Last month, a terrorist in Atlanta killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. Throughout the past year, anti-Asian violence has seen a sharp rise, stoked by racist rhetoric around the coronavirus espoused by the previous American president and many still in office. We want to first voice our unequivocal condemnation of these hate crimes—naming them as such—and express our support for those affected by the recent uptick in anti-Asian sentiment. The murders in Atlanta and the recent attacks on Asian communities are only the most overt symptoms of more widespread conditions of white supremacy and misogyny, which we also need to name and condemn.
The othering and exoticizing of nonwhite peoples and cultures has a long history, some of which is well studied in our field (see: “Rembrandt’s Orient,” to pick a timely example). Such othering persists today in the racist rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus, in government policies that target non-European sounding names, and in more insidious and unrelenting ways through everyday interactions. The phrase “Go back to your country” shouted from car windows is an obvious feature of this othering, but so is the myth of the model minority—which is itself grounded in anti-Blackness—and the oversexualisation of Asian women in film and media. Implicit in such exclusionary actions is the notion that nonwhite people can never truly be integrated, which manifests in still more insidious ways within academia and our field. This will not be news to our Asian and nonwhite members, most of whom have been asked by colleagues: “Where are you [really] from,” or “Why don’t you work on Asian [or other non-European] topics?” While such questions and comments can be asked without ill will, they can at the same time be heard as “Why aren’t you white,” “Why don’t you study your own culture,” or “Why are you here where you don’t belong?” It is important to state here that intention does not equal impact, so we must all be vigilant about the ways our words can have unintended consequences and subtexts.
Lastly, these issues are complicated. Racism, sexism, classism, and ableism are all entangled, and people are impacted differently by proximity to or distance from power. Going forward, let us seek out our own biases and blindspots, assess our relationships to power and privilege, and call out inequity whenever we see it. Solidarity with AAPI communities.
– HNA’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility committee (IDEA)