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In her research, Kang, a Berkeley grad and professor in the department of gender and sexuality studies at UC Irvine, explores how the societal role and perception of Asian women have long been a reflection of underlying structures of power. This flattening of the Asian female identity, she says, prevents survivors of violence, forced migration, and other forms of oppression from accessing justice. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
In your book you talk about how Asian women can be thought of as a method to understand power more broadly. What does that mean? In some ways, even though the term seems to pay attention to the specificity of race, ethnicity, and gender, at the same time it elides important differences. What I really wanted to challenge and provoke with this book was: Can you think about Asian women as a kind of portal for thinkingrather than thinking about them as a delimited population? Precisely because of their unknowability, the category of Asian women is an interesting concept to think with and offers a kind of challenge for how we investigate.
What inspired your research into the decades of global and U. Considering these extremely public instances of violence against Asian women, violent exploitation of Asian labor, and physical displacement of Asian women, I wondered: How were these things allowed to happen in the first place? At the time there were, supposedly, international conventions in place to prevent such things. The other element I was curious about was this long gap of silence between the actual historical occurrence in the s and 40s and the For asian ladies only attention and, frankly, shock in the s.
I contextualize this as a kind of inability or unwillingness to even fundamentally recognize the Japanese military sexual slavery system as a problem. In other words, the problem was in the how not just in the what of history. That thinking relegates Asian women to a category of spectacularly victimized bodies. To examine Asian women requires that we evaluate the story of how capitalism itself developed and mutated—and the 20th century, as well. The one thing they could actually all agree on was that they all wanted to protect women.
The first study they commissioned was [the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children ] that was largely relegated to looking at Europe, parts of the U. So they decided to do a second study looking at traffic in For asian ladies only in the East. They still remain unintelligible or invisible because of racialist blind spots and because of the inheritance of a much longer history about the sexual fate of white women in the aftermath of multiple empires and migrations.
How is that? Both the U. I actually did a close examination of the U. If we actually look at the scholarship and activism that women in Asia were engaging with as early as the s in Korea and in Japan, the history of the comfort system was actually never forgotten. Many of the people who survived the colonial period knew women who had been conscripted or knew that there was this history.
Why was it not taken up as a serious matter for sustained feminist inquiry? In the s and 80s, U. A canonical feminist book [ Female Sexual Slavery by Kathleen Barry] on the subject actually features an article by a Japanese journalist, Yayori Matsui, who wrote extensively about Japanese military sexual enslavement. This year, incidents of anti-Asian violence have entered daily conversation.
After the spa shootings in Atlanta, many outlets reported that over 3, recorded instances of anti-Asian hate crimes and attacks in the past year, insinuating that the shooting was the culmination of similar hate crimes. How did you interpret what happened in Atlanta? I thought it was premature, not to mention that two other people who were murdered were not Asian. Rather than quickly move to uphold them as emblematic cases of victims of anti-Asian violence, we should be even more critical about why we needed this atrocious incident for all these mainstream media outlets to suddenly care about anti-Asian violence.
There should be a more sustained interrogation of that wave of anti-Asian violence that has been happening. After the shooting, journalists interviewed scholars to try and understand what happened. I found that many of them were talking about their own experiences with anti-Asian racism and misogyny. This troubled me—linking forms of racism and misogyny—because even though I have also had racist and misogynistic experiences, those instances make me a really different Asian woman than these six victims.
I thought it would have been obscene for me to speak as if they and I shared any kind of identity. And ignoring how Asian women have historically been made vulnerable, and then disregarded, by systems of power? Ignoring history, and for me, ignoring really different inequalities of power, safety and privilege among Asian and Asian American women. What does justice look like to you? This is For asian ladies only that I actually end the book with.
I returned to the figure of the women who were forcibly inducted into the Japanese military comfort systems and then I asked: How do we remember them? How do we remember this history? If we really care about them and if we really want to be attentive to the fact that they were subject to multiple forms of oppression, exploitation, and degradation—such as forcible movement, unfair detention, uncompensated labor—what does justice look like? When we move to justice I want us to move away from the identity category.
I want others to think about forms of injustice, and the many other people who are subject to those forms of injustice, and then want to change the conditions for everyone affected by them. Shop CAA. A Moment for Healing, a Time for Action. Race and Climate Change.
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Racism, sexism must be considered in Atlanta case involving killing of six Asian women, experts say