Monday, September 3, 2012

A Lesser Racism?

Choosing Your Poison.

I came across an article on a website called "Jade Luck Club" written by a Chinese-American woman named Ying Ma. Ma has written a book called "Chinese Girl In The Ghetto" (which I haven't read), in which she describes her experiences growing up as an immigrant in the pre-dominantly black neighbourhood of Oakland, California. In the book Ma describes how she and other Asians were (and are) targeted for racially motivated violence and harassment by some members of the black community, and how this often violent anti-Asian racism seems almost universally present where Asian and black minorities find themselves living in close proximity to each other in America's inner-cities. Ma is also an economist and runs a blog (here) in which she writes on the ideologies behind the economic systems of China and the US as well as expounding further on black/Asian racial disharmony and racism.

Although I find plenty of points on her website where I disagree with her - her overzealous (and apparently xenophobic) anti-China commentary, and her economic and social conservatism, - her article on Jade Luck is a straight-forward account of what seems to be an increasingly pervasive phenomenon of black on Asian violence, as well as honestly highlighting the apparent evasion and indifference from Asian-American activists and community leaders when it comes to speaking out about this problem. It is this aspect of the issue - the lack of  an assertive Asian-American voice in addressing the problem - that I will focus on because of the many things it reveals about the experience of being Asian in America.

To begin, here are some excerpts describing Ma's experiences and accounts of African-American anti-Asian racism......
At age ten, I immigrated from China to Oakland , California , a city filled with crime, poverty, and racial tension. In elementary school, I didn’t wear name-brand clothing or speak English. My name soon became “Ching Chong,” “Chinagirl,” and “Chow Mein.” Other children laughed at my language, my culture, my ethnicity, and my race. ......... 
........But even when I sat in the front, fire crackers, paper balls, small rocks, and profanity were thrown at me and the other “stupid Chinamen.” The label “Chinamen” was dished out indiscriminately to Vietnamese, Koreans, and other Asians...... 
.......My English was by now more fluent than that of those who insulted me, but most of the time I still said nothing to avoid being beaten up. In addition to everything else thrown at me, a few times a week I was the target of sexual remarks vulgar enough to make Howard Stern blush. When I did respond to the insults, I immediately faced physical threats or attacks....... 
........The racial harassment wasn’t limited to bus rides. It surfaced in my high school cafeteria, where a middle-aged Chinese vendor who spoke broken English was told by rowdy students each day at lunch time to “Hurry up, you dumb Ching!” On the sidewalks, black teenagers and adults would creep up behind 80-year-old Asians and frighten them with sing-song nonsense: “Yee-ya, Ching-chong, ah-ee, un-yahhh!” At markets and in the streets of poor black neighborhoods, Asians would be told, “Why the hell don’t you just go back to where you came from!”....... 
......In poor neighborhoods across this country Asians endure daily racial hatred just as I did. Because of their language deficiencies, their small size, their fear of violent confrontations, they endure in silence.......
Harrowing, yet experiences of this kind have come to almost define the character of black/Asian relations in recent years, with stories of anti-Asian violence against children and adults alike becoming an ever more frequent phenomenon. The accepted (and acceptable) narratives - as Ma notes - cite economic disparities as the motivation for the violence, yet as Ma points out.....
In any case, the economic disparities rationale falls apart in the many instances where racism flourishes in the absence of class differences. At San Francisco’s Hunters Point public housing complex, for instance, low-income Southeast Asian residents, who are in the minority, have consistently encountered racial harassment from their black neighbors. Racial slurs, physical threats, violence, and destruction of property have festered for years. Philip Nguyen of the Southeast Asian Community Center, who has worked on the case for years, notes that there are no economic differences between the Asian and black families in the complex. The Asians, he says, are very quiet and have made every effort to befriend the black residents, yet serious friction has persisted for ten years. 
Even worse (and this is an argument put forward by many Asians themselves) is the accusation that Asians are racist and therefore bring the prejudice and racial violence upon themselves. I have to give kudos to Ma for having the courage to write on this subject when so many of us in the Asian-American community simply avoid the issue altogether or deflect legitimate dialogue on the subject by making Asians responsible for anti-Asian prejudice. 

