communities. As the first Asian woman in hip-hop who managed Ol’ Dirty Bastard (RIP), RZA, and GZA of Wu-Tang Clan, then introduced them to a real-live Shaolin monk who would become my partner, I believe I have done a small part to create cross-cultural alliances. I was a fan of hip-hop when I moved to New York in ’87, but it was the community that embraced me.
Though I point to government policies as enforcers of anti-Asianness, I can’t ignore the deleterious impact that the media has had on our safety. The eroticization, exoticization and fetishization of Asian women in this country ― aided and abetted by the largely white male leer of Hollywood — has surely exacerbated the attacks. When the Atlanta massage parlor murders occurred last March, there was a question as to whether or not they were racially motivated. I don’t believe that every assault against a marginalized person is a hate crime, but this was crystal fucking clear to me.
In America, Asian women are sexually reduced to the extremes of two stereotypes: the submissive geisha or the dominating dragon lady. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever if we are one or the other or both. My issue is that we are not allowed to be self-determining and self-defining. Many Asian women have been courted with such dulcet phrases as “Me love you long time” and “Is your pussy sideways?” I don’t even know what the fuck that means. Aren’t all pussies sideways?! And if one more white boy tells me he had an insert-Asian nationality-here girlfriend, that he speaks insert-Asian-language-here, or that he studied insert-Asian-martial-art-here, I will summon all the Han of my Korean ancestors and asphyxiate him with red hot dukbokki.
When I was writing my memoir, “The Baddest Bitch In The Room,” my very smart brother Heesok Chang said, “Sophia, what you’re doing with your book is simply asking the world to imagine that you exist.” And here is my exhortation to America: Open up your myopic, microscopic vision of us and let us all in, and grant us the grace of being whatever the fuck we want — even angry.