If you don’t think the Atlanta Spa Shootings prove that intersectionality matters, then you aren’t paying attention.
Intersectionality, as a concept, is one of those subjects that often gets lumped in with the vague idea of “weird woke things,” like “cancel culture” or “critical race theory.” Not many people know what it is, but a lot of people have very strong opinions on it, especially on the right. As for most liberals, they’ve either heard of it but don’t understand it, or haven’t really heard of it at all. And that’s a shame, because if you want to understand why someone would commit such a heinous act as the Atlanta spa-shooter did this Tuesday, this subject is crucial to understanding why he did what he did.
First, a quick refresher on the situation at hand. On Tuesday, a white male in Atlanta shot up 3 spas, killing 8 people. Of the people killed, six were Asian Women, and it’s believed that the shooter was acting out against these spas due to sexual temptations. It is believed that the subject was a sex addict, as well as a devout Christian, two clashing identities that likely lead to his heinous actions. All this, however, is mainly just surface-level observations. In order to really understand what caused this event, we need to learn a little bit about intersectionality, and how it relates to this man’s horrendous actions.
In a nutshell, intersectionality is a framework for understanding how a person’s many identities interact with each other, and how these identities change the way people view and interact with you. Non-intersectional thinking may posit that a gay black man will experience discrimination for being black, and for being gay. Intersectional thinking proposes that on top of experiencing discrimination for being a gay man and a black man, this man will also experience discrimination for being a gay black man. The two identities cross over, and as a result give him a set of experiences that are wholly unique to his identity.
A good real-life example of this can be seen in a wonderful Ted Talk on intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw, who talks about the story of Emma DeGraffenreid, a black woman who claimed that a company didn’t hire her for being a black woman. The judge didn’t understand her problem, because the company she was looking to be employed by hired both black men and white women. But that was just the thing: all the black people hired were MEN, and all the women were WHITE. She, on the other hand, was neither a man nor white, and therefore lost the job. Her discrimination was entirely different than any of those groups may have experienced, because hers didn’t come from being black, or being a woman. It came from being a black woman, and when it came to getting a job, that subtle difference had a huge impact.
So, what does this have to do with the spa shooter? I say everything. Let’s go back to that refresher paragraph: do you remember who the majority of the victims were? That’s right, Asian WOMEN. This is something that some people seem to be somewhat ignoring, including the President himself. While addressing the event, President Joe Biden seemed to completely ignore that the people killed were predominantly both Asian AND women, only addressing the Asian community. This seems fairly odd to me, especially with the unique circumstances of the shooting. As mentioned above, the man was reportedly a sex addict, and while many of the articles I have read try not to make assumptions, there is a general hint towards the idea that the Spa-Shooter came to these places in the past for, well, sexual reasons. Why did he go to Asian Spas and Massage parlors, and not just prostitutes? To understand this, we need to talk about the historical fetishization of Asian Women.
As is explained in an amazing article by Harmeet Kaur on the subject, Asian Women have been specifically fetishized in America for quite some time. Some of this comes from America’s sad history of political racism, such as the Page Act of 1875 which barred Asian Women from entering the country “under the pretense that they were prostitutes”(Kaur). US intervention in Asia may also have bolstered this fetishization, as US soldiers would have solicited the female prostitutes of the areas they were stationed in, building up this idea in their heads of the sexual Asian Woman, since these interactions were likely their main interaction with Asian Women up till this point. This fetishization would have compounded on top of the objectification most women get, giving Asian women their own unique experiences with sexism, related to their assumed promiscuity.
With this said, it should not be surprising that, as the article by Ms. Kaur goes on to say, Asian Women reportedly made up 68% of all hate incidents targeting Asians. This is according to a study by Stop AAPI Hate, which also reports men making up 29% of that statistic. This difference makes sense from a Gender perspective, obviously, but when you factor in the specific troubles of Asian Women, it makes even more sense. With numbers like that, combined with what we now know about the objectification of Asian women, it really starts to make sense why those women were shot. Not for being women, and not for being Asian, but for being women who were Asian. Because of the crossover of these identities, they became the target of this perverted, holier than thou bigot, who clearly didn’t see these women as anything but objects for his pleasure. When his religion clashed with his sex addiction, he lashed out by killing these women, because to him these women existing could only be a temptation to “sin.” And so, he eliminated them.
Looking at articles about this, I am shocked how many either focus only on the female aspect, or on the Asian American aspect (usually just that one), when this is very clearly an intersectional issue where focusing on only one identity will entirely miss the point. If we only see this as an Asian issue or as a Female issue, we lose the specific experiences and factors that only relate to Asian Women. Therefore, if we don’t want another event like this to happen, we have to address this from an intersectional lens, and look at how the fetishization of Asian Women affects them as a whole. Because if we don’t, this will happen again and again until we do.