BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. By now, the whole world knows that on Tuesday, Robert Long had a day.
CHEROKEE COUNTY PD He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him. And this is what he did. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The "this" according to Cherokee County Sheriff's Office Captain Jay Baker, being allegedly gunning down eight people, including six Asian women, in three spas around Atlanta. In the early days after the murders, we knew the alleged shooter's middle name, his church, his self-declared reasons for the attack, but as I write this on Friday, we are only just learning all the names of the people he killed. Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michels, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon C. Park, Suncha Kim and Yong Ae Yue. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz was the sole victim to survive the attacks.
REPORTER Was this racially motivated?
CHEROKEE COUNTY PD We believe that he frequented these places in the past and he may have been lashing out.
REPORTER But the working theory is a sexual addiction issue rather than a racial profile.
CHEROKEE COUNTY PD During our interviews, we asked that specific question and that did not appear to be the motive. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD So much, as they say in literature classes, to unpack there. To begin with, the bloodbath capped a plague of anti-Asian American incidents from coast to coast. Nearly 3800 assaults and other types of harassment in the pandemic year. That's according to a report released the day of the shootings from the organization: Stop Asian-American Pacific Islander Hate, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, found such incidents were up 150 percent last year. Attributed in part to the rhetoric of certain politicians.
TRUMP But you don't hear them talking about COVID, COVID. That name gets further and further away from China as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD And how about a white man arrested for a mass shooting and being afforded a level of empathy seldom if ever afforded black and brown criminal suspects. Which empathy came from a sheriff's officer who himself had posted a COVID-related anti-China image on his Facebook page. And how about a law enforcement explanation of motive that sounded suspiciously like victim blaming?
CHEROKEE COUNTY PD These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him, that some things that he shouldn't be doing and that is an issue with porn and that he was attempting to take out that temptation [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Once again, just the guy at the end of his rope doing a little temptation eradication. Go on folks, nothing racist or misogynist to see here. And a media pack so hungry for the latest that it barely questioned what it was fed, but merely regurgitated the official narrative.
NEWS REPORT Up next, at 6:30, was the shooter actually motivated by a sex addiction? [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT New at noon, the suspect accused in a deadly shooting spree at spas in the Atlanta area is telling police it was not racially motivated. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Police say they interviewed Long overnight, and that he claims his motivation was sex addiction. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The narrative the mainstream press was very late to glom onto, though, was the local Korean language press coverage, which spoke to an eyewitness who claimed the shooter declared: "I'll kill all Asians."
NEWS REPORT There was a report, you may have seen it, that a witness heard the suspect say that he was there to kill all Asians. Well, I talked to the sheriff of Cherokee County about that repeatedly today. And in the end, he categorically denied the report. Says no one reported hearing anything like that. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD That also may be unreliable, but should CNBC's Shep Smith have given last word to the cops? These cops? Much as Black Lives Matter pulled the curtain back on daily life-while-black, a series of lawmakers from both parties testified before Congress on Thursday on what the Cherokee sheriff's department seems slow to grasp.
REP YOUNG KIM The hate, the bias and the attacks that we've seen against the Asian-American community are unacceptable and they must be stopped.
REP GRACE MENG Anti-Asian rhetoric like China virus, kung-flu, misinformation, racism have left Asian-Americans traumatized and fearful for their lives.
REP TED LIEU I served on active duty, so you can say whatever you want on the First Amendment. You can say racist, stupid stuff if you want, but I'm asking you to please stop using racist terms like kung-flu, Wuhan virus or other ethnic identifiers in describing this virus, I am not a virus. And when you say things like that, it hurts the Asian-American community. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD And it isn't just in recent weeks. As long as we're unpacking, let's look beyond the week's headlines to the past 140 years. An American history of committing violence against Asians almost as soon as they immigrated to these shores.
ERIKA LEE This is one of the ways in which American racism works. Asian-Americans have been identified as foreigners rather than citizens.
