Forum held to promote cross-cultural peace

The recent shootings that killed seven women and one man in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia have since catalysed an Asian solidarity social movement across the nation, including here in Hawai‘i.

Six of the victims shot on Mar. 16 were identified by authorities as women and of Asian descent. AP also reports that four of those killed were of Korean descent.

The 21-year-old man, who has since been identified as Robert Aaron Long, has been taken into custody and charged with four counts of murder and one count of assault, but none of which have yet been identified as hate crime related.

Long told police officials of Cherokee County that the attacked massage establishments were a "temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate," and that the crime was not racially motivated. Experts say that in order to charge Long with a hate crime related offense under Georgia state law, they will have to look at his past social media use and family connections to better understand if the underlying motivation for the crime was provoked by racist intentions.  

The attack took place in the late afternoon, and within hours, the social media movement #StopAsianHate began circulating Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. As people from around the nation responded to the hashtag, many members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community came forward to acknowledge their own pain. 

An organization called Stop AAPI Hate, where victims or bystanders can report racially influenced hate incidents, published that there were 3,795 incidents of violence recorded between March 2020 and February 2021. Some of these forms of harassment included vandalization, being spit on or coughed on, verbal harassment and physical assault.

Days prior to the actions in Atlanta, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Representative Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) introduced the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, addressing legislation to combat the rise of violence and harassment towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, influenced by the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic was brought to America from Chinese travelers. 

“We’ve seen the horrifying consequences of racist language as AAPI communities across our country experience hate crimes and violence related to the pandemic,” Sen. Hirono said.

In President Joe Biden’s released statement on March 16, he supported Hirono and Meng while urging Congress to “swiftly pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which would expedite the federal government’s response to the rise of hate crimes exacerbated.”

More than half of the students enrolled in the University of Hawai‘i System belong to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

The University of Hawai‘i system has 28,829 Asian and Pacific Islanders students among the total of 46,284 students across the 10 campuses. 

Dr. Monisha Das Gupta, a professor of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, said she was already teaching her students about the specific ways communities of color experience violence, especially in today’s political climate with Asian Americans in the U.S. and the pandemic. But even with this preface, she was in no way prepared for the news of the six Asian women shot in Atlanta. 

“The lethal violence the women experienced erupted in the crosshairs of misogyny, hypersexualization, white supremacy, class exploitation and US imperialism,” she said. “And yet, I heard the police denying that the shooting had anything to do with the escalating violence against Asian Americans.”

Gupta said the Ethnic Studies Department has been an ongoing leader in contesting the idea that Hawai‘i is a “racial paradise.” 

She explained that there are several recorded incidents of hate speech and acts in Hawai‘i over recent years, pointing out that Filipino communities here have been hit just as hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19 as Pacific Islanders, due to their similar socially vulnerable lifestyles. 

“Asian Americans in Hawaiʻi face discrimination. We are indeed a diverse group and our different histories of settlement and access to resources and political power has much to do with the degree to which and modes through which we face discrimination,” Gupta said. 

Dr. Christine Yano, an anthropology professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa who specializes in teaching Japanese culture, also said that even after living here for her entire life, she strongly believes Hawaii “is not a racial paradise”.

“Racism is alive and well here. We may have a slightly different brand than what goes on in the continental U.S., but it is absolutely here,” Yano said. 

Yano also said that she does think it is appropriate to link the shooting to anti-Asian hate crimes. She said, “Whether the shooter himself called it racially based or not, it certainly is targeting women of Asian ancestry.”

A ‘Stop Asian Hate’ rally and march will be held at the Hawai‘i State Capitol on Saturday, March 27, according to the teen advocacy group known as @hawaiiforblacklives on Instagram. Local organizers will be calling on the State of Hawai‘i to “declare white supremacy and racism as a public health emergency.” 

“Hawaiʻi has a reputation as a racism-free paradise,” said organizing group member Kawika Pegram of the Hawaiʻi Youth Climate Coalition in a press interview. “But this facade masks the very real trauma that racism causes to minorities in Hawaiʻi as well, especially against Kānaka Maoli, Micronesian, and other Pacific Islander communities.

Gupta noted that the Ethnic Studies Department is in the process of planning a teach-in to grieve the recent events. The department’s official statement can be found at: