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Speaking Out About Violence Against Asian Americans

On March 16th 2021, a man killed eight people in Atlanta, Georgia, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Savvy Psychologist Dr. Jade Wu shares her message of solidarity and a warning against stigmatizing addiction and mental health.

By
Jade Wu, PhD
3-minute read

On Tuesday, March 16th, a man killed eight people in Atlanta, Georgia. Six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.

Before I go any further, I want to say the victims’ names. I want to honor them, because this story is not all about the perpetrator. The names that have been released so far include:

Xiaojie Tan
Daoyou Feng
Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez
Paul Andre Michels
Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, who was severely injured but survived

Asian women in America have historically suffered from the tropes of being interchangeable, disposable, exploitable, and sacrificial.

It’s especially important for us to remember the victims in these killings, most of whom were Asian women, because Asian women in America have historically suffered from the tropes of being interchangeable, disposable, exploitable, and sacrificial.

Personally, I’m feeling a complicated mix of grief, fear, and anger. I know many others, especially my fellow Asian Americans, feel the same way. Our hearts are broken for the victims and their loved ones. I can’t imagine their pain and trauma.

But what I can imagine—because my family and I, as well as many of my friends, have experienced it—is anti-Asian racism. Many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have had similar experiences, especially during the surge of anti-Asian violence in the past year.

There were nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans reported in the United States over the past 12 months. And that's likely an underestimate because it’s difficult to charge hate crimes against Asians. As The New York Times pointed out, "proving a racist motive can be particularly difficult with attacks against Asians... There is no widely recognized symbol of anti-Asian hate comparable to a noose or a swastika."

There were nearly 3,800 hate incidents against Asian Americans reported in the United States over the past 12 months.

If you’re also feeling helpless or crying angry tears, know that you’re not alone, and it’s completely okay to feel this way. Let yourself grieve, and tell your friends how you feel. During collective grief and trauma, we need to give ourselves and each other grace, and we should reach out for support.

Speaking of support, I also want to acknowledge the outpouring of solidarity that non-Asian communities are showing. On social media and in my personal life, I’ve heard especially strong support from the Black community, and I thank you all from my heart.

Addressing the stigma of addiction and mental health

Last but not least, I want to talk about the narrative surrounding the killer’s motives. On Wednesday [March 17th], according to a sheriff’s deputy speaking at a press conference, the suspect explained that he had a "sex addiction" and committed these killings to eliminate "temptation." The spokesman said the suspect was "at the end of his rope" and that "it was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did."

Empathizing with the suspect in a way that minimizes the brutal attacks as the result of having "a really bad day" is not only incredibly callous, but it's also extremely stigmatizing from a mental health perspective. Let’s be clear: Addiction does not cause violence and is not to blame for violence. Violence is not justified by addiction.

Empathizing with the suspect in a way that minimizes the brutal attacks as the result of having "a really bad day" is not only incredibly callous, but it's also extremely stigmatizing from a mental health perspective.

Every day, there are people struggling with addiction who do not commit murder. So let’s not frame people with addiction or mental illness as scapegoats for those who commit atrocities.  Instead, let's call these acts what they are—hate-fueled violence.

We can't fight hate crimes against Asian Americans until we acknowledge them as racially motivated.

Donate to fight hatred against the Asian American Pacific Islander community

Thank you for listening to this bonus clip of the Savvy Psychologist. If you'd like to donate to a non-profit organization that supports equality and anti-discrimination for Asian Americans, here are a few to consider:

Once again, I send my grieving heart out to the victims’ families. To everyone, I say: Let yourself grieve during this time. Other things can wait. But also reach out to someone to send your love and support so none of us have to feel alone.

Let yourself grieve during this time. Other things can wait. But also reach out to someone to send your love and support so none of us have to feel alone.

I’ll be back on Friday with another regular episode of Savvy Psychologist. We’ll talk about how to communicate with friends and family who have opposing political views. Stay tuned for a happier, healthier mind.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Jade Wu, PhD Savvy Psychologist

Dr. Jade Wu was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast between 2019 and 2021. She is a licensed clinical psychologist. She received her Ph.D. from Boston University and completed a clinical residency and fellowship at Duke University School of Medicine.