What I think Ma misses is the larger context of anti-Asian racism in the US (and the western world in general)  within which black on Asian violence thrives. In fact, looking at some of the content of Ma's blog I would say that  she has actually followed the lead of those Asian activists whom she criticizes by downplaying (or not even mentioning) the anti-Asian attitudes that pervade mainstream American culture and society. So although Ma should be praised for speaking out about the reality of the black/Asian conflict, the failure to place black anti-Asian prejudice in its proper social context dilutes her effectiveness.

There is no difference between an American politician (blue or red, and most usually white) goading American society into boycotting the products of an Asian economy by stoking xenophobic attitudes that create resentment and hostility for political gain, and an on-the-make black community leader goading a black community to boycott the local Asian-owned 711 for the same reason - all based on largely unfounded and never proven claims that Asians (both in the US and in Asia) are somehow cheating Americans out of their economic prosperity, or exploiting Americans in some way, or simply taking wealth that rightfully belongs to Americans. Likewise, there is no difference between a popular and well-loved American celeb pulling his or her eyes into slits and ching-chonging their heart away, and an African-American doing the same to an Asian on the school bus, Asian restaurant, or on the street. 

Furthermore, it is almost impossible not to consider a likely connection between America's acceptance and depiction of casual violence towards Asians (men in particular) in the media and the increasingly casual and seeming normalization of anti-Asian violence in society. This cultural depiction of gratuitous violence against Asians is typically sadistic in nature, and is portrayed as the almost preferred mode of dealing with conflict with Asian people. Sometimes - as was the case in Men In Black III which re-enacted and made the racial murder of Vincent Chin into a cartoon to be enjoyed by America's children- the sadistic violence is presented as something that is funny and comical. Yet, always this violence is shown to be something that is deserved and therefore justified - just like in American society in general and mirrored in black on Asian violence in particular - anti-Asian prejudice is somehow legitimized by the assertion that it is various qualities in the Asian character itself that causes the violence against them.

What is even more perplexing is that Ma herself engages in demonization of China and Chinese people and this is where she shoots herself in the foot and defeats her own crusade against anti-Asian violence in the black community. A peculiar feature of anti-Asian prejudice is that it is heavily driven by a "bleedover" of resentment stemming from the combative and xenophobic political or economic nature of America's foreign policy agenda with various Asian economic powers. By making such simplistic, jingoistic, and inflammatory, observations on China and its people, Ma mimics those who propagate and legitimize that aspect of American culture that demonizes Asians and leads to casual prejudice (and violence) towards them. 

The screaming irony is deafening. Ma criticizes Asian activists for their reticence on (and blindness to) black on Asian violence - and rightfully so! - yet she is guilty of blinding herself to the larger picture of white America's incessant cultural expressions of xenophobia that legitimizes and normalizes the very casual anti-Asian violence that exists in black America. Anti-Asian racism in the black community is simply a subset of the general culture of anti-Asian prejudice that characterizes America's attitudes towards Asia and its peoples.   American culture models behaviour towards Asians that makes mockery and harassment the cultural norm - why should we expect African-Americans to have different values than the general culture? It makes no sense to complain about the black racism coming from the back of the bus, but ignore the white racists who are seemingly free to broadcast their racial harassment into your living room on a regular basis.

Now one might argue that we don't see white people going around violently attacking Asians for no reason (I don't necessarily believe this is true) and thus American culture plays no role in how people behave towards Asians. But this is where the unique experiences that divide the races plays a role in how America's culturally promoted anti-Asian racism manifests in society. If you are live in an environment that is violent, hopeless, and offers you little opportunity, then your anti-Asian racism will manifest as violence. If you have the privileges of opportunity that being white offers then your anti-Asian racism might be likely to manifest non-violently - but it does manifest. The racism of the tenured college professor who limits Asian enrollment because he doesn't like Asians causes as much damage as a black thug in the hood.

This doesn't justify black on Asian violence by citing poverty as a cause, it simply means that because American culture nurtures and promotes a culture in which demeaning behaviours and ways of conceiving of Asians through mockery, celeb harassment through the mass media, and ubiquitous fantasies of sadistic violence in film and television, society sees this as the acceptable mode of interaction. This is why there is little outcry against anti-Asian racism from mainstream America - it is simply considered normal to mock, harass, and, if necessary (or desired), violently attack Asian people. Clearly, there is no way that black on Asian racism can be divorced from the phenomenon of mainstream American anti-Asian prejudice and addressing one without acknowledging the other is a self-defeating exercise.

