SSWU Chicago’s statement on mass tragedy in Atlanta
The tragedy that unfolded in Atlanta demonstrates how anti-Asian racism, exploitation of workers, and misogynistic entitlement to women’s bodies and women’s labor are all tightly intertwined.
Members of Social Service Workers United-Chicago have spent the last several days in grief, anger, and shock in the horrific aftermath of the murder of 8 people in Atlanta. 6 of the victims were Asian women.
We hold the names and memories of the victims in our hearts:
Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez
Paul Andre Michels
Soon Chung Park
Yong Ae Yue
We will not name the man who committed this mass atrocity. As social service workers we must condemn this unrelenting cycle of aggrieved white men with guns who murder women out of a sense of entitlement and misogynistic anger. This tragedy comes at a time when Asians and Asian-Americans across the United States have been targeted in violent hate crimes, and when popular rhetoric blames Asians and Asian-Americans for the COVID-19 pandemic.
In our July open letter regarding the historic failings of the National Association of Social Workers, we wrote the following:
We reject the standard narrative that it is “difficult”, “challenging”, or “exhausting” to work with clients from marginalized racial or ethnic backgrounds. The most dangerous people to work with are not our clients, but white men who don’t like being told “no” in any context — identities disproportionately held by our teachers, bosses and CEOs.
This still holds painfully true.
The tragedy that unfolded in Atlanta demonstrates how anti-Asian racism, exploitation of workers, and misogynistic entitlement to women’s bodies and women’s labor are all tightly intertwined. A man murdered women at their jobs and justifies these horrific acts because he alleges he was angry at his own mother and blamed spa workers for causing “sexual sin”. These assumptions are based off of thousands of years of misogynistic attitudes, and America’s history of exploiting Asian women in the United States and across the world. In Red Canary Song’s statement, they rightfully explain “Due to sexist racialized perceptions of Asian women, especially those engaged in vulnerable, low-wage work, Asian massage workers are harmed by the criminalization of sex work, regardless of whether they engage in it themselves.”
We condemn law enforcement and criminal “justice” systems that repeatedly express more compassion and empathy towards white men who commit atrocities than women of color harmed by police violence. The man who murdered 8 people in Atlanta had his justification that he was “having a bad day” amplified by a police officer speaking at a press conference. When Anjanette Young, a Black woman and social worker returned home from her shift at a Chicago hospital, she was subjected to a violent raid by Chicago Police department officers who expressed no concern for her emotional well-being.
We know that calls for “more mental health treatment”, typically meaning more power for clinicians to involuntarily hospitalize people, almost always follow tragedies like this. These calls for mental health practitioners to incarcerate more people in psychiatric hospitals frequently come from politicians who oppose any kind of policy change that would make it more difficult for violent men to obtain guns. This man did not commit this heinous act because he “had a bad day” or was suffering from “sex addiction”.
We must recognize that social work has its own ongoing history of upholding the oppression of Asian and Asian-American communities. Social workers were actively involved in the internment of Japanese-American citizens in World War II. The current curriculum requirements for social work BSW and MSW programs only requires one course on diversity, equity and inclusion. Many of our members, who attend or graduated from BSW and MSW programs at many different universities in the metropolitan Chicago region can attest that current courses on “multicultural social work” fall woefully short and frequently flatten minoritized racial and ethnic groups, including Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander communities to a collection of generalizations and stereotypes. The metropolitan Chicago region is home to a large Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander community, and the background and needs of this incredibly diverse community should not be relegated to one week in a required “diversity” course or an optional elective.
Additionally, social work continues to uphold and perpetuate the same harmful attitudes about sexuality that directly fuel deadly racist gender-based violence and exploitation through its continued support and partnerships with agencies and hospitals that perpetuate the surveillance women, and especially women of color under the noble intentions of “ending human trafficking” or “instilling healthy sexual behaviors”. One particularly heinous example is Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited), a partnership between the Arizona State University School of Social Work and the Phoenix Police Department that detained women accused of engaging in sex work or “manifesting prostitution”, and required people to attend anti sex-work “diversion” programs run by Catholic Charities in order to have their criminal charges dropped, and to receive access to healthcare services.
Project ROSE’s unethical and exploitative behavior received international attention after Monica Jones, a social work student, was repeatedly arrested and ordered to participate in Project ROSE. Jones has repeatedly noted how “manifesting prostitution” charges and “diversion from prostitution” programs only serve to stigmatize and criminalize women of color — especially trans women of color for the alleged crime of “walking in public while trans”.
Additionally, many social service agencies and their funding organizations actively work to further criminalize abortion services and drive policies that racially profile and punish Asian women who seek abortions. State laws that criminalize sex-selective abortions are frequently based on completely unfounded and deeply racist assumptions that Asian women are more likely to seek sex-selective abortions. Purvi Patel was convicted of feticide and felony neglect of a child after suffering a miscarriage and seeking treatment at an Indiana hospital. Her conviction was overturned due to the incredible advocacy work of a variety of organizations, but we must ask: How many nonprofit organizations worked to create a policy environment in Indiana that criminalized Purvi Patel’s miscarriage in the first place? Why did no social worker at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center intervene to prevent Purvi Patel from being questioned by law enforcement without the presence of an attorney? We are committed to building worker power within social services so more social service workers can mobilize to end oppressive practices in their workplaces without fear of retaliation.
We cannot condemn this tragedy without considering how our profession has continuously fueled the exact same attitudes and sentiments expressed by the man who committed these horrific murders and the law enforcement officer who chose to amplify his supposed motivations, instead of providing support for the families of those murdered.
Social service workers must be part of ongoing organizing efforts to end anti-Asian racism, gender-based violence, and the exploitation of service workers and sex workers. We call on every social service agency and social work and counseling training program in the metropolitan Chicago region to condemn this atrocity and commit to addressing and eliminating anti-Asian racism and misogyny. We encourage all Chicago area social service organizations and students and faculty of social work training programs to attend any of the upcoming bystander intervention trainings being hosted by Asian-Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.
We also urge people to support the following organizations with a donation:
Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta
Asian-American Resource Center’s Atlanta Shooting Victims Family Fund
GoFundMe for Elcias Hernandez
GoFundMe to support the family of HyunJunKim
GoFundMe to support the family of Paul Michaels
GoFundMe to support the family of Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez