Alanah Davis: White Fear, It’s Your Final Act — You’re Fired

'EN'B, a Korean-American producer performing at a Baltimore APPI vigil for the victims of the mass shooting in Atlanta last week. Baltimore's vigil Monday was organized by The Chinatown Collective, Charm City Night Market, Baltimore Hard Reduction Coalition, and Baltimore Asian Resistance in Solidarity. Photo by Cori Dioquino, a Filipino-American film and theater actor currently based in Baltimore and New York.

Alanah Davis reflects on her experiences with realizing themes of racial fantasy in the world, especially with Asian women as she grieves alongside the AAPI community following the senseless mass shooting allegedly committed by Robert Aaron Long in Atlanta on March 16. It was seeded in this author’s opinion by white fear and a failed judicial system that both deserve to be “fired.”

Many moons ago I was a house manager at a theater downtown here in Baltimore. I was inevitably almost fired from that position. I say almost because I was warned by a fellow staff member in the spring of that particular year that I was going to be let go, and I quit in perfect early ’20s fashion with a millennial email tantrum.

It was eloquent. I was unwilling to take the trash out at the end of my shifts — I mean, eww. They were probably right in wanting to fire me? During my shifts and especially at night my tasks were comprised of taking out the trash in what was probably a haunted, old, and big Baltimore building, carrying a walkie talkie…the kind that gives you perceived power while you have none whatsoever.

Another piece of my role was supervising the theater’s volunteer base that was mostly comprised of seniors, retired folks, and just a speckling of young Black theater hopefuls including actors, writers, and directors who thought their best way into the theater world would be to start somewhere by volunteering (Black theatre folks, feel free to chuckle here). The volunteers, especially the ones at the intersection of old age and whiteness, did not like my being there very much, but that’s another story. 

Alanah Nichole Davis

Speaking of racial tension, this particular theater opened one of its seasons while I was working there with the critically acclaimed “M. Butterfly,” written by David Henry. The production is described as, “East meets West. Fact meets fiction. Illusion meets reality. When a powerful French diplomat becomes enchanted with a divine Peking opera star, little can quell the thirst of their intoxicating desire…”

This 1988 Pulitzer-winning drama is actually based on the true story of a disgraced French diplomat and convicted spy — Bernard Boursicot — who, at the world’s blatant homophobic tendencies was met with astonishment when he learned at his trial that the Chinese woman who had been his secret lover for nearly 20 years was a man. In a final act of the show, he kills himself rather than living with what he perceives will be dishonor if the world finds out about his accidental sexuality. It’s very toxic. The real guy is still alive and in his 70s.

The production of “M. Butterfly” is very powerful in the way that it highlights the politics of racial fantasy, specifically Asian fetish. The work does attempt to fold neatly the power dynamic between its main characters, a powerful politician named René Gallimard and Song Liling, who plays a Chinese actress who in my opinion was just being fetishized for simply being an Asian woman.

We should all know by now that the common stereotypes of Asian women are often that they are or should be subservient, passive, and quiet. I have plenty of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in my community of friends and associates and they absolutely range in personality, being outspoken, bad asses who are liberated in many ways and not beholden to such archaic assumptions. The AAPI women I know and even the ones I don’t are in my opinion deserving of their lives and what should be an effortless coupling of whatever they want to do with their lives. Whether it’s sex work or accounting or acting like Song Liling in “M. Butterfly,” it’s all valid, not to be challenged, and I dare anyone to say anything about that.

The intended neat folding of racial fantasy in “M. Butterfly” almost works because David Henry, the creator, uses relatability of unrequited love, war, and the allure of opera. But in a derogatory way, fetishization and taboo are ever-present and undeniable themes, just as we saw days ago when Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old, opened fire, killing eight people — including six Asian women named Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan and, Daoyou Feng — in Atlanta at a spa.

It’s been few short days after those senseless murders off of Highway 92 in Cherokee County down south in Atlanta, and I have strong opinions about Long, who I’ve been vehemently calling “Sicko.” I think it suits him very well, don’t you think? 

I’m, however, not Lady Justice with a blindfold, beam balance, and a sword, or Peter at the pearly gates of heaven deciding admission to each person at death. Based on my own and many of our musings about the way morality works, I’m not sure Long will have luck with our fair (if you’re not Black & especially male) Lady Justice or my main man Pete at the gates. 

Even after last week’s tragic events, when Googling the keywords “Asian Women Texas” the first couple of options read “Texas Asian Dating: Single Women, The Asian Dating Network, Date Asian Women In Texas” all hyperlinked to sites like interracialdating.com. In a few short seconds with this search, you can see how committed even search engine optimization is to racial fantasy. A fantasy upheld strongly by a lot of people but most men would cite preference as the reason they can’t get enough of Asian women.