What all of this highlights is the lack of an autonomous Asian-American narrative or point of view that stands separate from the black minority narrative of social oppression, as well as separate from the white narrative of  opportunity and privilege. The truth is, that the Asian experience has and does traverse both these narratives in a way that makes it impossible to make sweeping generalizations about Asian-Americans and their experience. As illustrated by Ma in her essays and her own experiences of dealing with apathetic and seemingly indifferent Asian "leaders", Asians seem to polarize between the black and white extremes and take sides accordingly - victims of black racism seek white allies, victims of white racism seek black allies. In either case (and as followed by Ma), the price is that each side downplays the anti-Asian racism of the ally with whom they have chosen to align. This approach offers refuge - somewhat - but cannot possibly address the underlying issues that lead to anti-Asian prejudice.

Choosing between two different types of racism is not really a choice but it is a feature of the Asian-American struggle against prejudice that we have to seemingly accept racism in one form or another because we have not successfully forged an all important "third option" that recognizes the specific narratives of anti-Asianism as a unique historical phenomenon that lies at the root of much of the inequalities and conflicts we see not only in the US but across the world. It is fundamentally the same as a choice between poisons.

Black racism can only disappear simultaneously as white racism - we can't pretend that because white anti-Asian racism isn't violent (is that even true?) that it is less damaging - the framework of anti-Asian racism as it manifests in the US is a construction of white power without which black racism could not propagate. Overall, Ma must be praised for her willingness to speak out on a subject that many Asian-Americans find taboo - black on Asian violence - but at the same time her seeming blindness to ingrained white cultural anti-Asian prejudice contributes little to a meaningful solution to the problem.


  1. Can I safely assume that her dating history will consist of white males only?

    1. If your comment is serious, then what are the implications of such an assumption if it were true? Can you elaborate or are you just trying to make some (notably weak) underhanded slight?

      If it was an attempt at humor, then it sucked because it just sounds like you're frustrated and trying to aggregate micro-aggressions on the blog... reducing Ben's intellectual thoughts to something miserly.

      Anywho, this posting brings up the incidents of those Chinese (or Taiwanese?) students who were bullied at a high school in the Midwest. The whole fiasco had the AA blogosphere up in arms about the very exact "media disregard" for the importance of violence towards Asian Americans.

      However, an argument from statistical concepts, I feel like sometimes we're unnecessarily labeling the issue as "Blacks targeting Asians" because the situation may not call for only Asians to be called out. Anywhere there are two groups of "different" people, isn't there always going to be some sort of tension or conflict arising? In New York, people are very racist to one another... and I don't see how that problem would be alleviated in povertized conditions. Also, a significant (emphasis on "significant") amount of Asians can be overtly racist towards Black people, too. Hell, even against OTHER Asians... Let me know if you can whole-heartedly and honestly refute that statement. Only in this case, the Asians are victims because the acts of racism against them are physically actualized--instead of just culturally. To be honest, a lot of minorities (majority too...) ride the wave of African-American bashing simply because of the pre-existing prejudices against them--it works as a political-social maneuvering to one-up another cultural group in yet another "us versus them" mentality. It just goes to show people will use whatever they can at their disposal to get into a position of advantage, and racism is an easy tool to exploit that innate human motive. Do you think that instead of Asians, it were Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Germans, French, Nigerians, Ugandans, or any "other" race it would be different? Why? What about the positive Asian-Black relationships we see in the media? Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker? The Boondocks (African-American cartoon series HEAVILY inspired by Japanese Anime)? NBA players for Jeremy Lin? Against him? So, do black people NOT rob each other and treat each other unfairly? Sure, it is racism because racial tools are used, but is it in ESSENCE racism? (I feel like people are gonna take these ideas at face-value and subsequently try their hand at punditry--don't. Think about it with some intellectual integrity, and then respond)

      I'm not trying to advocate any one side unfairly, but rather attempting to level the playing field by introducing a perspective that criticizes the critic while asserting that all criticisms are legitimate in a fact-based, evidential context.

    2. AD

      Welcome and thanks for your comment.

      I don't really understand this idea that racism cannot be alleviated in conditions of poverty. I've never really heard a strong argument that shows poverty increases or contributes to racism more than economic prosperity - are the upper-classes falling over themselves trying to bring minorities into their neighbourhoods? I don't think so.

      There is an implicit condescension in that very idea - poor people somehow are too what...stupid? base? or just plain ignorant? to avoid racist attitudes. I don't buy it. If you were to give a racist a million dollars would that make them less racist? I allude to this in the post - a well-off tenured professor who opposes Asian enrollment can do just as much harm to the life of Asian people as a hood thug.

