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Ethnicity is not a virus. Hate is

We need to call the Atlanta shootings what they were — an act of racist and sexist hate.

SHARE Ethnicity is not a virus. Hate is

People view a make-shift memorial Friday, March 19, 2021, in Atlanta, in the aftermath of shootings. Eight people killed Tuesday in shootings at three metro Atlanta massage businesses. Police have charged 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long with the slayings.

Candice Choi, Associated Press

Oh, for crying out loud. Seven women and one man are dead, and six of the women are Asian — but we “don’t know” if it’s racism or sexism, or just someone “having a bad day.” Can we please just call it like it is? The Atlanta gunman (who doesn’t need any more attention) specifically targeted Asian women. That’s racist and that’s sexist.

Have you ever had a bad day? Like really bad? Yeah. Me too. And yet, we didn’t go buy a gun and shoot a bunch of people, now did we?

The police officer, Capt. Jay Baker, who is the official spokesman for the Cherokee County sheriff’s office is the one who made the comments that the killer was “fed up” and had a bad day. Turns out he had social media posts promoting shirts that read “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.” I mean, seriously. The racism (and sexism) behind this heinous act just oozes out of every news story. 

I don’t know that we need a bunch of stats to tell us that racism is on the rise or that violence against women is on the rise, but here are some telling ones anyway. In the largest study ever conducted on women and violence, a newly released report from the World Health Organization found that 1 in 3 women, ages 15 and up, have experienced at least one episode of physical or sexual violence. That number is shocking enough, but the data gathering for that study ended in 2018, meaning it did not account for the rise in cases during the pandemic. 

In February, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice released a meta-analysis of 18 studies that compared domestic violence rates before and after stay-at-home restrictions were put in place and found an increase of 8.1%. Alex Piquero, chair of the University of Miami Department of Sociology and lead author of the analysis, said, “In my mind, I think that 8% is a floor and not a ceiling. I think the problem is actually worse than we actually know right now.” No matter what metric they looked at, there was overwhelming evidence of a rise in domestic violence. “It was a very striking result,” he said

It’s not just violence against women. It’s specific targeting of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) as well. It was exactly 79 years ago, on March 18, 1942, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9102, creating the War Relocation Authority, which was charged with overseeing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Utahns lined up to pitch the federal government for a contract to build a camp, which they did near Delta. Those were dark days in our history and yet here we are again, going down the same ugly path.

Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by almost 150% in 2020. The analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, this month examined hate crimes in 16 of America’s largest cities. It showed that while the overall rate of hate crimes decreased by 7%, anti-Asian hate crimes skyrocketed. Even so, we know that hate crime data is unreliable, underreported and hard to prosecute

A new report from Stop AAPI Hate revealed almost 3,800 reported incidences of anti-Asian racist incidents and they are heavily skewed toward women by a 2-to-1 margin. Incidents were reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Pew Research Center found 1 in 3 Asian Americans (31%) have reported experiencing racial slurs or racist jokes since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Here are a few examples: Xiao Zhen Xie, age 75, was on a sidewalk in San Francisco waiting for a traffic light to change when a man came up and punched her in the eye. Mike Nguyen received death threats and had his ramen restaurant vandalized after he said his restaurant would continue to require masks. “Kung Flu” and “Hope U Die” were only part of what was spray-painted on his windows. Yuanyuan Zhu was spit on by a stranger who also yelled at a city bus to run her over. A man spat on a child in Queens last week and called the mother a “Chinese virus.” There are so many more examples and most of them will never make the news. 

For fellow opinion writer Savannah Hopkinson, it’s personal. She shared some of her story and the “casual racism” she has faced with Opinion editor Boyd Matheson on his “Inside Sources” podcast. “Dehumanizing others does not increase our own humanity,” she said, and “putting others down doesn’t lift us up.” 

Sara Dansie Jones, the co-founder of Utah’s Women Tech Council and now the president of InclusionPro, shared thoughts on actions we can take to support the AAPI community, actions that apply to anyone who wants to be an ally to any marginalized group. In a nutshell, she advises us to stay educated, support Asian visibility, support Asians in leadership, humanize and accept Asians, and support Asian businesses. 

I’ve written before that the pandemic uncovered some ugly faultlines of racism and sexism. I realize there is a legal process that the Atlanta shooter will go through and that he may very well claim not to be racist or sexist, but “just” a sex addict who had a bad day (so blame the victims, got it). I, however, have no qualms about calling out the racist, sexist attitudes that are spreading like a virus in this country. 

I’ll echo Savannah here. Ethnicity is not a virus. Hate is.

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy, a columnist for the Deseret News, the mother of 3 Asian children (all now adults) and is out of patience with racism. And sexism. And all manner “othering.”