BOB GARFIELD Erika Lee is director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
ERIKA LEE It's the history of the expulsion of all of Seattle's Chinese and Chinese American residents in 1886. It's the story of how hundreds of people were intimidated and then forced under armed guard to leave their homes and businesses. Herded together and forced to board a steamship out of town in 1886. This episode is hardly ever taught in our history books. It's almost impossible to find any monument or recognition or plaque or any historical marker related to this brutal history, in Seattle, a city known for its progressiveness. A city that, in the early 20th century, marketed itself as a gateway to the Orient. This is nothing to bash on Seattle, it's just a reflection of the violence and then erasure that exists and that continues to endure in relationship to Asian-American history.
BOB GARFIELD The injustice, she says, particularly marginalized women,
ERIKA LEE The stereotypes in the media images that permeate American popular culture from the 19th century up through the present, either focus on the Asian dragon lady, the madame who runs the the whorehouse, or the degraded Asian female prostitute, or the submissive geisha who finds fulfillment in serving, typically a white male partner or customer, or the well-meaning Vietnamese prostitute from the Vietnam War era films.
BOB GARFIELD The stereotypes firmly cemented, Lee says, with the expansion of the American empire.
ERIKA LEE We have had such a long term heavy presence of US military in Okinawa and South Korea, the Philippines and the resulting sex trade and sex work that has exploited Asian women. It's part of that culture, of that military experience, of the culture of U.S. empire.
BOB GARFIELD Not only did American culture fetishize Asian women here and abroad, U.S. policies meted out collective punishment based on ethnic stereotypes and nothing more.
ERIKA LEE We have not just excluded Asian immigrants, but the very first group that we actually barred from the United States were Asian immigrant women because of this idea that they were either prostitutes or potential prostitutes. This is the 1875 Page Act, which is our first federal immigration law passed in the US.
BOB GARFIELD But if we're discussing the paradox of both exploiting and punishing Asian-Americans for the same supposed sins, wrap your head around this. The same immigrant group excoriated by society was later embraced as a shining example for all ethnic groups of how to successfully integrate into the dominant white economy and culture. Jason Oliver Chang is associate professor of history, as well as Asian and Asian-American studies at the University of Connecticut. He says that a half century ago, Asian-Americans were dubiously characterized as model immigrants. When the 1965 Hart-Celler Act was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson.
JASON OLIVER CHANG Hartzler Act established a new system of governing U.S. immigration by establishing a merit-based approach that gave preferences to certain categories of people and eliminating the country quota numbers. And this dramatically opened up immigration to new flows of immigrants from Latin America and Asia, and then became the preferred mode of immigration for a number of companies, from agribusiness to high tech companies. These flows of highly skilled immigrants fueled a dominant image of who Asian-Americans were in this period of rapid growth for Asian migration.
BOB GARFIELD There's this immigrant cohort that on one hand is welcomed with open arms, and yet simultaneously, subject to discrimination and violence. Violence, which didn't even register in the national psyche,
JASON OLIVER CHANG one of the challenging things among many with the idea of the model minority is that by recognizing discrimination being targeted for violence, it disrupts a national narrative about success, about civil rights progress, and it disrupts a convenient story about how Asian-Americans fit into a liberal, progressive society. And so in some ways, the erasure of their experiences is required to maintain that image of Asian-Americans as the diligent worker, as the person who won't rock the boat.
BOB GARFIELD Is it erasure or is it more like the failure to connect dots? Erica Lee spoke to us about the expulsion of Seattle's Chinese residents in 1886. There was another sort of pogrom in the 1870s in L.A. Can you tell me about that?
JASON OLIVER CHANG In 1871, October 24, there was a conflict between Chinese people that led to the killing of a cop and another white resident, and that led to a majority of the residents, around five hundred people to descend on to the Chinatown, where they killed between 17 and 20 people. I was able to read some first-person testimony and just the gruesome details behind it just demonstrated a wholesale cleansing of a neighborhood. Grabbing anyone at their disposal and lynching them in the streets, on the premise that they were clearing out the impurities and making Los Angeles a safe place.
