Interpretation shapes our lives

Rebecca Wanzo, chair of the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, responds to the Atlanta attack on the Asian community.

Interpretation shapes our lives.

Interpretation has interpersonal, ethical, political, and legal consequences. How we read events and each other plays a vital role in our ability to live with each other.

I have been sitting in sadness and solidarity, with friends and colleagues who have been processing the murder in Atlanta of eight people — predominately Asian women — and the discursive aftermath. Like many others, I was, to put it mildly, taken aback by Captain Jay Baker’s interpretative work when he claimed that the suspect was “fed up,” “at the end of his rope,” and “had a really bad day.” We can imagine many other ways to interpret these events.

Part of thinking through what we owe to each other in interpretative practice requires noting points of connection. That is central to what we commit to as a field and department in Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies. Last summer, I wrote a statement in solidarity with those protesting police brutality and anti-Blackness. It is important for us to recognize different histories of injuries against Asians and Black people while also recognizing points of solidarity, to understand histories of community work and activism that recognize connectivity in struggles for justice.

In drawing points of connection, there is also a substantial link between mass shootings and gender violence. Time and again we have seen that mass shooters have also assaulted women in their lives. In Atlanta, we saw a quite explicit link between mass shootings and gender violence—the killer reportedly claimed that he murdered six Asian women because of an alleged “sex addiction.” Invisible in some accounts is the fact that he could have chosen any number of targets for misogynist violence given the demographics of the city, but he specifically chose establishments with Asian women. Recognizing racialized gender violence as a specific issue must be central to any interpretation of these events.

Knowledge shapes interpretation. We can pledge to ourselves, as the critical race theorist Mari Matsuda reminds us, not to receive each other’s pain in ignorance.

To that end, we are co-sponsoring a panel Understanding Anti-Asian America with CRE2 and the Asian American Studies minor on Monday March 29, 2021, at 7 p.m. CST. I hope you’ll join us.




Rebecca Wanzo

Chair, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


For further reading:

Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Atlanta)

Cho, Sumi K. “Asian Pacific American Women and Racialized Sexual Harassment.”

Ho, Jennifer. “To Be an Asian Woman in America.” CNN.

Liu, Roseann and Savanna Shange. “Toward Thick Solidarity: Theorizing Empathy in Social Justice Movements.” Radical History Review (2018).

Mari J. Matsuda, Where is Your Body?: And Other Essays on Race, Gender, and the Law (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).

Mitsuyi Yamada, “Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster: Reflections of an Asian American Woman.”

Hampshire Feminist Collective, “The Legacies of Orientalism and the exoticizing of Women.”

Black and Asian-American Feminist Solidarities: A Reading List.