Embracing my identity as a Korean-American activist is empowering and a responsibility


“Eight killed in a shooting at a spa in Atlanta, with fears of bias against Asians.”

“The captain who said the resort shooting suspect had a ‘bad day’ is no longer a spokesperson,” officials say.

“He said that sex addiction was the reason Asian women were killed.”

I spent the first 48 hours updating Google constantly and clearing headlines as details about the slow fire were released. As a religious activist in the prevention of gun violence, I’ve found myself in similar situations several times: I spent an afternoon refreshing the page to identify shooting victims. But as a member of the Korean community and the largest Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, this shooting struck a very personal chord.

Within the past 12 months, Stop AAPI Hate has admitted 3,800 incidents of hate crimes Aimed at the AAPI community. These attacks range from verbal abuse to assault and murder, with AAPI having an overwhelming number of women-centered hate crimes. However, even in the face of these devastating statistics, law enforcement in Georgia and President Joe Biden have not officially designated or recognized the Atlanta shooting as a hate crime, although law enforcement authorities said “There was nothing on the table.” In defining motivation. Instead, the shooter’s actions were justified and publicized by many as a result of having a “bad day”.

The widespread root causes and repercussions of this shooting go beyond the defense of a mere “bad day”. Everyone has bad days. My bad days – which burst into tears after defending the rights of illegal immigrants and been nicknamed “Asian” in the school hallway – often stem from the discrimination inherent in our American culture. However, I have not used them as an excuse to commit violence. The “bad day” shot by the Atlanta shooter cost the lives of eight people and resulted in the centuries-long intersection of racism, discrimination, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, misogyny and firearms violence. And it’s frustrating that it has apparently been subjected to countless attacks on Asian Americans – many of them elderly – culminating in the recent mass shootings to spur a national uprising and the perception of AAPI hatred among the general public, the mainstream media, and our political leaders.

For the past three years, I have worked as a student advocate pushing for gun sense legislation after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting affected my community in then South Florida. I am grateful to learn more about the impact of systemic racism on the statistics and patterns of firearms violence and its disproportionate impact on the black and brown communities. However, largely due to how the AAPI community is portrayed as “successful” – erasing the struggles of various races in Asia and the Pacific Islands within the umbrella of AAPI – and the perverse myth of the “minority model”, I have noticed time and time again how the experiences of the various races are often erased. AAPI from a narrative of American racism and hardship. Even in my activist community where I expected to admit AAPI hate, I faced many subtle attacks. At a leadership conference, I was told I was “not grateful” because I wish there was more representation than AAPI in our history curricula, and I shouted that “not all minorities are represented equally.”

The honest truth about being an AAPI activist in the armed violence prevention movement is this: Your whole activism is a lasting balance between privilege and recognition. In discussing the disproportionate effects of armed violence, many in the AAPI community can find ourselves in a gray area between white and black and brown communities. I try to improve the communities most affected by armed violence while also drawing attention to the unique challenges my community faces. I have had many conversations to define who I am within the AAPI community and find a balance in highlighting my personal struggles I live in the South and attending a coherent school, realizing that my story is less than a small part of the infinite, multidimensional narrative of the AAPI community. It is a very accurate and sophisticated understanding that I work on constantly because it is important to my goals as a gun violence prevention activist and as a Korean American.

It can be complicated, but it may be these complexities in our identities and the roles we play in society that make this work truly worthwhile and enjoyable. But most importantly, these past few months have strengthened and defined the allies of the AAPI community in its corner, as well as reminding people of the long history and impacts of AAPI activism. In the aftermath of the Atlanta shooting, friends and colleagues in the gun violence movement sent texts ranging from “I think of you and everyone in the AAPI community <3" to "a little reminder that you are a kind, kind, lovable person."

It is the moments of pure love, appreciation, and perseverance through media reports on such an abominable tragedy, that gives me hope and makes this work worth fighting for.

Seo Yoon (Yoonie) Yang is a rising high school student in Tennessee. She is passionate about advocacy and firearm violence prevention, racial justice and international relations. She previously published articles with YR Media, TeenVogue, JTA, and Amendo.

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