Chants of “stop Asian hate” and “not your model minority” were heard in uptown Athens on Saturday when a few dozen gathered together to not only take a stance against anti-Asian racism in America but to honor the lives of the eight people who died in a mass shooting on March 16, six of whom were Asian women.
The mass shooting occurred at spas in Atlanta, GA. In total eight people died; seven were women, with six being Asian. Authorities released the names of those killed in the shootings: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Paul Andre Michels, Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue.
The shooter, who is now in custody, has claimed that the shooting was a result of his sexual addiction being at odds with his religious beliefs. The shooting has brought about discussions around the country about racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the sexualization of Asian women.
The rally, organized by members of Asian American community in Athens and international student organizations at Ohio University, was held in front of the Athens County Court House. Speeches, poems, and chants were heard, and a moment of silence was observed before the group marched down Court Street, through campus, and back.
Dr. Lindsay Dhanani, a professor of psychology at Ohio University, spoke during the rally about the problem Asian women face of being fetishized by western culture, particularly in America.
“They can objective Asian women’s bodies and use them for their sexual pleasure, but they don’t have to care about those same bodies and protect them from violence and hatred,” she said.
In 2020, hate crimes against AAPI rose 150%, despite hate crimes, in general, decreasing by 7%. In total 122 anti-Asian hate crimes were reported last year. The rise in hate crimes is likely higher, due to crimes of this nature often going unreported.
Many have attributed this increase to the COVID-19 pandemic, and former President Trump’s common use of the phrase “China virus” in reference to COVID-19 first being documented in the Wuhan province in China. Recently, Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has faced backlash for a tweet using similar rhetoric in response to an Axios story titled, “Ex-CDC director says he believes coronavirus originated in Wuhan lab.”
“So it appears it was the Wuhan Virus after all?” Husted tweeted.
Followers of Husted’s Twitter account called him out for being “racist” and “reckless” in light of the increasing hate crimes. Husted has since defended his use of the phrase, saying that China should be called out by name.
During her speech, Dhanani pointed out that racism against Asians isn’t a new phenomenon in the United States, despite the recent increase.
“[T]he COVID-19 pandemic didn’t give birth to anti-Asian racism. The United States has an extensive history of violent racism targeted at AAPI,” she said, going on to say that many people in this country are happy to consume Asian products like food, movies and music, but do not listen to Asian American voices or work to protect them.
Athens Steve Patterson agreed with this sentiment. Patterson attended the rally, carrying with him a “stop Asian hate” sign. He spoke to the assembled group regarding the recent tragedy in Atlanta, stating that he was “destroyed” upon hearing that the majority of those killed in the shooting were Asian.
“We as a nation have got to get it together and figure out how we are going to overcome 450 years of systemic racism.”
Patterson announced to the crowd that following a conversation with Athens City Council President Christine Knisely the city would be having a quarterly meeting with the Asian population in Athens. No official plans have been announced.
“Your voices need to be heard by this government here in Athens. It hasn’t been done before, we will figure out how to do that. It needs to be done, your voices need to be heard, and know that when they hit my ears, action will be done here in Athens,” Patterson said.
During the open mic portion of the rally, OU student Jake Boyk shared his experience growing up in Tontogany, OH. He was adopted from Seoul, South Korea as a child to a white family who lived in a predominately white town where he commonly saw the confederate flag. Some of his earliest memories involve racism.
“I remember as a little boy, breathing the free air on American soil. All I wanted to do was to play on the playground ... I wanted to swing with my two older white sisters. But how can a little boy swing when other little boys – white little boys – are throwing stones at you because you look different?” Boyk said.
He went on to saw that while he played soccer he experienced both teammates and opponents calling him different racial slurs and telling him to “Go back to China.”
Boyk said that rallies like the one on Saturday were a “great start” to address racism in the country.
“I love seeing so many people here in support of the AAPI community, it humbles me. But let me tell you something, it is not enough. When the media is not representing us and the history books are not teaching about us...nothing is going to change. So the question is how?” Boyk said, going on to say that everyone is needed to discuss the issue because all perspectives are important. “That’s who we are, the United States of America where everybody has a say, everybody has a voice and everybody is listened to...we can be better. We can be kind, we can be humble, and we can be free together.”