Article by Mansi Mamidi
CW: racism, sexual violence, police brutality, murder
Teen Vogue announced a new editor-in-chief, Alexi McCammond, on Mar. 5, only to be immediately met with backlash about her ability to lead the publication. In 2019, a series of anti-Asian tweets of hers from 2011 came about, making fun of common East Asian facial features and allusions to the model minority stereotypes, among other things. Teen Vogue, considered a progressive magazine in comparison to other major media outlets, was rightfully hit with criticism after announcing their pick, as Condé Nast executives were aware of her racist tweets as they appointed her. 20 Teen Vogue staffers even made an Instagram post to explicitly say they reject McCammond’s statements and hope to have an internal conversation amongst staff to maintain their credibility and integrity.
McCammond’s statements come at a time of very publicized and repetitive violence against East Asians, with a white man shooting and killing four Korean sex workers of in Atlanta-area spas as recently as Mar. 16. Her comments may seem tame in comparison to the physical violence hurting East Asians, but the two forms of racism come from the same root.
With most forms of discrimination in America, or the western world in general, once a particular event or instance gains traction as clear evidence that bigotry is alive and well, everyone loves to launch into what writer Alex V. Green dubs the “Having Conversations Industrial Complex”, in which institutions propose we discuss and discuss our material realities until we can’t discuss no more, with no attempt made at potentially changing those material realities at all. Horrifying, traumatizing footage of police brutality goes viral? Time to talk to the officers in our lives and why murder is wrong! Excessive misogynoir? Let’s all upload the same Malcolm X quote onto our Instagram stories. Hate crimes and severe violence against transgender women? Time to discuss how transgender people do, in fact, exist. And so on. Once about fifteen discussion panels immediately erupt in the wake of overt racism and discrimination and bigotry, the issue dies down and is forgotten, with no real, tangible change to show for it, only recorded ‘conversations’ of why we shouldn’t hate other people, which, since when is that not common sense?
The talk in the wake of COVID-19 has been anti-Asian racism and violence. Anti-East-Asian racism and violence specifically, since West and South Asians had their turn in post-9/11 America for hate crimes to spike, but both are because of manufactured consent from the government to the public with one simple message: something is wrong with these people (non-white people), they are out to hurt us (white people), so it’s perfectly okay to seriously harm and violate and kill them.
Dubbed the “China Virus” or the “Wuhan Virus”, COVID-19 and its fast eruption around the world only served to cement anti-Chinese and sinophobic sentiment. Despite France having its first COVID-19 case three weeks after Wuhan, with the patient not having any travel abroad recent to his diagnosis, and therefore proving that this virus is not exclusive to China or Chinese people in any capacity, all blame was put onto China, and so began the severe uptick in hate crimes of not just Chinese people, but anyone of East Asian descent. The American public latched on so quickly to accept that China had somehow just done this to the entire world for no reason because anti-Asia sentiment is so far from brand new.
In the 19th century, the term “Le Péril Jaune”, or “Yellow Peril”, was coined by Russian sociologist Jacques Novikow, to uphold the white supremacist theory of Asia as a threat to white, western hegemony, and utilized by European monarchs to promote invasion and colonization of China, along with the intentional introduction of opium into China, and therefore addiction, by Britain. There was also the Chinese Exclusion Act, built on an earlier law that banned Chinese women from immigrating into the country, which barred any Chinese immigration at all for a period of ten years to prevent “competition” from hurting American (white) workers. During World War 2, there would be Japanese internment camps to isolate and imprison Japanese people in the United States, while German Americans were free to run around as they pleased. During that period, there would also be the first and only use of an atomic bomb by America against Japan. There was invasion, war, and the tearing apart of the Korean peninsula in the 50s, the deeply brutal and inhumane Vietnam war (in which America used South Korean soldiers as fighting pawns during, instead of deploying more American soldiers) from the 50s-70s, war in the Philippines as they fought for their independence from their colonizers (first Spain, inherited by the US) in the 19th century, colonization of Hawaii and Alaska in the 50s, recent deportation of 33 Vietnamese immigrants during the pandemic, and consistent military presence, violence, and murders in Western Asia, all of which have continued to harm these countries in every way possible, and dozens more wars, conflicts, and bloodshed. It’s safe to say that the imperial core is very clearly the problem here. But the reason for the discussions in America now is because the murdering, the pillaging, the atrocities? They’re right here at home. But it’s impossible to discuss anti-Asian sentiment without discussing western imperialism, and the impact that has had on public opinion.
