ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Hate Is Up for Sale. Licence to Kill Comes Free

Afghanistan is burning. Right now, as I write these words, Afghanistan is burning. 


The world has bubbled up a brouhaha over the international community being silent spectators to the inferno. The anguish is greater still since the United States (US) has chosen to look the other way.


After withdrawing his troops from the war-ravaged country after a calculated 20 years, US President Joe Biden said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to retreat, adding that the fall of the capital, Kabul, was, in fact, “inevitable.”


The response, though shocking, is not surprising.


I, for one, have always been sceptical of the occidental modus operandi, particularly with respect to those it sees as the “other.” This piece is born out of that scepticism. It all started earlier this year, when I read the following words on CNN’s website.


“I just want to hold her tight … give her a hug ... hold her hand, hug her for a long time.”


Jami Webb and her mother, Xiaojie Tan, Chinese immigrants to the US, were really close. For her mother’s 50th birthday, Webb wanted to celebrate all her achievements—immigrating to the US, buying and running two spas, and providing for her family.


But on 16 March, a day before the celebrations, an armed gunman shot and killed Tan and seven others in a shooting rampage. At Tan’s spa, Young’s Asian Massage, along with her, three others were fatally shot. Then, about an hour later, four more were killed at two different massage parlours in Atlanta, Georgia. Of the eight victims, six were Asian women.


Reading the news, I inevitably placed myself in a similar scenario. What happened to Tan, and what Jami might be going through, still plagues my mind. What is all the more soul-crushing is that, according to USA Today, Tan’s mother, back in China, was not informed of her daughter’s grisly death as the family was afraid for her health. So her family cut a cake and celebrated Tan’s 50th birthday, while in the US, her daughter mourned her death.


As the details of the shooting unravelled, Tan and Webb refused to leave my mind. When did stepping out of home become a game of Russian roulette? 


According to CNN, the suspect in the “Atlanta eight” case was 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long. Long told the police he believed he had a “sex addiction” and that he saw the spas as “a temptation ... that he wanted to eliminate.” While Long claimed his attacks were not racially motivated, the Atlanta police said it was too early to know the motive.


In May, USA Today reported that Long was indicted on charges of “domestic terror” and murder. However, the Asian-American community, local residents and public health authorities wanted investigators and prosecutors to also seek charges of “hate crimes” against Long as Georgia’s laws consider a crime on the basis of sex and race a hate crime.


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, North America has witnessed an increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. NPR observed that these racially motivated attacks, or “COVID-19 hate crimes,” were disproportionately targeted towards Asian women and Asian seniors. Speaking to NPR, Connie Chung Joe, CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said that “there are far more people who have not reported incidents than those who have.”


The underreporting of anti-Asian hate crimes is troubling. NBC presented an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, which noted that while hate crimes in America’s 16 biggest cities dropped overall by 7% in 2020, those targeting Asians shot up by nearly 150%. Let me repeat that, hate crimes against Asians were up 150%. Further, according to the fact sheet, the numbers were collected only from preliminary police data. This means that the 150% increase is only for the reported anti-Asian hate crimes.


In the same report, NBC spoke to Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of demographic data and policy research non-profit AAPI Data, who said that while the increase in hate crimes could not entirely be attributed to former US President Donald Trump’s racist coronavirus rhetoric, it did play a role in fostering hate. Trump often replaced the “corona” in the virus’s name with “China” in his press conferences.


Racist rhetoric aside, referring to the Atlanta Spa Shootings, another American problem becomes painfully clear. 




A month after the Atlanta shooting, CNN reported that the US has had at least 50 mass shootings within a month. When the report was published (June 2021), more than 8,100 people in the US had already lost their lives to gunfire. 


The Washington Post, analysing data from the Gun Violence Archive, noted that 8,100 deaths within five months equals roughly 54 deaths per day to gun violence. Another worrying statistic is that while 2020 was considered the “deadliest year” for gun violence since 2000, experts now fear that 2021 may actually be worse. The first weekend of June alone saw more than 120 people lose their lives to mass shootings.


Gun violence in the US has always been a moot point. By no means are the outrageous numbers mentioned above unique to 2021 and by no means did they come to the fore only after anti-Asian hate crimes shot up abruptly. To be clear, gun violence, particularly by White civilians, and law-enforcement authorities alike, against Black Americans has been, and still is, a shockingly unchallenged phenomenon.


The egregious extent of this racial rancour is sickening. But I must admit, until it reached our own shores, the gravity of it all did not completely dawn on me.  


On 18 April 2021, eight people were killed in a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Four of the eight were Sikhs, including three women. Indian Express reported that about 90% of the workers at this facility were said to be Indian-Americans, mostly from the Sikh community.


NPR reported that the gunman was 19-year-old Brandon Scott Hole, a former employee, who died by suicide after the mass shooting. NPR also noted that the two assault rifles used by Hole in the attack were purchased legally. The guns were purchased a year before, in 2020. Hole also used to own a shotgun, which was seized by the police when his mother reached out to law enforcement in March last year. Hole was further placed under mental health detention and interviewed by FBI agents, who, at that time, found no racially motivated violent extremism (RMVE) ideology or evidence of crime. However, according to CNN, one officer did find White supremacist websites on Hole’s computer.


