Violence Against People of Asian Descent

On Tuesday we all confronted yet another racially motivated mass shooting in the United States.  This time the white shooter targeted Asian-American women working at massage parlors.  My heart goes out to the families of the women who were killed, and to all who live in fear of racial violence in the Fairhaven and WWU communities, in Bellingham, Washington State, and beyond.

This shooting was predictable – violence against Asian Americans has been markedly rising for several years, inspired at least in part by the racist political rhetoric directed at people of Asian descent by the previous U.S. administration.  Violence against Asian Americans and other people of Asian descent is nothing new.  In Bellingham, for instance, there have been at least three anti-Asian mass violence incidents, including the 1885 “Chinese Expulsion,” in which Chinese residents left Bellingham (and other NW cities) under the threat of violence by white residents, the 1907 expulsion of South Asians, in which five hundred white men rioted violently, forcing 200 South Asian migrant workers to leave their jobs and Bellingham, and the Japanese internment of 1942, in which the U.S. government, with the help of local white residents, forced Japanese American citizens off their land, out of their homes, and into internment camps during World War II.  This is in addition to the no doubt countless times people of Asian descent have faced individual racist acts.

Apologists for the blatantly racist shooting in Atlanta argue that the shooter was motivated to kill by the conflict between his extreme religious views and the reality of his sexual behavior.  This ignores the well-studied racist sexual exoticization of Asian women within U.S. culture.  The United States is a racist and violent country.  The reality is that the confluence of easy access to guns and the racism that has marked the entire settler history of this country right through to the present has resulted in and will result in one racially motivated mass shooting after another.  Thinking locally, such violent racist acts underscore the importance that we continue to push for Western to understand its own racist past and to work hard to create a university where all students have the opportunity to study and live without fear from racism and violence. 

It is important to note that the Atlanta shooting, as is the case with many other racially motivated attacks on people of color, have elicited responses by law enforcement officials and the media that are filtered through a racist lens.  In response to the Atlanta shooting, the Cherokee County Police spokesman said, “He (the white shooter) was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope.  Yesterday was as really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”  To characterize the motivation of a perpetrator of a racially motivated mass as simply having a “really bad day” is a racist act unto itself and denies the inherent value of the lives that were taken.  The recent news that Baker had made racist social media posts in the past is not surprising.

We know violent incidents like this cause fear and anger, and that they are particularly harmful to students of color.  Students, staff, and faculty who have experienced discrimination or harassment are encouraged to contact Western’s Office of Civil Rights.  Support is available through Western’s Counseling Center and the Employee Assistance Program.  According to President Randhawa, Western’s Bias Response Team is planning support events and actions as well.

Please join me in supporting the community of people of Asian descent at Fairhaven and WWU, and in the Bellingham and Washington State communities.  A starting place is to learn more about anti-Asian violence and to find out how you can help.  Good starting places (thank you Kevin Delucio) can be found in this article:

Anti-Asian violence is on the rise. Here are some ways you can help Asian Americans.

And at these websites:

Anti-Asian Violence Resources

As well as the website of the organization, “Asian-Americans Advancing Justice:”

In closing, please know that as Dean of Fairhaven, I am always available to talk about these issues or any other issue.  You can email me for an appointment or sign up for my office hours at this link:

John Bower (on behalf of the Fairhaven faculty and staff)