BOB GARFIELD This gets back to that notion of erasure or at least of malignant indifference. This is a country that kind of savors its massacres. We all know about the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago, we know about Custer's last stand and the lynchings in the Jim Crow South, the Chinese massacre of 1871, I'm embarrassed to say it's news to me. How does it come to pass that an entire society, if I'm speaking for it, fails to notice a crime so grave?
JASON OLIVER CHANG I think part of that comes from a deeply ingrained sense that Asians don't belong and that their history, no matter how consequential, important or their contributions, however great they may have been, are irrelevant to the understanding of the development of the United States.
BOB GARFIELD That massacre was 150 years ago. In the 80s, however, there were two other ghastly crimes. One, the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982,
NEWS REPORT 2 white men, beat Chin to death a few days before his wedding. Chin was Chinese, but he was blamed for the rise of Japan's auto industry at a time when America was losing manufacturing jobs. His killers essentially got away with it. They received probation and a 3,000 dollar fine. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD And a school shooting in Stockton, California, where all the victims were Southeast Asian refugees.
NEWS REPORT In 1989, a mass shooting at an elementary school in Stockton was the worst the nation had ever seen. 5 children were killed, 30 students and teachers wounded. [END CLIP]
JASON OLIVER CHANG These two events, put together, demonstrate that there is a sense of no consequence for practicing violence against Asians. It's really difficult to paint a detailed image of who Asian Americans are in a society which knows very little about why they're here. And so in that absence, atrocities and the attacks on Asian Americans appear random, chaotic and episodic.
BOB GARFIELD If part of the problem is invisibility, you have a plan at least for your home state. What is it?
JASON OLIVER CHANG That's right. We need to make our communities safe now. But we also need to educate our children and create a new narrative about who belongs here. The thing that made me a historian was an experience I had with my grandmother where I was asking her about when she moved from Maui to Honolulu during the Depression and she stopped in midsentence in explaining it and asked me why did I care about her story? And she said, no one cares about what happened to me, and it broke my heart because I cared about her. I think that students shouldn't have to wait until college, if they make it to college, to find Asian-American studies. And so I've been advocating for proposed Senate Bill 678, which is a bill to include Asian-American and Pacific Islander studies in the Connecticut state curriculum. This is building off of recent successes to include African American and Puerto Rican Latino studies in our schools. When we do that, we eliminate the space for those stereotypes to grab hold of people, and they make sense of their world based on a deeper historical appreciation. But I really want to shift the political stakes from my history, their history, to a broader sense of our history. In order to create an equitable and just society - we have to do that together, and I think the schools are a way for us to practice that.
BOB GARFIELD Jason, thank you very much.
JASON OLIVER CHANG Bob, this is a really challenging conversation and I really appreciate the attention to it.
BOB GARFIELD Jason Oliver Chang is director of the Asian and Asian-American Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. So, what is happening when we look but cannot see, when we see but cannot remember? Professor Erika Lee.
ERIKA LEE I cannot tell you how many times when I start lecturing to a class or give a public talk or speak to the media. How many times I've heard the phrase 'I've never heard that before," "I never knew that this happened." And I've been teaching a long time, at the beginning, I thought, you're right. You know, I had never heard this until recently either until I had started studying it, but now I'm angry, frustrated. There are so many books, so many documentaries, so many scholars and writers who do write about and center the histories of Asian Pacific Americans, including these horrific histories of violence and discrimination. And so I'm left to wonder why this history of violence is not being paid attention to, is not being taught, and why we have to reeducate over and over again, time and time again, every time something like this happens, because it does happen. It has happened. And it's going to continue to happen, unfortunately.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, the Green Lantern theory of the American presidency.
BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media.
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