“Preference” is just a euphemism meant to make racial fantasy or fetish sound mild, and it’s not…It’s literally killing people…women. The world, the internet, and even science have all equally been supportive of men and specifically their need to be satiated sensually and sexually by women. Most of these unhinged fetishes and fantasies go un-checked until moments like this week where we are grieving the lives of women like Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan and, Daoyou Feng lost tragically at the hands of entitled pricks like Robert “Sicko” Long.

Our entire modern world pivots on the whim of male desire. We live in a very sturdily built dwelling of Patriarchy here in America, this social organization characterized by male dominance is well built here; it has plumbing, a roof, and a doorbell. The preferences of men in both power and their living rooms, frat houses, and even dating apps have uncomfortable data attached to them: Asian women are the most “desirable” racial group among white men (and men of all other races, for that matter…).

So when Sicko Long told authorities upon his capture that the reason he killed those mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters was that he wanted to “eliminate temptation” due to his “sexual addiction,” were we really surprised? I was not. Especially after watching pieces of “M. Butterfly” over and over quietly at the back of a theater for an entire run, the temptation that René Gallimard had for Song Liling is not unlike the “temptation” that Robert Aaron Long claims he lives with.

Gallimard is based on a story from 1964 and it’s now 2021. When you say sex, sex addiction, or homosexuality — another theme that would take another essay entirely to comb through — people still clutch their pearls. In the recesses of folks’ minds, especially folks steeped in religion and respectability, they want to empathize with Robert “Sicko” Long because he’s saying he is ailed with what many of us have been taught is wrong anyway, sex. Because sex still has so much stigma and taboo surrounding it in America, people circle a horrible thought that, well if it’s sex-related…killing makes sense? Which is utterly and completely and by all accounts Wrong, with a capital W.

Thanks to a sordid history of research by the forefathers and mothers of sexual science like Kinsey, Masters and Johnson (who had some peculiar ways of thinking about sexuality, especially when it comes to women), people like Sicko…I mean Robert Aaron Long can say, “Sexual Addiction” and be met with awe and empathy by the public. We saw similar remarks about sex, sexual addiction, and misconduct from former United States Representative Anthony Weiner, who turned himself in after sexting teenaged girls. Weiner sobbed in court, saying, “I have a sickness but I do not have an excuse.”

We all know that it’s up to the scales of justice, which have been failing us time and time again, to prosecute Robert Aaron Long to the fullest extent of the law there in Georgia for this despicable hate crime against our AAPI friends. It’s up to those scales to show us that women, no matter their skin-color, deserve to be protected.

Just like we didn’t see those scales work in the case surrounding our dear Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015. A grand jury in Texas decided years ago that no felony was committed by the sheriff’s office or jailers in connection with the death. The circumstances of each of those cases vary but I’m not confident that Robert will be given his due by our judicial system. Are you?

This all begs the question: If I wasn’t good at taking out the trash at the theater and was nearly fired for it…why haven’t we fired those who uphold our justice system when it doesn’t work for us? If you can get fired from a small theater hinging on yearly annual giving to stay open then why is a well-funded machine like our judicial system that lets various sick men like Robert Aaron Long, who is accused of killing women, while they sleep, are about to start new jobs and are at work, still being propped up?

When calls to defund these systems are made, why is there so much ridicule? I just don’t get it. It’s not working…our judicial system doesn’t work for us, so let’s just fire everyone involved. Maybe they are all meant to do something else?

The leaders in our judicial system are all carrying figurative walkie-talkies and giving us all the illusion that they’re the bosses keeping law and order intact. But much like me in my theater job our judicial leaders have no real power…especially because this kind of tragic s*** keeps happening. Maybe they don’t like taking the trash out? This country is certainly not in its early ’20s and is absolutely not entitled to a snark email out of this…America is 244 years old, y’all.

This senseless shooting of eight people — six of them Asian women named Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng — in Atlanta should serve as a notice to white fear. White fear should also be fired from its job. I don’t know what the initial intention was for that silly job posting, though we all have a good idea of. who posted it.

Your time is up. You’re also fired. If anyone needs help executing the firing, I know a theater and other white-led organizations that are really good at firing people who they feel don’t belong, making things feel unsafe. And they know white fear well, too. Holla at me.

 

Alanah Davis
Alanah Davis is a Baltimore-based artist, community advocate, social change and arts consultant. She recently earned a master's degree in social design at Maryland Institute College of Art.