TW: racism, sexism, death, violence, hate crimes
From the moment I graduated high school, I have been looking forward to studying abroad, immersing myself in the rich culture that another nation has to offer. I wanted to learn from them, get to know their history, befriend the locals, maybe convince them that Malaysian food is awesome too. Nowadays, I wake up not wanting to attend university overseas.
Because I’m terrified.
Call me naïve, but I genuinely thought we would’ve known better to leave the hate in 2020. Time and time again, however, the universe shows a cruel hand and sends a kryptonite hurling toward my hopes and beliefs. I am talking about the violence toward women and the hate crimes toward Asians that are growing rampant especially in the U.S. and the UK (I am not negating the occurrences of these cases in other countries, it’s just that in these two countries, there are significantly more cases being reported and shown on the news).
Let’s start with the former. With the rate at which she has taken over social media feeds and newspaper headlines, Sarah Everard’s name is no longer unfamiliar to the average person. Just like how George Floyd’s murder sparked a whole fight for black lives, Sarah (may she rest in peace) has restarted a long overdue worldwide debate on violence against women.
For those who do not know of Sarah’s story, here’s a quick summary: Sarah was walking a 50-minute journey home from a friend’s house. The next day, Sarah’s boyfriend filed a missing person’s report when he failed to contact her. A week later, Sarah’s remains were found in a woodland in Kent and Wayne Couzens, a police constable, was charged with Sarah’s kidnapping and murder.
Let’s break down the night of Sarah’s initial disappearance. She wore trainers, bright clothes, took a public route, and even called her boyfriend on the way home for 14 minutes. Sarah performed all the necessary precautions women are told to do and ended up contributing to the statistics of a nation. In fact, latest reports show that 97% of young women in the United Kingdom have been sexually harassed. Take a moment to digest that percentage.
What does this tell us? It tells us that everything we, as women, have been taught to do for our own safety doesn’t actually prevent crimes like these from happening. The only thing that stops violence toward women is men not committing violence toward women. It’s not rocket science.
Despite all the movements, the marches, and the uphill battles, violence against women has only worsened in recent years. Men refused to treat women’s allegations seriously during the rise of the #MeToo movement and allowed their narratives to be pulverized. What’s more, the pandemic has placed many families and couples in lockdown together—a stressful situation that has paved the way for increased domestic violence toward women and girls. I will not even mention the number of times a woman has found the courage to speak up, tell her story, report her perpetrator, only for the perpetrator to walk away unscathed.
Men can never comprehend the fear of women walking home alone. They will never understand the chill that creeps down our spine if we hear heavy footfalls behind us. They’ll never get the goosebumps that surface when we steal a glance over our shoulders every other minute. They don’t have to hold keys between their knuckles for self-defense. They don’t have to clutch a bag on a certain side so it doesn’t get snatched away in a potential attack. They don’t have to fake-call a friend when they get in a taxi. They don’t have to lock their cars the moment they get in. They don’t have to switch up their routes to avoid being followed. They don’t have to wander into a store or busy street on purpose. Men don’t have to do these things because they are the reason women do these things.
And I know the retaliation that comes next: “But NOT ALL MEN act that way.”
(First of all, let’s think about how similar #NotAllMen is to #AllLivesMatter). Yes, we know that. Women know that not all of the men who occupy planet Earth behave in such a despicable, disrespectful, and distasteful way; we know that the same way we know 1+1=2. However, because there is no detailed blueprint—there is no stamp on their foreheads—to point out which men will potentially harass us on the streets on Mondays through Sundays, we have to have our guards up around all men. Sarah’s life was taken away by someone we’ve been taught to trust since we were young. If someone whom society has designated to protect us can harm us so easily, how can we trust anyone?
We are not trying to generalize the behavior of men, we are simply trying to protect ourselves from being assaulted, harassed, attacked, stalked, accosted, raped, kidnapped, murdered (I hate that there are so many things that could happen to us), and perhaps there are even more vile crimes that have happened to women that I simply do not know of.
It is unfair that women are punished for the impulses and actions of men. We are not asking for much. All we want is to leave the house after the evening for a walk, all while having headphones in, blasting our playlists. To wear whatever we feel confident in on Mondays through Sundays without being catcalled by men who find it funny. To hail a taxi without having to instantly share the driver’s license plate, name, and location with our friends. Simply put, as it has always been since the dawn of history, we want to be able to do the things men do. We don’t want to live in fear. We never asked for it.