The push for imperialism in Western Asia, for example, is what ultimately fueled anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment. Presidents told the public that Iraq allegedly had weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda were out to hurt Americans with those weapons. Despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda, received both American and Saudi Arabian funding during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 80s, and even received CIA training to help Western interests in that war, America’s creation was somehow now America’s enemy, and the public supported the invasion of Iraq. Now considered a mistake and a failure and the site of some of the most depraved war crimes and human rights violations, like Abu Ghraib, this type of white saviorism (something in the world is allegedly bad and wrong, so America must destabilize the entire region because that will apparently fix it; see the Liberty in North Korea at IU student group, for example. If the US military is supposedly having a tough time, what are college students going to do?) denotes that there is something inherently wrong with non-Western parts of the world, since that is where conflict consistently takes place and where America must always invade for some reason, and fuels racism, hate crimes, and an inherent, xenophobic fear of people who don’t live the exact same way Americans do, or look like white people.
In East Asia, it’s no different. Sinophobic attacks against China, and similar attacks against North Korea in mass media have been pervasive for years and are therefore very deeply ingrained within American mindsets. One third of the American public supports nuclear war on North Korea, even knowing that it would kill one million people. Even those that consider themselves liberal or left have a deep distrust of these countries that mirrors those on the opposite side of the political spectrum, never mind that 90% of mass media is controlled by six companies, so they’re all effectively paid to say the same thing. These are the same people that will mourn Korean women’s deaths, and demonize North Korea in the same breath, as though that isn’t part of the problem that created a need to mourn in the first place. The sheer, complete lack of empathy and humanity for these people because of the constant negative coverage inciting fear against entire countries, regions, is harrowing to see especially when it’s America doing all the damage.
From 2019 eruption of xenophobic comments and stereotypes against Chinese people for eating dog meat, only because Western culture cannot imagine that different animals have different cultural weights and as though animals are treated at all humanely in the West, to alleged threats of North Korea building nuclear weapons or the death of leader Kim Jong-Un every few weeks, even as the country spends approximately $4 billion on its military, while the New York Police Department alone has $10.2 billion allotted; not to mention that America bombed 85% of the buildings in North Korea in span of three years during the Korean War in an extensive effort to destabilize the region completely, and American military has always been deployed in South Korea since the end of the Korean War. While we are always told that something is going to happen to us because of these countries, the real damage has already been done by America, just as with Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let us also not forget that anti-Asian racism also comes from the model minority stereotype, purposefully pitting Asians against Black and Latin communities, perpetuating the stereotype that Asians are the most privileged ethnic group in America to avoid putting the rightful blame onto white Americans, who created the redlining, housing discrimination, gerrymandering, wage gaps, food deserts, and institutions that create such inequity in the first place. Asian Americans also have the widest income disparity among any ethnic group, and have the highest poverty rate in New York City. Working class, poor Asians, already vulnerable with two classifications that America already beats down, are hurt the worst with rising hate and violence. Misogyny is also plays a huge role: 70% of racist incidents last year were against Asian women, one of the most sexualized and dehumanized ethnic groups, informed by stereotypes of submissiveness, supposed attraction to white men, and rape culture, and sustained by things like: “Libertarian Guys with Asian Wives”, a Facebook group dedicated to white men sexualizing their wives for no reason other than their Asian-ness; the phenomenon of pedophiles becoming English teachers in East and Southeast Asia to gain access to underage Asian children; and white men encouraging other white men to “go to Asia” to find girlfriends and wives, as though Asian women are easy objects to get and to have, and as though they would be interested in the first place. Those eight women that were killed on Mar. 16 were sex workers; they will be vilified for their work and their ‘complacency’ within Asian stereotypes because they are the type of poor, vulnerable Asians that are considered expendable and easy targets and therefore harmed the worst, when they are just as valuable and full of humanity and love as the rest of us.
