AAR Board Statement in Response to Continued Violence Against Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Board Offers Resources to Foster Understanding and Support Pedagogy that Centers Contributions of AAPI Communities

Approved by the AAR Board of Directors on April 5, 2021

We are enraged and heartbroken over the continued violent attacks on Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)—those in recent days along with the murders of eight people in Atlanta on March 16, 2021, including six Asian/Asian American women (four of Korean descent and two of Chinese descent).¹ As horrifying as these murders were, we know they are part of a broader, historical pattern of violence against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders in the United States. 

Many people of Asian descent living in the United States have spent the last year worried because of the intensification of violence against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. These communities have been scapegoated for the COVID-19 pandemic as targets of racial slurs. Such stigmatization relies on harmful stereotypes dating back to the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the first US immigration ban based on national origin. With this resurgence of anti-Asian sentiment, Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders have been terrorized by the prospects of being verbally harassed, shunned, punched, kicked, spat upon, stabbed, or shot. According to a study released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, hate crimes against Asian Americans spiked 149 percent between 2019 and 2020. The group “Stop AAPI Hate” cataloged nearly 3,800 hateful incidents during the first year of the pandemic. Women have been particularly targeted, with an estimated 61–68 percent of the hate crimes in 2020 alone targeting women of Asian descent. And official reports include just a fraction of such incidents. Despite the distinct histories of Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, these groups have suffered from this wave of violence and together have denounced and led efforts to respond to it.

The murders of March 16, 2021, and the many incidents of verbal and physical violence arise from a long history of xenophobia and racialized sexism in the United States—shaped by US wars in the Asia-Pacific region, and restrictive immigration policies, as much as by local expressions of Orientalism. The objectification and hypersexualization of women, queer, and trans people of color has a long history, and many are forced to bear its weight day after day. It is impossible to separate the horror of the murders in Atlanta from the racial and gendered stereotypes that have affected Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women, intensified by the religious and social implications of white purity culture. As Kimberle Crenshaw has argued, these attacks against women of Asian descent reveal a broader societal failure to address the "lethality of intersectional vulnerability." Race, gender, sexuality and class are not incidental to the murders.

As an academic organization dedicated to the study of religion, we reassert our commitment to support work and pedagogy that centers Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, as an integral part of our mission to foster excellence in the academic study of religion and to enhance the public understanding of religion. We know that we understand our world better when we deepen our knowledge of the ways in which racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia work in conjunction and when we explore the complex relationships between anti-Black, anti-Asian American, anti-Latinx, and anti-Indigenous racisms. We also understand our world better when we seek to learn about the intellectual, religious, and cultural contributions of AAPI communities to our country and our world. We acknowledge our responsibility to understand better, to teach better, to inform better, and to work for a just world. 

To that end, we recommend the following resources: 

1. Read the national report regarding anti-Asian hate crimes. Learn how to report a hate crime and how to safely intervene: Stop AAPI Hate. Learn also how hate crimes differently impact BIPOC communities: Anti-Asian Hate Incidents and the Broader Landscape of Racial Bias.

2. Consider supporting the work of local civil and human rights organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta: A Community-Centered Response to Violence Against Asian American Communities.

3. Support the scholarship and teaching of AAPI community related AAR units, including but not limited to: 

¹ The names of the Asian women killed have been deleted from the statement out of respect for those victims whose families do not want their names listed for religious reasons.