The Atlanta Shootings Reveal A Blind Spot In Far-Right Studies
Co-written by Dr. Julia R. DeCook and Dr. Eviane Leidig
The recent racist and misogynistic murders that claimed the lives of 8 people—6 of them Asian women—in Atlanta have spurred much discussion about the nature of racism, misogyny, and Christian fundamentalism that drove the killer to target Asian-owned massage parlors and Asian women to eliminate them as a source of sexual “temptation.”
As more information unfolds, many white experts are contributing to the larger conversation and imploring others to foreground race and gender in their analyses, rather than accepting the killer’s own claim that his attack wasn’t racially motivated. Some experts have immediately flocked to forums and messaging applications like Telegram to see how far-right users were responding to the murders.
Indeed, the far-right has nothing short of enemy targets: Muslims, Jews, immigrants, Black Americans, and LGBTQ+ individuals only to name a few. But the vitriol leveled toward these groups by the far-right and growing anti-Asian racism are insidious because they are mainstreamed as part of regular culture. There have been no indications that the shooter was connected to any of these online communities, had formal membership in any white supremacist organization, or was even an “incel” as many tried to claim was the case.
Reflecting on the above, we set out to share our own experiences as mixed-race women researchers, in the hope that we can offer insight and encourage a broader discussion of positionality and reflection on whiteness within the field of far-right studies. Given that far-right studies (in a Western context) are predominately composed of white, heterosexual researchers, often such discussions are not addressed or taken seriously when concerning our personal and collective impact in the field.
This is not to discredit scholars who undertake approaches developed in critical race theory and similar decolonizing practices, which we believe should be incorporated in genuine and productive ways within far-right studies that have yet to date. We would like to also stress that BIPOC voices should be elevated, and that our aim here is to share our own unique perspectives rather than detract from them.
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For background, we are both self-identifying women of mixed white and East Asian descent of the millennial generation. We both have European sounding names, and while one of us was raised in a predominately white and East Asian, upper-middle-class environment, the other was raised in a military community in the country of her mother’s origin. However, one of us is white-passing, while the other is not. As a result, one of us has experienced white privilege in social and professional contexts (despite internal awareness of mixed racial identity), whereas one of us is racialized in social and professional contexts and often met with surprise when the face does not match the name. Having these positionalities, we are often grappling with a complex set of issues that arise with being racial others.
Navigating the field of far-right studies inherently involves its own set of challenges and dangers: academics, journalists, and activists are attacked on a regular basis for their research and work. In following a greater societal trend, women researchers face onslaughts of sexism and misogyny, with threats and harassment often of a violent sexual nature. Women of color researchers, journalists, and activists are even more so subjected to violent sexual harassment and racial harassment.
In terms of our research, while we both focus on gendered aspects of the far-right online, one of us focuses primarily on women and the other on men. For the former, the type of “insider” privilege in accessing female-dominated spaces as a white-passing woman affords a significant degree of ease. But such comfort has its limits when negative portrayals of mixed race persons are communicated in offensive and derogatory terms. With women’s roles in the far right being prioritized with motherhood and the duty of reproduction, notions of sexuality and “race-mixing” are considered a betrayal to the white race, eliciting a deeply personal reaction. This is not merely a byproduct of parentage but includes any romantic relationships we wish to engage in.
The fine line between being an “insider” versus an “outsider” also rapidly shifts among our colleagues and peers, adding another difficult dimension of existing in these spaces, as we often find ourselves being the only non-white (phenotypically or not) members of meetings and other events. The greater issue has been that, as more information about the Atlanta attack is released, anti-Asian racism has seemingly become a talking point and another source of data for many far-right researchers without acknowledgment of how deeply rooted anti-Asian racism is in the Western fabric.
As we write this, more threads by white experts are flooding Twitter and other social media platforms, which, on some level, has been traumatic to witness as one of us is an Asian American woman who has been subjected to racism her entire life: everything from physical attacks to microaggressions, racism, and discrimination are a normal occurrence and regular part of existing. Rather than taking a step back and acknowledging their own whiteness and complicity, white experts continue to contribute to the narrative that racism and hate are unique to far-right extremists. The lives and experiences of Asians and Asian women—and all BIPOC—become fodder for their Twitter feed rather than as a critical point of reflection on whiteness and all of the ways that it operates in society.
Asians are not a monolith, and the model minority myth exists to serve as a racial wedge between Asians and other racial groups to support anti-Blackness and white supremacist goals. Originally coined in reference to the socioeconomic success of Japanese Americans, the “model minority” term has been extended to American Jews and Asian Americans (especially East Asians and Indians) as a means of signifying high educational attainment and income of a demographic. Accordingly, “model minorities” are praised as having integrated within American society, upheld as exemplars of the “American Dream.” Our experiences with an East Asian identity privileges us being placed into a category of so-called “model minority” status.
But the model minority myth has been successful by detracting from the experiences of Asians who are poor, exploited, and subjected to discrimination not just because of their race but because of their class and worker status; and it’s especially been successful in rendering the racism faced by Asians as invisible. In the U.S., there is a long hateful history that manifested in policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese American Internment, and laws prohibiting Asians from owning property until the 1950s. Moreover, there is a tumultuous and violent past of Western colonization and military imperialism on Asian soil, resulting in the violent deaths of Asian populations, and starting the long project of white men projecting fetishized sexual fantasies on the bodies of Asian women—a legacy validated by the Atlanta shooter.
These policies, laws, wars, and other cultural systems like media continue to contribute to how Asians, especially women, are seen in the Orientalist imagination: dehumanized, hypersexualized, and empty vessels for projecting onto their anxieties and fantasies of violence. If far-right experts are serious about being a part of these conversations, they need to create more space and give platforms to conversations facilitated by Asian and Asian American activists and scholars and must acknowledge the larger systemic and pernicious forms of racism and misogyny that structure the everyday lived experiences of Asian and all people of color in the United States, rather than point to this hate as being an issue unique to white supremacists.
If we are to productively address hate, we must include an intersectional and historical analysis in the larger issues that we engage in, as well as within our analysis of the groups we interact with professionally and personally.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.