The American response to this, of course, is to call for increased policing. But when police officers, ICE workers, military members, people we are told again and again are here to “protect” us are the ones doing the most harm, what then? Officers in Minneapolis, Arizona, Hawaii, and Utah have engaged in such egregious sexual misconduct and activity with workers in massage parlors they were “investigating”, primarily made up of trafficked and underage East Asian girls, that stings have had to end because of the number of officers that were involved in such acts. A racist institution originally made as slave patrol, ‘reformed’ to be more culturally palatable, cannot ever protect those it was created to harm, especially when there is clear evidence that they engage regularly in the type of dehumanization and sexualization that creates the harm they’re supposed to “protect” us from; and they’ll never see the inside of a courtroom because officer indictments are only allowed based on precedence, if they’ve done the exact crime before, and even then, they get immunity and no consequences most of the time.
Cherokee County Sheriff Office Captain Jay Baker, in charge of investigating the Mar. 16 shooting in Atlanta, commented that the shooter was having a “really bad day”, and had a sex addiction, so he targeted those businesses to “take out that temptation”. Did the victims not have a bad day? What about the severe suffering of their families, once again caused at the hands of the white man? What do those comments do but serve the stereotype of the sexualized Asian woman as an object, an outlet for white desire? Baker, who has since been replaced on the case following his comments, was also found to have posted racist content on his Facebook depicting t-shirts that read “Covid-19: Imported Virus from Chy-na”. Who’s surprised? Propaganda depicting China and North Korea as such dangerous, looming threats will only lead to harm perpetrated, but never punished because the police and those perpetrators believe the same things. They’re one and the same. Not to mention that just last month, Angelo Quinto, a 30-year-old Filipino-American navy veteran suffering from depression, anxiety, and paranoia, was murdered by police as they knelt on his neck for five minutes straight, even as Quinto explicitly asked them not to kill him as his last words. How do we expect these murderers to protect us exactly? When they clearly believe and internalize the dehumanization and imperialist propaganda so strongly?
The point stands: when the media consistently and dogmatically states that China is bad, North Korea is bad, what else will happen besides anti-East Asian racism, hate crimes, and violence? When stereotypes of Asian women and misogyny intersect with xenophobic fear? When the American public is taught to equate entire countries, entire regions with media coverage about how dangerous they are, how they’re out to hurt America, what else will happen? Again and again America creates its own problems, and puts it on individuals to “do better”, to discuss the issues at hand, and always have 911 on standby. But these problems are manufactured and sold to us to allow for imperialist hopes in corporate interests (see Elon Musk’s stance on toppling the Bolivian government, for example, before Morales regained power), and we therefore must look deeper into the history of why these problems exist to begin with.
Alexi McCammond resigned from her position on Mar. 18, but the controversy around her appointment will probably fade after all of the ‘conversations’ have been had. Every blue-check Twitter account will tell their followers to check up on their Asian American Pacific Islander friends, since that individual action will apparently get rectify the irreparable damage the Western world has done to the entirety of Asia and Asians in America, and the negative media coverage and propaganda over the past few centuries that create this world of violence and hate we live in now. It’s, of course, not at all a bad thing to check in on your Asian friends, as these racist events are harrowing and traumatizing, but that shouldn’t be the end all be all; nothing exists in a vacuum. We should recognize truths for what they are and realize our own biases, as even seemingly fleeting racist comments on social media and physical violence and hate crimes are grown from the same soil.