Members Only | March 18, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Atlanta shooter’s claims—’sex addiction,’ eliminating ‘temptation,’ Christian morality—do not matter
The truth is obvious if only we dare to see, says Mia Brett.
After a shooting that killed six Asian women (four were Korean), a white man and a woman at an Atlanta massage parlor, police are scrambling for explanations other than racism and misogyny. Many rushed to label the shooter, Robert Aaron Long, an “incel.”
Long, however, claimed he killed them because he suffered from “sex addiction.” Long apparently told police the shootings were not “racially motivated.” Instead, he killed eight people because the massage parlors were “a temptation he wanted to eliminate.”
This pattern is common after white men commit mass murder, acts of terrorism, or any kind of violence against women. The police and the press strive to understand what could possibly have motivated a white man to commit such heinous acts of violence, and the answer is never the obvious—racism, misogyny, or toxic masculinity.
Instead, we hear about supposed mental illnesses, a lonely troubled existence, and “difficulty with women.” Media discussions of Long include mentions of his deep Christian convictions and how plagued he was by his “sex addiction.” As if any of this matters—as if any of this would matter if the shooter had not been a white man.
“Eliminating” his temptation by shooting people was an option for Robert Aaron Long because of racism and misogyny.
Truth is, whatever Long claims, whatever the police claim, and however the media explains it, Long’s actions were motivated by racism and misogyny. There should be no doubt. Even if we accept the justification of “sex addiction” as having some relevance, Long would never have decided “eliminating” his temptation by shooting people was an option if not for racism and misogyny. It’s not a coincidence that the majority of women killed in these shootings were Asian, or that Long targeted massage parlors that advertise as Asian spas. There is a long history of dehumanizing and fetishizing Asian women in American history. That fetishization commonly results in violence.
The first restrictive US immigration law was the Page Act in 1875. It limited entry of certain “undesirable” immigrants—criminals, prostitutes, and Chinese laborers. It was mainly used to deny entry of Chinese women by claiming they were all prostitutes. Asians were barred from naturalizing. Federal law required immigrants to be white or of African descent. In 1875, however, Chinese women were barred entry under the claim they engaged in “immoral behavior” and would spread disease. By 1882, virtually all Chinese immigrants, male as well as female, were prevented from immigrating.
Basically a Chinese woman had to prove beyond a doubt that she was not a prostitute. How? By submitting “an official declaration of purpose in emigration and personal morality statement, accompanied by an application for clearance and a fee to the American Consul.”1 Immigration authorities pretty much assumed that Chinese women who were not traveling as wives to join their husbands in the United States were prostitutes. Less than 1,000 managed to emigrate between 1875 and 1882.
The Page Act enshrined stereotypes about Asian women, specifically Chinese women, that remain with us to this day. They were cast as sex workers who corrupted, defiled or infected innocent (white) American men. The law encouraged the fetishization of Asian women as sex objects. Fetishization often accompanies dehumanization that reduces women to sex objects. Dehumanization leads to a lot of violence against sex workers. Robert Aaron Long’s case is an example of racism against Asian women.
There is a long history in this country of turning a blind eye to the murder of sexually promiscuous women, or sex workers.
Long claimed he wanted to reduce “temptation.” One wonders if he would have used this to justify killing all women he has been sexually attracted to—or just Asian women. Is Long not “tempted” by white Christian women in the world? Or does he just not fetishize them, in the same way, to dehumanize them to the point of seeing them as disposable? Additionally, if you truly want to “reduce temptation,” you could seek therapy, medication, isolation or, you know, chemical castration. Long’s desire to “protect” himself at the expense of these women is part of violent dehumanization.
There is a long history in this country of turning a blind eye to the murder of sexually promiscuous women, or sex workers. They “tempt” men into transgressing. (They had it coming, as it were.) In the 19th century, men were rarely punished for murdering unmarried women. Stereotypes about women of color also over-sexualize them and assume they can’t be raped. They instead corrupt men who otherwise would be good Christians. The benefit of the doubt, in other words, was part of being a white man.
One cannot separate Long’s claim of sex addiction as a cause of the shooting from his racism and misogyny. Long didn’t target all women. He sought out Asian women he associated with sexuality. (We don’t yet know if they self-identified as sex workers, though that isn’t stopping racist jokes about massage parlors and “happy endings.”)
Red Canary Song, a collective of Asian migrant sex workers, has called on us to reckon with our history of racism and imperialism that has contributed to the blurring of the lines between “migrant Asian women, sex workers, massage workers, and trafficking survivors” rather than addressing the unique racialized and gendered violence that the victims of this Atlanta shooting faced as Asian women and massage workers.
Long’s claims of sex addiction, eliminating temptation, and his Christian morality do not matter. He justified his actions, whatever he claims his motivation was, through the racist and sexist dehumanization of Asian women. Remember the victims’ names, instead of debating his motives. (Two names have not yet been shared.) They are:
Delaina Ashley Yaun
Paul Andre Michels
Julie Park and
Park Hyeon Jeong.
Mia Brett, PhD, is a legal historian who writes about the construction of race and gender in American history. She lives with her dog Tchotchke. You can find her tweeting @queenmab87.
Mia Brett, PhD, is the Editorial Board's legal historian. She lives with her gorgeous dog, Tchotchke. You can find her @queenmab87.