This is a major, major, cause for concern. In March 2020, Hole’s mother called the police when he purchased a shotgun because she feared for her life, he was assessed by the police and the FBI, with one officer reporting he browsed White supremacist websites, he was sent to a mental health facility and his family went on record saying they tried to get him “the help he needed.” Despite this, within six months, Hole was able to legally purchase an assault rifle. Three months later, he bought his second one. And the following year, he took eight lives. 


It is unsurprising that Reuters dubbed the US as the most “heavily armed” country in the world, with 121 firearms per 100 residents.


The question worth asking, however, is, how could something like that happen? How did Hole’s history not raise any red flags?


This brings us to yet another factor in the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes—how the US, especially its law enforcement and news media—views them.


“He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” 


This is how Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Capt Jay Baker described the 21-year-old man accused of the Atlanta spa shooting. The BBC broke down just what was wrong with Baker’s choice of words. The language used by Baker came under scrutiny for downplaying the element of race in the killings, perpetuating racist and sexist stereotypes and framing the issue as one of “White victimhood.”  Talking about the Atlanta shooting spree, Baker said the accused was “ lashing out” because he had a “bad day.” 


Similarly, with news, Washington Post reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee told CNN how, “newsrooms were rushing to describe this shooting as not racially motivated.” Lee further said that Asians were “invisible” and “underrepresented” in newsrooms. With little or no Asian representation in positions of power in news media, it is, again, not surprising that reports on hate crimes are slow and delayed. 


There is, however, an Asian currently in Office. 




What does having a woman of colour as vice president mean for people of colour?


In June, on her first international trip as vice president (VP), Kamala Harris travelled to Central America and Mexico to address the issue of immigration. The BBC reported that in a news conference in Guatemala, the VP warned would-be asylum seekers against entering the US illegally, raising concerns about the dangers of the route filled with traffickers and smugglers. While her intentions and concerns were valid, a poorly worded three-syllabic statement repeated twice, drew sharp criticism both home and abroad. 


Do not come. Do not come.


Unfortunate as it is, this is not the first time Harris has faltered in the way she addressed the migrant crisis. Before the VP headed south to the border, her interview with NBC left even the Biden administration “perplexed,” as the New York Post noted. When the NBC’s Lester Holt asked her about her plans of visiting the border, Harris responded that “we’ve been to the border” to which Holt pointed out that she, specifically, hadn’t visited it yet. Harris laughed it off and said, “And I haven’t been to Europe.”


The VP went on to say that she did not “understand” the point Holt was trying to make, which is highly unlikely, given the sensitive nature of the migrant crisis and the fact that she is vice president.


Such frivolous remarks pertaining to people of colour by a woman of colour holding such a historically important position of power are nothing short of heartbreaking. A political gaffe of this degree just allows naysayers to reinforce their notions of “tokenism”—that Harris’s nomination was merely a response to the racial justice protests of 2020. For instance, Slate wrote that in light of the murder of George Floyd, picking a woman of colour would have been more of a “campaign strategy” for winning the White House rather than governance. 


Besides, Harris rarely wears her Asian heritage, let alone her Indian heritage, on her sleeve. As the Washington Post covered, Harris “seldom talks about her Indian background.” But when it came to the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, the article also noted that Harris shared the “sense of urgency” felt by many Asian-Americans.


But five months after the 16 March shooting, attacks against Asians in America still continue. The New York Times noted that as of June, New York alone saw a 400% increase in hate crimes against Asian New Yorkers in 2021 as compared to the same time last year.


Although cities have set up task forces to tackle hate crime, one wonders, given the history of US law enforcement officers and race-based crime, if they will make a legitimate difference. Reuters featured a report by the US Department of Justice, which stated that 82% of people suspected of hate crimes between 2004 and 2019 were not prosecuted.


It must be remembered, the violence I have talked about so far is unfolding on American soil. Not 11,000 kilometres away in the Graveyard of Empires. With a borderline disregard for the safety of its own people, is it really surprising, then, that America has chosen to “look the other way” when it comes to Afghanistan?


America, that dazzling democratic primate with lofty promises of upward mobility, that shining pinnacle reflecting the towering aspirations of millions around the world, is desperately failing its minorities. The conversation, for a greater part of the year, was about race-based hate crimes against the Asian community. This same time last year, the conversation was about the racially charged injustices towards the Black community. The deeper issue, however, is White supremacy.


So long as young boys with bad days continue to be able to purchase assault rifles unquestioned, so long as mighty men behind powerful podiums continue to preach prejudice unimpeded, so long as an entire people continue to be indoctrinated by the belief that some imagined biological quirk makes their existence greater than someone else’s and justifies their juvenile hostility, there will be hate, and it will lead to violence.


Unless we consciously obliterate the root, the rot, of the system, we will continue to lose our Xiaojie Tans, Jaswinder Singhs and our George Floyds to hate.