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Friday, Jan 28, 2022

It shouldn’t take a shooting to take anti-Asian racism seriously

Pia Contreras

Their names are Soon Chung Park (박순정), Hyun Jung Grant ([김]현정), Suncha Kim (김순자), Yong Ae Yue (유용애), Xiaojie Tan (谭小洁), Daoyou Feng (冯道友), Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels. 

On March 16, these eight lives were taken in a series of shootings in Atlanta. Six of the eight victims were of Asian descent, and seven of them were women. 

In almost all media coverage of the incident, parallels were drawn between the hate crime and the mounting anti-Asian sentiment during the pandemic stoked by former president Donald Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric.

But such a lens cuts the story short: America’s painful history of discrimination against individuals of Asian-descent has been centuries-long. It did not start with the Covid-19 pandemic and certainly won’t end with it.

Just as it is not a new phenomenon, this display of racism and hate against Asian-Americans is not isolated, either. We acknowledge the personal pain and grief this national event has brought up for many individuals of Asian descent — both in our Middlebury community and beyond — who are all too familiar with illustrations of discrimination and targeted exclusion. This one example is only a small part of a much larger trend of ongoing violence and discrimination. 

The recent attack also underlines the intersectional component of this racially motivated crime. Women of Asian descent have historically been the target of harmful stereotypes — much of which is rooted in American imperialism. American soldiers and mission workers overseas regarded the Asian women they interacted with as subservient and exotic, stereotypes that endure in popular media today.  The depiction of Asian women as both submissive and promiscuous engenders the sort of violence that occurred last Tuesday.

Harmful stereotypes and microaggressions are not as separate from the horrific events in Atlanta as some may think. It should not take the death of eight victims to make people listen to what Asians and Asian-Americans have been saying for years: this violence is nothing new.

Day-to-day incidents of discrimination against Asian students often materialize again and again without being called out, and Middlebury is no exception. They can come in the form of mixing up Asian students in classes or social settings, neglecting to refer to students at all or failing to correctly pronounce names such as Yuan, Yue or Feng — or any other name as common as Smith, Johnson or William. 

So, what can you do for your Asian and Asian-American peers? Start with learning how to pronounce Asian names, including those of the recent victims. Have some courage to speak up for a friend (or stranger) when you hear or see something problematic. Make a financial contribution to the communities that are hurting if you are able to. 

Even more importantly, learn how to call out your own mistakes and correct yourself. Interrogate your own thoughts and do research on your own time to position yourself to be a strong ally to your friends and peers. Professors and student leaders, make anti-racism part of your syllabus or platform. Your private and public efforts go hand in hand.

This past summer, following George Floyd’s murder and an increase in national attention to systemic racism and police brutality in the United States, we editorialized on the importance of not treating anti-racism as a trend. We want to remind you of that sentiment now. In the following weeks, when infographics stop appearing on your social media feeds and conversations become more about midterms and less about broader societal issues, remember that your Asian and Asian American peers are still affected by your behavior — no matter the news headlines. 

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’s editorial board.