Adrienne D. Davis, March 19, 2021

I stand in solidarity with the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community. 

To be a person of color in the United States is to be a part of specific, yet collective histories of racial exclusion, regulation, trauma, and violence, perpetrated both by the state and by individuals under color of law.   These devastating histories would be tragic enough were they to remain in the past.  But part of the tragedy of our nation is that they do not lie only in our past—they continue in our present.  Our tragedy is that what should be history instead continues to transform and transmute, monstrously, into reiterative states of hatred and violence.

Violence against and hatred of Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (APIDA) stems from a toxic, unique brew of racial supremacy, xenophobia, and for some communities, histories of colonialism.  We frequently find in anti-Asian hate a specific element of racial hatred—scapegoating.  As my colleague Robert Chang explains, the “model minority myth” fuels resentment against APIDA communities and individuals, often fomenting violence.  The model minority myth functions as a double-edged sword, and both edges are destructive and often lethal.  One blade homogenizes and marginalizes what are highly diverse sets of communities into a single racialized category, erasing the complexity of APIDA cultures, experiences, resources.  The other blade despises Asian Americans for their success and primes white anxiety about an uncertain racial future.  The model minority myth empowers frustrated Americans to racialize economic and political anxiety and displace it onto APIDA communities and bodies as racial resentment and hatred. 

This anti-Asian hatred includes the casual racism frequently found on social media accounts.  It includes refusals to engage with accents deemed “un-American,” even as the love affair with British, French, and Italian accents continues.  It includes shifting standards of academic success, continually recalibrated to equate excellence with upper-class white achievement.  And it includes the entire spectrum of violence, from harassment to brutal assaults, to murder, including mass murder.  With stomach-turning familiarity, the COVID-19 pandemic became a case study in anti-APIDA scapegoating.  Led and legitimized by our political leaders, a region of the world was quickly cast into a racialized category.  Taken up intentionally by overt white supremacists and by casual racists over dinner and chit chat, the racial scapegoating of the “Chinese virus” soon spawned a year-long politics of division, hate, and violence. 

Anti-Asian blame and scapegoating also has a volatile gendered dimension. This week, a white man murdered six APIDA women because he blamed them for his “sexual addiction.”  In response, an investigating law official explained that the perpetrator was having “a bad day.”  APIDA women suffer immensely under intersectional marginalized identities of race and gender.  All too often we find APIDA women cast as simultaneously highly desirable and untrustworthy—for those who are old enough think The World of Suzie Wong and stereotypes of “the geisha.”  For younger people, think of the image of the Asian “prostitute,” who is always available—for a price.  This archetype reinforces ugly and dangerous stereotypes of APIDA women as people who must be aggressively, even violently, pursued.  It casts them as people who can always be bought and sexually possessed—for a price.  Legacies of racism and colonialism especially reinforce white men’s entitlement to APIDA women’s bodies, and dangerously discount APIDA women’s resistance as part of seductive practice, or its opposite, racial rebellion, both of which can invite more, and lethal, violence.  This week, it cast six women as the literal scapegoats for one man’s sexual pathologies.

APIDA men, and non-binary members of the APIDA community, too, are victims of this racialized gender supremacy.  They can become targets of violent, toxic masculinity, aimed at APIDA men who identify as cis-gender and trans*, as straight and non-straight.  This can help explains the inexplicable—as when police officers found a young APIDA boy who had escaped from serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and chose to return the boy to Dahmer, viewing his claims of custody as credible and resonant.

Yet again, we find ourselves calling for racial justice and to put an end to racialized violence.  This time, it is the APIDA community, which is all too often invisible in discussions of racial oppression, marginalization, and violence.  This is yet another cut of the model minority myth’s blade—part of combatting anti-Asian hate is rendering Asians in America as visible as victims of racism, racial hatred, and violence. And xenophobia and often colonialism.  We must ensure that our fight for racial justice, and specifically our fight against racial violence, includes all people of color and renders visible our unique histories, experiences, and needs. 

I stand in solidarity with the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community. 

Adrienne D. Davis
Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs & Diversity
William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law|Professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership
Co-Director, Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity