By Tess Joseph
On March 16th, 2021, in Acworth and Atlanta, Ga., a white gunman terrorized Youngs Asian Massage, then Gold Massage Spa, and finally Aroma Therapy Spa. He killed eight people: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue. Of the victims, six were women of Asian descent.
The man accused of the massacre disclosed that he viewed the Asian women as a “temptation” that he “wanted to eliminate.” A spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, Captain Jay Baker, reported that the accused had a “bad day,” so “this is what he did.” The statement by the accused makes obvious the racist, misogynistic motivations for the massacre. Further, in Rick Baldoz’s words, it “conjoins sexual desire, self-pity and punishment” and, in so doing, transposes blame onto the victims. The Captain’s comment is equally revealing. He places the killings in the framing of a “bad day” rather than within the centuries-long history of anti-Asian violence in America, which has significantly increased in the past year. And by failing to articulate “what he did”—murder eight people—the Captain dismisses the horrific nature of the accused’s actions.
Sara Li writes that “no matter what police or the suspect say, it’s impossible to ignore the link between fetishization, classism, misogyny, and racism” when considering the massacre. The majority of the victims were working-class, Asian women who face a violent legacy of fetishization, complicated by the fact that massage parlors are often associated with sex work. While we don’t yet know much about the victims or their places of employment, we know that merely being seen as a sex worker can make someone a target. Esther Wang urges us to remember that many massage parlors “[depend] on the labor of largely immigrant women who are at times vulnerable to abuse—notably from police officers and a system that sees them as both victims and criminals.”
I join Li and Wang in recognizing that it is immensely challenging to make sense of such a terrible tragedy. But while neither Li nor Wang claim to fully comprehend the massacre’s specific circumstances, they both provide critical context. Violence against Asian women doesn’t exist in a vacuum rid of fetishization, classism, misogyny, and racism.
We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation decry violence against the AAPI community. We will continue to work to end the stigmatization of sex work and uphold the fundamental human right to sexual freedom, which includes personal autonomy and safety, and which depends on freedom from racism and oppression. We extend our sincere condolences to the victims, their loved ones, and their communities. May Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue rest in peace.
Photo credit: Getty Images