Looking in the mirror: Reflecting on the Atlanta spa shooting of 8 Asian Americans

On Tuesday March 16th 2021, eight people, including six Asian women, were murdered in a shooting spree at three Asian-owned day spas in Georgia, USA. Despite American police creating ambiguity in their statement over the shooter’s motivation by putting it down to him having ‘a bad day’, we must call the event exactly what it is: an anti-Asian racist hate crime. This is one event in a long line of increasing anti-Asian racism since the start of Covid. This trend is also evident in the UK; the Met police have reported that crimes against those who identify as ‘Chinese’ have increased from 20 to 63 (215%) from 2019 to 2020 in the UK.  

Anti-Asian racism is an ongoing issue, but it has not been highly prominent in recent times, despite a  YouGov survey of the UK claiming that out of all the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) categories, ‘76% of Chinese people had experienced someone directing a racial slur at them – the highest percentage of all the races surveyed’. Throughout a summer where the Black Lives Matter movement grew and blossomed, there was a noticeable absence of Asian voices. However, since the events in Atlanta, there have been mass demonstrations in the US, calls for more action against anti-Asian racism and criticism of how British Asians are treated in the UK. Whilst anti-Asian violence certainly is not a new issue, following these events provoked a lot of reflection on my own experiences. 

I am a British-born White Asian woman with a Chinese mother and an English father. Despite living in England, I was very much integrated with China and Chinese culture from an early age. I grew up speaking both English and Mandarin at home, with my non-English speaking grandparents being very present in the picture too. From the age of one, my parents would take me to China three times a year to see my mother’s side of the family. When at home, we would celebrate Chinese festivals, eat Chinese cuisine every evening, and I would attend Chinese school every Sunday. Being in touch with both England and China became part of my everyday life.  

Despite this, I still had a feeling that I was different to other children and families, especially as I had a privileged, and predominantly White, private school experience in Oxford. I tried my absolute best to assimilate and blend in, which was quite an easy task for someone who looks close to societal standards of whiteness and does not have an Asian-sounding name. However, no matter how hard I tried to identify as White British, there would always be a feeling that I wasn’t quite fitting in. When I would go to China I would be told how white I look and in England the opposite would occur.  

Upon reaching a certain age, I discovered what racism is and I learnt about experiences that my family members endured. I’ve seen my mum, cousins and family friends experience outright racism which only made me want to distance myself further from Chinese culture. But personally I have never been subjected to the same experiences. Of course I have experienced little jokes and assumptions that strangers have made here and there. In school, people would assume that I took only science subjects (I did not) and would ask if they could copy my homework. One time, a teacher told my economics class jokingly that I would bring the average up because ‘people like you tend to’. At university, strangers I had just met would ask ‘but where are you really from?’ when my previous answer of ‘Oxford’ was not satisfactory to them. Sometimes I would join in with these jokes or just laugh along, not knowing any better than to comply.  

Despite trying my hardest, this all left me with the feeling that I still didn’t quite fit into a category. This became most apparent in a memory I have of attending an international summer school in Cambridge where most of the students were Western European, East and South-East Asian (ESEA). When everyone met on the first day, both groups naturally split int two and I was left in the middle of the room wondering where to go. I became frustrated, confused at my own identity and I developed a strong sense of a dichotomy between my experiences as a child and who I was pressured to be.  

At university, I started having conversations with other mixed-race people that I had met about how they view their identity. After hearing about other people’s experiences, it forced me to confront my own avoidance and reflect on who I am. I am lucky to have such strong Asian role models in my life; my mum in particular has never let anyone treat her as less than she deserves. She serves as a constant reminder of the Chinese culture I grew up with and that I should be proud of. For the first time, I have an acceptance that it is okay to not fit in, and in many ways, I am lucky enough to have experiences and a background in two completely different cultures.  

Despite my own personal journey into my identity, the Atlanta shooting served as a stark reminder about the challenges that still lie ahead. In the UK, we generally like to think that we are distanced from US shootings, but the reality is that the underlying racial issue is as prevalent as ever. The days of ‘kung flu’ and the ‘China virus’ might come to an end, but the phrases will be replaced as the attitudes themselves have not been resolved. It is also important to note that not all Asian experiences are the samee. But, these conversations are important and need to be more frequent in order to give minorities a voice.  

Where do we go from here? There are three things that you can do to help support the Asian community; speak out, support and donate. You can call out racism when you see it, either verbally at the time or by reporting it. There are also several resources such as True Vision or Citizens advice where you can report hate crimes if you feel uncomfortable going to the police. Now, more than ever, it is time to stand up for the community and be an ally. Start conversations with your friends about racism. Support small Asian businesses in your area, many of which have been heavily affected by Covid. Learn about Asian culture and stop it from being used for ‘trendy’ or ‘cool’ convenience. Go fund me pages have been set up by the families of the victims of the Atlanta shooting where you can donate. Finally, as Angela Y. Davis said, ‘“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist’. 

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