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Atlanta shootings puts spotlight back on surge in B.C. anti-Asian racism

Atlanta shootings puts spotlight back on surge in B.C. anti-Asian racism image

As the world marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Asian-Canadians in British Columbia are speaking out about a growing tide of racial hatred.

It follows a massacre Tuesday in which a shooter targeted three Atlanta massage parlours, killing eight people, six of them Asian women.

Read more: Suspect in Atlanta spa shootings that left 6 Asian women dead charged with murder

“We were saddened and we were outraged,” Sarah Mah, a member of the B.C. based group Asian Women for Equality, told Global News.

“It’s clear that this person’s act of violence struck a chord with us and it’s really struck a chord with Asian women throughout North America and around the world —  we are fearful about the surge in anti-Asian racism and hatred.”

Click to play video: Vancouver Anti-Asian hate crime up 717% in 2020

That surge is very real. Statistics presented to the Vancouver police board earlier this year showed anti-Asian hate crimes in the city were up 717 per cent in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

Incidents have run the range from verbal harassment to racist graffiti, spitting incidents and even outright violence.

Fred Kwok, chair of Vancouver’s Chinese Cultural Centre, has seen the results first hand: the centre has both been hit with racist graffiti and had its windows smashed.

“There’s fear among the Chinese community this behaviour is getting more popular in Vancouver,” he said.

Read more: Horgan ‘deeply’ troubled by 717% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in Vancouver

“It is getting worse, actually, compared to last year.”

Kwok said there’s no doubt the pandemic has made things worse but believes the anti-Chinese sentiment really began picking up steam as former U.S. President Donald Trump blamed China for his country’s economic woes.

Click to play video: Addressing anti-Asian racism as hate crime increases in Vancouver

While those attacks may have been targeted at China the country, Kwok said at the ground level it was internalized as a general anti-Chinese sentiment.

He said he has fears a similar process could play out here as friction grows between Canada and China.

“It’s slowly happening in Canada. A month ago, parliament passed a resolution to condemn china for genocide … it’s bit by bit building up,” Kwok said.

“This is cooking, I can tell.”

In addition to the generalized anti-Asian racism, Mah said Asian women face a double threat of racist and sexist violence — something she said was on display in the Atlanta shootings.

Read more: Asian communities across Canada report rising racist behaviour during COVID-19 crisis

Asian women are often the subject of racial stereotypes that sexualize them as the “geisha” or “China doll,” as submissive objects for men’s pleasure, Mah said.

In the case of the Atlanta shooting, she added, those racist and misogynistic tropes translated into a killer blaming Asian women for his sex addiction.

“This is an attack that plays on both the sexist stereotypes of women and the racist stereotypes of Asian women,” she said.

If there was one positive to take out of the tragedy, Mah said, it has been the huge groundswell of support and the renewed conversation about racism.

“Asian women are organizing and saying enough is enough,” she said.

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