Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Late Night writer Karen Chee attacks the racism and misogyny at the root of the Atlanta killings

Karen Chee
Karen Chee
Screenshot: Late Night With Seth Meyers

After the mass murder and hate crime that saw eight people at three Atlanta spas—six of them Asian women—shot to death by yet another murderous white guy with access to firearms, late-night talk shows once more had to find ways to process national tragedy. Seth Meyers, whose Late Night has made a welcome habit of sharing the spotlight with the show’s writing staff, took some time at the top of Thursday’s show to turn things over to Late Night writer Karen Chee.

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Chee, who’s Korean-American, was unsparing in addressing not just the fact that yet another heavily armed white man went on a mass shooting spree directly targeted at members of a minority community, but how the police and the media have practically tackled each other to be the first to assure the country that race was not really a factor. “Most media outlets have failed to call it what it is—a hate crime,” began Chee, also calling out one Jay Baker, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office police captain who all-too predictably went on TV to explain away shooter Robert Aaron Long’s (“a racist, misogynist, and a coward,” said Chee) calculated, three-site murder spree as the result of being “fed up,” and of Long having had “a bad day.” (Baker—wait for it—has also been outed as both a former employee of noted racist murderer haven and international mercenary outfit Blackwater, and a fan of sharing anti-Asian social media posts, and has been quietly removed as spokesman for the case.)

Chee, who, like everybody, has had some bad days during this time of deadly pandemic, lockdown isolation, and living in New York every day, scoffed, noting that her last bad day saw her not so much acquiring all the guns and ammo she could carry and going human-hunting, but “an entire Domino’s pizza and lying in bed and rewatching Ted Lasso.” Calling murderer Long’s act “a textbook hate crime,” Chee continued that people like Baker and others refusing to call it that are engaged in the age-old white American pastime of “continuing to erase Asian people as they’re being killed.” Noting that the killer has been cited as having a particular grudge against Asian women, and that the spas he targeted were a “temptation” the purported sex addict wanted to “eliminate” (according to multiple reports), Chee was unsparing in letting America know that our society’s stereotyping of Asian women as either “cold and unfeeling or as sexualized objects” is a big factor, too.

Citing the fact that overall hate crimes against Asian people have risen astronomically since Donald Trump and his minions started scapegoating China for the COVID pandemic with hacky racist labeling, Chee said this latest explosion of murderous hatred is just another manifestation of “centuries-old racism.” Steering non-Asian viewers toward writers like Erika Lee, Kimberly Yam, and Cathy Park Hong for some much-needed perspective, Chee also suggested that we, as a country, face up to a whole lot of overtly anti-Asian government policy over our frequently whitewashed history. (Google the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, the Japanese WWII internment, or the paltry punishment given to the two white men who murdered Vincent Chin for some harsh truths about our truly shitty history in this area.) Chee also suggested viewers—should they be still “able to function” at this point in our national nightmare—donate to places like the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and the Asian American Journalist Association, and take part in online “bystander training” to better know how to handle things the next time some asshole starts spouting Fox News racist talking points in your vicinity.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.