SINOPHOBIA

Janet Farrell Leontiou, Ph.D.

March 21, 2021

I, like many of us, have been distressed by the spike in attacks on Asian people.

The most recent one is particularly upsetting because of how the spokesperson for the police department chose to report about the murders. The story was told through the murder’s lens. The murder claimed that he has a sex addiction and it is that, more than sinophobia, which provided the motive for the killings. Instead of dismissing that narrative as preposterous, that was reported as the reason. In addition, the spokesperson reported that the killer was having a really difficult day.

What is most upsetting about the way that this story is being reported is that the language that was used by the spokesperson sounded like we were asked to identify with a murderer. The language about his bad day seems like it is being used to solicit sympathy instead of disgust. Here is the normalizing language of Cherokee County sheriff Capt. Jay Baker: “He was pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” What he did was kill eight people — six of whom were Asian women.

We learned in the statement that the murderer killed these people because they tempted him to act upon his sex obsession and addiction. This, by the way, is all self -reported. These words all reflect how the murder sees the world. There is no expert opinion or diagnosis. This is self generated and the authorities made the decision to amplify his narrative. This decision appears to me to be based on the killer’s gender and skin color. I cannot imagine this being done if the killer was non-white and not male. From what we know about the spokesperson, he has expressed sinophobic comments on his social media. He was selling t-shirts with the slogan: “Covid 19: Imported Virus from Chy-na.”

The other piece of this story that is really upsetting is that we see the women through the killer’s lens. We learn that their presence tempted him. Again, the killer’s perception is what dominates the story. We do not know who the victims were but the way the story is reported, we are invited to see the killer’s perception as reality.

It is very difficult to put my finger on what is going on within this story so that I am able to articulate just how creepy it all is but I will try:

  1. There is nothing neutral about language. The story is reported out in a certain way, using certain language, to achieve a certain response.

2. The language seems to normalize and even justify the killings.

3. The script of sex addiction has replaced the language of sinophobia (a word I have never heard in talking about this crime) so that our very way of talking about it has become distorted and unreal.

4. In a very weird way, the way in which the story is told humanizes a killer and even attempts to solicit sympathy for him.

5. The way in which the story is told casts a shadow over the people who were killed and subtly even hints that they deserved it. It begs the question sometimes asked: what were the victims doing there?

There is no doubt in my mind where this sinophobic language originates. It comes from Trump. Even though we have gotten rid of him as our president, this is his legacy. He knew exactly what he was doing when he called the virus “Kung Flu” and “the China virus”. Always irresponsible, he would deny any culpability in creating violence. He used to say his words only factually pointed out what the virus was and where it came from. Even when confronted with evidence that his words were having a deleterious consequence in the culture, he refused to change the script. His words did not so much tell us what the virus was but instead, told us who he was. His words were chosen to have a particular response. He is an instigator known for stirring up hatred and his talk has frequently stirred people to violence. The asian people are Trump’s group de jour but we have seen it towards jews, muslims, immigrants, black people, people with disabilities, women, and democrats. This is who he is and who he has always been. He entered the political scene by challenging whether or not our first black president was an American citizen? I write this because still, after we have been through, his seeds of hate that planted during his presidency are still bearing fruit.

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