Asian-American student reflects in wake of Atlanta spa shooting

Atlantans+place+flowers+at+a+makeshift+memorial+at+the+Gold+Spa%2C+one+of+the+targets+in++the+Atlanta+Spa+Shootings.

Kelly Tran

Atlantans place flowers at a makeshift memorial at the Gold Spa, one of the targets in the Atlanta Spa Shootings.

By Kelly Tran, Henry W. Grady High School

As an Asian-American student in Atlanta, this week has been thoroughly sobering, if not a reminder of the constant danger that plagues people of color and women.

On March 17, a gunman opened fire on three Asian massage parlors, two in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County, killing eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Two of the three spas are nearly two miles away from my mom’s nail salon and are 10 minutes away from my school.

If there is anything I have learned from this week, it’s that the American legacy of bigotry and white supremacy still holds true.

I think a part of me is still processing everything that has happened. I’ve gone from vengeful, infuriated and tearful to resigned. I want to hate the shooter, Aaron Long, for everything he’s done, and I think there’s a part of me that does. But there’s a greater part of me that holds that blame for the system Long operates in. The system of hatred, dehumanization and degradation that white supremacy has forced on minorities over centuries. That’s where my hatred resides.

Our country’s system of white supremacy both permits the hyper-sexualization of Asian women and profits from it. It perpetuates the objectification of human bodies and their dehumanization if they are not deemed valuable to the bodies of white, Christian, heterosexual men. That is the system I find myself at odds with.

Because how many times did Asian Americans across the nation have to beg and plead for the media to listen to what was happening to them? How many times did black Americans scream the injustices that were occurring and found themselves silenced? How many times did the Latino community ask for help and were met with rejection? How many times do we have to say hatred exists before it can truly be acknowledged?

I am tired. I am tired of justifying my existence, my friends’ existence and my family’s existence. I am exhausted by a system of white silence and ignorance where participants refuse to hold their community members accountable. A system that perpetuates a cycle of performative activism that disappears the moment it endangers one’s peaceful reality.

I have to live in constant awareness of my race, and the stereotypes that permeate every corner of my being. I am smart. I am docile. I am promiscuous. I am hardworking. From birth, the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes and the bridge of my nose determine who I am going to be. I am tired of my personality and ambition being marked by my facial features and not the content of my character.

Above all, I’m tired of white systems of power acknowledging injustice but never truly doing anything to absolve its existence. The media needs to stop reporting about the consequences of white supremacy in a white newsroom with white editors. What I find myself demanding is self-reflection and concrete action. Not a single one of us is unaffected from the legacies of white supremacy, racism and patriarchy, so not a single one of us can look away from ourselves. For those of us who can, we must all process, acknowledge and combat these debilitating systems.

Let us stop playing the “Oppression Olympics” and acknowledge that we all, at some point in our lives, have perpetuated this system of injustice. We are all victims and perpetrators. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to look within ourselves to do better.

I’m sorry if I have disturbed your suburban reality. But we must acknowledge that silence anywhere is injustice everywhere. I no longer crave white acknowledgement, instead I crave empathy, understanding and action.

The legacy of bigotry cannot be undone overnight. In fact, it might be more familiar to us to forget it altogether. But we can do it, we must do it and we must do it together.

Self-reflection is no longer a choice. There are lives at stake, and there have been lives at stake, but it isn’t too late to correct the damage that’s been done. It’s time to say enough is enough.

This story was originally published on The Southerner on March 25, 2021.