What Men Can Do To Help Women Feel Safer:
March 16. Atlanta, Georgia. Robert Aaron Long, twenty-one, white, walks into three Asian-owned massage parlors and took the lives of eight people—six of them Asian, two white, seven of them women.
Long has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault, but as of this moment, the authorities have insufficient evidence to prove racial motivation in the shootings. Initial news reports were also hesitant to label the incident as a racial hate crime. Regardless, the Atlanta spa shooting is one among many hate crimes that have put the Asian community under-fire, a heinous act that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
What added fuel to the fire was the comments of one Captain Jay Baker, spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office: “[Long] was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and [the shooting] is what he did.”
I’m sorry, are we allowing bad days to justify criminal acts now? Undoubtedly, the occurrence of COVID-19 has given people unsound reasons to direct hateful rhetoric toward the Asian community. There have been numerous headlines about xenophobic crimes and I am certain there are even more cases that go unreported:
- Women break Asian teenage girl’s arm in racist attack at London KFC
- East Asian student assaulted in ‘racist’ coronavirus attack in London
- Asian-American man beaten with own cane in ‘violent, random crime’
- Elderly Korean woman hit by white woman proclaiming “White Power” in LA
- 30-year-old Filipino Navy vet died after police kneeled on his neck
- 84-year-old man from Thailand slammed into ground, dies from brain hemorrhage
- 75-year-old Asian-American woman fights back against man who punched her without warning
- Two Chinese women hit by car and one dragged over 300ft before dying
For years, we have had to deal with the west’s fetishization of Asian cultures, of being treated as less-than because of our skin color; we have had to endure taunts and names, and blatantly racist portrayals in the media. We watched as the West proclaimed their love for kpop, anime, and Asian cuisine so proudly on the internet. We watched as the West participated in the fox-eye trend. We watched as they snapped a picture of their daily dose of bubble tea. If you love our culture that much, why can’t you love us too? And if that’s too much to ask for, then at the very least, don’t try to kill us.
The problem with hate crimes is that when the media misreports or fabricates it, it doesn’t get chastised enough and gives rise to other hate crimes. A new wave surges and death tolls compound. There is a reason why hate crimes targeted at Asians have been skyrocketing since the start of the pandemic. One hater sees another perform a hate crime and feels justified to do the same thing. There is a threshold for every spiteful person before they tip and do something irrevocable.
When we refuse to label hate crimes as they are, we are wrongfully mitigating the effects of anti-Asian violence. Online crucifixion doesn’t work anymore because the crime has already been committed. We can flood social media however strongly we want, but the disappointing truth is that little change will be made. I know society is capable of dousing fires—we’ve been doing that for the whole of human history—but we can’t keep putting out fires only to unearth dead bodies, we have to locate the root cause of those fires, remove the cause, and save lives.
How You Can Help The Asian Community:
Every time you witness a hate crime—be it toward women or Asians or other minorities—and choose to stay silent about it or try to concoct ways to sugarcoat it, you are perpetuating that hate. You are letting it slither through the streets where your family lives, where you meet your friends, where you might raise your kids.
This is how sexism and racism works; it is something that is taught. It is not an innate feeling like hunger or tiredness. Hating and loving are choices that we make every single day as human beings.
I cannot articulate my feelings better than Instagram user @bekah_sun: “As Asian women, we are rendered doubly vulnerable. We know that racism is sexualized and sexism is racialized. They work in tandem for us—as ethnic minorities, as women […]”
So, to the people who hold a most childish vendetta against women and Asians (and other minorities), I say this:
We are not disposables. You can’t get rid of an entire gender or race because they don’t check the boxes on your list. First of all, why do you even have a list? “White, cis-male, straight”. Everybody has things that they can’t change, including you. We can’t change the way we were born. I can’t wash away the color of my skin and neither do I want to. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud of my heritage. I am proud of where I come from. I am proud of my race. Just like you are. The difference is, I would never put down another group of people to elevate my own. There are things that we cannot change, and then there are things that we can change, like that hate inside of you. You have a choice to do good in this world, but it is a choice you would not make—
—because you’d rather live a whole life of hate than make somebody else feel safe.
*Two of the photographs in the featured image of this blog post are taken by Mel D. Cole, with two others from TIME and WION.