Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy Father's Day

An American Hero.

I just came across this story over at Angry Asian Man - a man of Vietnamese descent living in Iowa, has been charged with three counts of attempted murder and one count of intimidation with a dangerous weapon after he shot at his neighbours following years of being on the receiving end of racial harassment and intimidation. The incident took place after Pham had being verbally abused and threatened by his neighbour who had banged on Pham's door and demanded that he come out and fight. According to his family, the normally even tempered and  law-abiding Pham, snapped after years of similar intimidation and defended himself in the only language his racist neighbour apparently could understand. Here's more.......
Family members of a Cedar Rapids man accused of trying to kill his neighbors say he snapped after enduring years of racial slurs, broken windows and thrown feces..... 
....Police said the shooting stemmed from a disagreement between the two men. Pham’s family contends it started years earlier, citing police reports, a restraining order and even a lawsuit as evidence of years of harassment from neighbors, including Wilson and Moses..... 
..Both Springer and Kathie Pham said Joseph Pham had called the police several times, but the harassment continued.... 
..Pham filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Jamie Moses, Tracy Moses’ ex-husband. He claimed Moses had broken two windows of the Phams’ home, driven his vehicle in their yard and torn up the grass, destroyed their mail, fired a shotgun over their property, contacted DirecTV to cancel their service and thrown feces at Kathie Pham. The lawsuit seeks damages including emotional distress, pain and suffering, property damage, punitive damages and court costs... 
...Springer said Saturday’s incident began when Pham was working outside and Brian Wilson came up to the fence and started making racial slurs. He told Pham to come outside and fight him, Pham’s niece said, and then he went to the front door and started banging on it.
This is a common experience for Asian people and it is one of the ways that anti-Asian racism is perpetuated to keep Asians in their place. The way it works is that some anti-Asian racist will provoke and harass an Asian, but because this type of behaviour is normalized in American society (in fact, its cultural depictions of Asians can be said to be a form of racial harassment) any attempts at self-defence are reined in by authorities and the media.

This story from 2009, the LA riots of twenty years ago, and now Pham's story illustrate one of the ways that anti-Asian racism is perpetuated in society. In the case of the student, he acted just like any other school-age boy would have acted, but school authorities overlooked the racial harassment that he had been subjected to, and allowed the boy who had perpetrated it to go unpunished, whilst at the same time the Asian boy is suspended and criminally charged. In the case of the LA riots, the Koreans were targeted because of their race, and were widely castigated by the media for defending themselves.

On a personal note - and some of you readers may have experienced something similar - my first experience of racism occurred the day after I started school when I was five. Two boys a year ahead of me started using racial slurs and physically attacking me in full view of teachers and playground monitors who watched but did nothing. I put up with it for a day and a half, until lunchtime on my third day of school when I turned on my tormentors after they had again kicked and punched me and started flailing on one of them. The other kid became afraid and ran off like a bitch to tell a teacher. Of course, the two white boys were given no reprimand but I, on the other hand, was angrily scolded and told that I was a thug. Luckily for me, but not for the school, my parents didn't stay quiet and they marched up  to the school with some extended family members and made sure the school understood the error that they had made.

As you can see, in all of these situations, mainstream America is empowered to openly commit acts of racial violence and harassment against Asians, yet it is the Asian victims who are castigated when we retaliate (like any human being would do) in any shape or form. This is one of the ways that anti-Asian prejudice is propagated throughout American society and it is how mainstream America effectively sanctions racial baiting and violence towards Asian people.

That's why it is possible for anti-Asian prejudice to be openly expressed by Americans of all kinds, from hate-driven neighbours to the most popular cultural figures and influential politicians, and especially notable is the degree of hate crimes being committed against Asian children in America's schools. Yes, it is true that media depictions normalize anti-Asian attitudes, but it is the apathy, or particpation of institutions and authorities that uphold this normalization of racist behaviours.

Vilifying and criminalizing Asians who have been pushed over the edge emotionally and physically by persistent racial harassment or violence in their daily lives, and probably compounded by routine and pervasive anti-Asian racism in America's media, is tantamount to legitimizing the practice. In regards to this latter point it is worth remembering that there is a scene in the recent Men In Black III movie in which the two heroes find humour in racial murder and employ slapstick violence to basically re-enact the racist murder of Vincent Chin - turning racial violence against Asians into a normal function of the interaction with Asian people. It should be no surprise then, that some Asians are pushed to the very edge of endurance in the face of persistent and pervasive racism.

On this score we should also remember the death of Asian-American soldier, Danny Chen, who committed suicide after enduring weeks of racial abuse from other members of his unit. His tormentors are likely to be punished with a severe slap on the wrist. It would seem that these are the choices offered to Asian-Americans; endure racism passively and good naturedly or commit suicide. The third choice of defending yourself and your family in the same way that white Americans are expected to (after all, the hero who, often violently, stands up to oppression is glorified in American culture), is gravely discouraged at the best of times, and punished at the worst.

In the case of Pham (and the Korean immigrants in the 1992 pogrom), they were doing what any decent father would do; defending their families. That makes Pham a hero in my book.


  1. I thought my dad would be interested in this story since he loves keeping up with Vietnamese news and used to be a brawler back in the day. This was his response (paraphrased and translated of course):

    They exactly what they want. They piss you off every little bit they can until you can't stand it anymore and finally explode. He should have called the cops.

    What if the cops don't come?

    Get a lawyer.

    I left it at that, but I wonder..... is it really that easy? I'm a bit skeptical to say that it is, but i didn't want to go any further than that.

    1. Like I said before, your Dad sounds really cool! I completely agree with what he said, but I think that in the case of Pham he had good reason (based on past problems as well as the fact that his neighbour was pounding at his door making threats) to defend himself.

      I think that I am trying to make the point that the casual and free-flowing racism against Asians that is routinely expressed - both verbally and physically - is something that Asians feel they need to defend themselves against.

      If someone attacks you in the school playground you are not a thug to defend yourself. If someone vandalizes your home and makes threats against you, it is completely reasonable to feel as though your life is in danger.

      America promotes racist behaviour towards Asians through its culture and political rhetoric and thus there is no difference between racial harrassment or bullying and the model of normal mainstream interactions with Asians - they are the same.

      That's why a sportsman can get up behind an Asian man and racially taunt him without the sense that this is actually baiting, or derogatory in any way.

      Just like every human being alive, Asians don't like to live their lives in a state of being perpetually harrassed. No human being is capable of existing under those conditions and no human being should be expected to. And herein lies the crunch - American culture insists that Asians must not be negatively effected by the pervasive racism that they are subjected to on a daily basis.

    2. Hey Ben, sorry for not responding earlier- some asshole stole my laptop so I had to get a new one and I'm still trying to get everything onto my new one. I lost all the unfinished ideas for my personal blog man. Not cool.

      Anyways. my dad says in that situation it's better to just move out. Of course that's not always possible, but I guess that's one of the reasons why Asians care about money and status so much. I'll make a post once I'm done taking care of my own stuff.

    3. Damn. Hope you get things worked out. I look forward to reading your post.

  2. Ben Efsaneyim:
    My name is Erika Springer (joseph Pham's nice) my family has been talking to attorneys about civil rights violations to not only my uncle but to all Asian decent Americans. please go to this web site and share it with any one you know

    when you get to the page you will need to look on the right side of the page under categories and click on English to translate the page

  3. if that don't work just go to the bottom of the page and that also has the whole page translated to English