You know, Adrian, my understanding of anti-Asian laws was that they always started at that 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
So I was pretty surprised to learn from you last week, that there was something that came before that law, that specifically ban, well, Chinese women.
That was the Page Act 1875.
We promised we'd go back to this topic.
I think today's that day.
Here's the thing.
The line between violence towards Asian people and the hyper-sexualization of Asian women is very thin.
So what can the Page Act tell us about exclusion and the Asian fetish?
Welcome to A People's History of Asian America.
When the Page Act was first introduced, it was intended to and I'm going to quote.
"End the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women."
[Echoing: "Immoral... Chinese... women..."].
This idea of ending the danger of immoral Chinese women sounds oddly familiar.
The suspect in the deadly Atlanta area shooting spree, telling police he was motivated by a sex addiction.
He does claim that it was not racially motivated.
He apparently has an issue.
What he considers a sex addiction, and it's a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.
In that 2021 Atlanta mass shooting, eight people were killed.
Six of them were Asian women.
How can one associate a sexual addiction with Asian run businesses yet claim that their crime was not race-related.
That is a great question.
Here's what I think we need to do.
We've got to connect the dots between the Page Act and the Atlanta shooting.
We're going to be talking to Jamee Swift, the founder and executive director of Black Women Radicals.
When we think about how Asian women and even black women, the stereotypes attached to our bodies, that indicated how legislation was to be enacted in regards to our livelihood.
For example, anti-miscegenation laws criminalize interracial relations between black and white people to preserve white racial purity.
Despite rape and sexual abuse, being common experiences of enslaved African people.
These laws eventually extended to all nonwhite groups.
Legislation in the United States, such as the Page Act discriminated and barred Asian women.
They've been stereotyped as a seductress, as subservient, as disease.
And we can tie that directly to what happened to the Atlanta shooting.
To get some historical context on how these stereotypes about Asian women could lead to sexual violence, we talked to Dr. Rena Heinrich, who takes a critical look at recent gender in popular culture.
I think that the hypersexualization contributes to Asian fetish.
It has roots historically, and then it also has roots in representation.
There's this notion that Chinese women who immigrated to this country in the late part of the 19th century were, prostitutes, engaged in sex work.
We also start seeing representations of Asian women at the end of the 19th century that are specifically written or imagined by white men.
So I'm thinking specifically of Madame Chrysanthemum by Pierre Loti, Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long, the play by David Belasco, which then turns of course, into Madama Butterfly, which is the opera by Puccini.
The voice behind all of these narratives is a white male subjectivity.
And it's that fantasy of what Asian female body is.
One force behind both the fear and fetishization of Asian people is a concept known as Orientalism.
Orientalism is a term that was coined by a cultural literary theorist Edward Said.
And what he discovered is that bodies of the East are always represented in a particular way.
And that is in opposition to the West.
If the West is strong, then the East is weak.
If the West is rational, the East is irrational.
If the West is masculine then the East is feminine.
If we understand the East aas already being feminine, then we see a masculine body as feminine.
And we see a feminine body as kind of Uber feminine, hyper feminine.
Do you think Orientalism can lead to sexual violence?
Yes, it's absolutely possible for Orientalism to lead to sexual violence.
Because if you have a body that's presenting in front of you, that is Asian, but as we understand it through Orientalism also hyper feminine, also weak it's horribly damaging.
Well, I think Rena and Jamee have made it clear why race and gendered simply cannot be disassociated.
I actually turned to the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, a critical race theorist who coined the term intersectionality.
Simply put, intersectionality, asks us to think about race and gender inequities, not only as intertwined, but it asks us to think about how they actually exacerbate each other.
Like when we talk about that first anti-Asian law, the Chinese Exclusion Act that law itself is race-based.
But the origins of that law began with the exclusion of women.
And the tropes of Orientalism that shape the way Asian women are perceived are part of the same forces that emasculate Asian men.
Well, what about the men who were like, how does feminism apply to me?
What does Asian fetish have to do with me?
Well, Asian men, have you ever had someone say that you have a small eggplant?
That emasculation serves the same agenda of white supremacy.
Here's the thing, Asian men in the 1800s, if you remember our first episode, were made to serve not only on and railroads, but also in domestic work.
And what these jobs did, and stereotypes around them did, was that it rendered them as less masculine.
So in short, the long history of misogyny that impacted Asian women, likewise bleeds into the specific forms of racism that Asian men experience.
So to really get to the core anti-Asian racism, we have to look through a lens of intersectionality that brings together race and gender.
To leave us with some parting words of wisdom and a little hope for the future.
Here's Jamee, once again.
The future of black and women of color organizing and solidarity is political education .
For Jamee, this means having events like Sisters and Siblings in the Struggle co-hosted with the group, the Asian American Feminist Collective.
With everything going on with COVID, I think it's important to have these conversations about what's going on in our world.
And most importantly, how we can build solidarity together.
What keeps me hopeful is that the future generations will look back and see not just myself or the Asian American Feminist Collective, but a whole litany and legacy of black and Asian women.
and gender expansive people who decided to come together when it was difficult.
and that we are doing the work of sankofa which means go back and get it.