Potomac’s ASIA club reflects on the Atlanta shooting



Many attended protests in Chinatown, Washington, D.C. following the series of shootings in Atlanta.

Isabel Engel and Ali O'Brien

On March 16, eight people were murdered in a series of shootings in Atlanta, Georgia. Six were women of Asian descent. In the aftermath of the massacre, the conversation surrounding hate and bias directed towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities has been reignited. News organizations, social media platforms, and institutions around the nation are seeking to amplify AAPI voices and address the increase in anti-AAPI hate crimes and hate speech since the inception of the pandemic.

The following email interview, conducted between editors of The Current and leaders of the Asian Students in America (ASIA) club, Audrey Lee and Annabel Lee, seeks to further this dialogue. 

Editor’s note: The responses below have been edited for clarity and length. 

1. What was your initial reaction to the shootings in Atlanta? 

At first, it was pretty shocking, but at the same time, we weren’t super surprised given the large number of violent anti-Asian hate crimes we had seen in the previous weeks. It was frustrating to see the corresponding social media reposts on Instagram stories about ending Asian-American discrimination, even though it has been a problem since the beginning of Covid-19 and earlier. 

2. How do the shootings reflect an increase in anti-AAPI discrimination throughout the pandemic? 

Since the start of the pandemic, Asians have been increasingly targeted with various racist remarks such as China flu, Kung flu, bat-eater, and more. In fact, numbers have shown that there were 3,800 anti-Asian attacks, and in the most populous US cities, a 150% increase in Asian hate crimes in 2020. Despite other anti-Asian attacks occurring during the pandemic, the Atlanta shootings are one of the first big hate crimes to be addressed on national news, and we hope its widespread coverage reveals the extent to which anti-Asian violence is still present in our communities.

3. What did you think of Potomac’s response to the massacre? How can our school best address anti-AAPI discrimination? 

We think Potomac’s response to the massacre was appropriate. It was important to show the Upper School how important allyship is to the AAPI community, especially in light of recent events. It’s also frustrating, however, that it took a tragic event on national news for the administration to say something. ASIA club has been discussing the rise of AAPI discrimination since the pandemic first hit last year. We think our school can address anti-AAPI discrimination by having a lot more meaningful conversations and making them mandatory. In the lunchtime conversation, we talked a lot about how Potomac lacks a lot of resources for AAPI students. Asian-American faculty are dramatically underrepresented at Potomac. It’s really important that there are faculty members that can help support Asian-American students. Another thing that came up in the meeting was the fact that among a student body of over 400, only 40 people made it to the call, the majority being faculty, and only one white male student. When this was mentioned in the meeting, I was definitely made uncomfortable. We understand that people have other clubs/meetings/etc. to go to, but it’s also important to make time for these conversations.

4. Tell us a little bit about the lunchtime conversation. How did it go and what were some of the key takeaways from the discussion? 

Much of our conservation focused on the “Model Minority” myth that ignores the devastating harm even supposedly positive stereotypes can cause. This stereotype devalues the struggles Asian-Americans and other POC minorities face. This often comes into play where Asian Americans are considered to have this innate intelligence and must always keep their heads down. One example from my personal experience [Audrey recounts] was when a male counterpart in the classroom commented, “Oh yea, it makes sense that you have all A’s. You’re Asian.” I was incredibly frustrated because I knew I earned those grades just like the rest of my classmates, through hard work. It also brings up the question: What happens when an Asian-American student doesn’t meet this standard? Do teachers have biases as to how Asian-American students should be performing in the classroom? How do you get rid of that? 

Another key takeaway was how Asian-Americans are often overlooked in discussions of racism. In the conversation, many brought up the point of how microaggressions can be even more dangerous because some might not consider it racism. But this dismisses and minimizes the experiences that Asians face regularly. 

Upper School English teacher and K-12 Cultural Competence Curriculum Coordinator Ms. Torrye Parker also spoke on a point that recently resonated with us: Oftentimes, we find ourselves hesitant to speak out especially amidst other minorities in fear of “overstepping.” However, Ms. Parker notes how there is no “oppression hierarchy.” No matter how privileged you feel, your experiences as a minority are still valid. Discrimination against minorities is still discrimination at the end of the day. She even connected it back to how the “Model Minority” myth is a tool created by white supremacy used to pit racial minorities against each other, perpetuating further racism. This division is counterproductive, especially when minority communities need to be propping each other up. 

5. As we continue these important conversations, what can effective allyship look like? 

Junior Destiny Attagba put it really well: It’s important to keep engaging even after tragic events like this die down. Otherwise, it comes across as performative activism and looks like you’re only trying to save face. 

Another important point discussed in the meeting was the idea of cancel culture. It’s really hard to call someone out for a microaggression or racist joke or because you don’t want to come across as “canceling” them or even getting yourself “canceled.” Mr. Teasley also brought up how it’s harder for Asian-American students to say something after experiencing microaggressions perpetrated by their white male counterparts when they claim “they’re just joking.” Calling someone out for racist behavior or jokes should not be an opportunity to “cancel” someone but, rather, a time to educate and help people grow an understanding of their own prejudices.