Anthropology Condemns All Forms of Systemic Racism and Gendered Violence

We deplore the recent violence against Asians and People of Asian Descent 

In a Washington Post editorial on March 18, 2021, Monica Hesse reminds readers that the Atlanta-area killing of eight people, including six Asian women, at three local spas is not just about race. She argues that it is also about gender and class. 

As an anthropologist who studies and teaches about Asia and about gender, I agree. This is not just about race, it is also about gender and class, and about migration and xenophobia as well. Through my 25+ years at Pitt I have known students and faculty from Asia who have experienced a range of discriminatory and unwanted treatment from other students, colleagues, strangers or neighbors. To them, the recent violence toward Asians is not surprising or new. 

The current moment – which involves more widespread recognition than before of anti-Black systemic racism with the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement – requires more recognition of the many forms of everyday violence, not all of which escalate to the level of murder -- that has been fueled by stereotypes of “Asians” – especially Asian women and Asian immigrants as well.

Six Asian women who worked in spas in and around Atlanta, Georgia were killed by a young white, supposedly Christian man, allegedly because of his fear of his inability to control his sexual desires. Whether true or not, this rationale promotes the idea that these six women, who died violently and needlessly, are responsible or are to blame when men cannot control their own violent or sexual drives.

The fetishizing of Asian women as sexual objects of white men’s desires is not new. It is the product of U.S. history of white supremacy, perpetuated throughout military base regions throughout Asia today, and fueled by World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War, and illustrated by multiple fantasies of Madame Butterfly and of Asian women as objects of white male fantasy that view Asian lives as disposable and exploitable.

Beyond race and gender, the hate and racism illustrated by such violence is also tied to anti-migrant views and xenophobia. Asians have recently been identified with the threat of Coronavirus, and as an economic threat, a global threat, and a sexual threat. The current racist and misogynistic moment in US history was not created by former-president Trump, but he played a key role in normalizing the expression of harmful stereotypes and in validating masculine forms of violence.

We have reached another moment of reckoning. Asians from diverse backgrounds --  China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, parts of South and Southeast Asia, as well as those who have descended from generations of Asians in the U.S., including students, professors, visitors, parents and people in all parts of society --  can all tell stories about their experiences of discrimination. Will we listen and will we do anything about it?

How long will we or can we let this go on? Fighting inequality and discrimination is never over. Recognizing it is the first step. Understanding U.S. history, the different forms of sexism and racism and classism and xenophobia are partly the goal of education. Anthropology is at the center of such inquiries.  Let us stand with our community and express our support.  We welcome diversity.     

Nicole Constable is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology. She teaches, among other things, an undergraduate seminar on Gender in East Asia.


Joseph S. Alter, Anthropology Professor and Director of Pitt’s Asian Studies Center, wrote the following in the Asian Studies Center Newsletter, March 1, 2021.

As attacks against Asian Americans in New York, San Francisco, Denver and other parts of the country increase, the Asian Studies Center stands in solidarity with, and offers our support to, all individuals and groups from Asia who are being subject to violence and hate-crimes.  As an organization based on principles of cross-cultural understanding, and as an institution dedicated to equality and justice, we speak out forcefully and unequivocally against a rising tide of prejudice, discrimination and institutionalized racism in the United States.  Established in 1969 the Asian Center was part of movement dedicated to international partnerships, civil rights, and a world order based on peace and non-violence. However lofty these goals may be, they are not abstract or idealistic; they are the cornerstone of our educational mission.  Especially at this moment in the history of the United States as we work with a new administration to overcome a failure in national leadership that has contributed to bigotry and intolerance, it is especially important to rearticulate our mission.  Every act of violence, every hate-crime, every case of discrimination threatens not only those against whom it is committed, it threatens all of us.  We in the Asian Studies Center stand in support of the communities we represent and are committed to providing support, protection and advocacy.   


Subsequently, on March 16, 2021 eight people were shot to death in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women.  Prof. Alter wrote:

This is another hateful act that we deplore and condemn in the strongest possible terms.  Because the victims are Asian, this act of violence, following on other acts in different parts of the country, produces a threat that is profoundly serious and deeply felt by our community of students, faculty, and staff.  Pitt’s Asian Studies Center is in direct communication with the Pittsburgh branch of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates), a national civil rights advocacy and educational organization dedicated to advancing the social, political and economic well-being of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

Pitt is working with OCA and other organizations to provide support to the University community and to the Asian American community of Pittsburgh.  As the Asian Studies Center has done over the past week, they continue to organize events to bring Asians and Asian Americans and others in our community together in solidarity. We must continue to educate ourselves and our community, and increase awareness to counteract the threat of racism, and advocate for social and political reform.  To this end we are engaged in efforts to build solidarity through collaboration with Asian American organizations around the country dedicated to finding solutions to the root causes of prejudice, discrimination and hate crimes.   As we come together in grief, mutual support and condemnation of the violence in Atlanta, we express our sincere condolences to the families, friends and co-workers of those injured and killed in this senseless act.