      The point is that black on Asian violence and prejudice can only be understood and dealt with if we place it into its proper context - the larger phenomenon of America's cultural and historical hostility to Asia and its people.

      The fact that some Asians can be racist or that human nature might be tribalistic doesn't change this reality and the racism of Asians neither excuses this state of affairs nor refutes it. If you are saying that other groups (like the French) would experience this same situation then that would suggest that black racism is a bigger problem than any of us would have believed!

      But we don't see much cultural hostility against any of these groups - so why would you think that they would face the same complacency if they were targeted?

      I don't believe that most black people are racist towards Asians and that gives me hope that we can change our culture and ways of thinking so that anti-Asian hostility becomes less of the normalized mode of expression, which in turn, I hope would marginalize those who hold these attitudes.

    3. N..

      LOL. Wouldn't surprise me - but who cares?

    4. Ben, I think the data shows that there is absolutely a correlation between income level and educational levels. And I am certain that the academic consensus is that there is a correlation between educational achievement and racism - at least in types and frequency of different types of instances of racism (overt versus institutional, or spoken versus unspoken, or violent versus nonviolent). The latter correlation makes sense in both an intuitive way, and based on the types of incidences that we see in this story and scores of others.

      So while I agree that racism shouldn't NOT be harder to alleviate given poverty, I would caution against reality-avoidance in a discussion about how things are, versus how they should be.

    5. Remy

      Good points and I do allude to them in the OP. I do believe that there are many causes for black violence towards Asians. In a violent community violence will characterize many aspects of the relationship between Asians and African-Americans - but not all violence will have a racist agenda. But the problem is that these attitudes are allowed to fester and are often excused by poverty.

      The problem is that many white supremacists are recruited from poor and underprivileged backgrounds - but their poverty is never used to excuse their racism. Ultimately, allowing black racism towards Asians to fester unchallenged makes the struggle against racism into a joke and harms all minorities .

      Yet it is pointless to attempt to address the problem of Asian/black racial conflict without acknowledging that American culture itself makes anti-Asian behaviours (that may or may not lead to casual violence) normative. This what is missing from Ma's piece.

  2. @Ben

    Lol, there has to be a 'legitimate' reason why whites are left out of the racism discussion.


    You really missed a key point in Ben's post. Why are the whites left out of the discussion by Ying Ma? A key factor of the history of the conflict is that people from both sides bought into the 'model minority' concept that the whites had constructed.

    1. Thanks for responding, N.

      So, what you're essentially saying is that Ying Ma didn't mention white people and their role in the construction of this racial issue is because she has had a lot of white boyfriends?

      I'm just going to go ahead and extrapolate your probable argument as this: Ma has ignored the contribution/reprehensibility of "white people" in the discussion of Black racism against Asians because of her assumed white-favoritism for whatever reason. To this, I have to introduce the argument and the inherently complex issue of causality...

      The topic of her article/post is to discuss the issues of Black racism against Asians. There are two groups in the content: Blacks and Asians. To bring in another group, whether it be White or Latino or anybody else, is to forcibly introduce the issue of causal forces: who really is to blame if you're taking it that boundary? The article doesn't even attempt to qualify or disqualify the significance of "white racism," only to highlight the unique issue of an ironic account of minority on minority racism. If you're going to bring in outside sources of argument into an explicit premise (of Black and Asian), then I raise to you the following just-as-viable questions... what about the Mongols--Genghis Khan? What about the Japanese? What about Mao Ze Dong? What about North Korean anti-American sentiment?

      The "white people should be blamed too" mentality in this case is just too auxiliary. Too "out there" on the verge of possible arguments that it takes away from a very core issue that should be dealt with in a confined perspective because the issues in of themselves are so incredibly complex. Is it deniable that Asian Americans have values of hard work and education precipitates success? Is it also deniable that there's a stereotype of the "model minority" that claims such cultural values? Which came first, the chicken or the egg--the values or the stereotype? It's all self-fulfilling prophecies, catch 22s, and circular logic that serves no purpose in finding a realistic solution.

    2. AD

      I think your post was directed at N but I'll just clarify a few points.....

      There are two groups in the content: Blacks and Asians. To bring in another group, whether it be White or Latino or anybody else, is to forcibly introduce the issue of causal forces: who really is to blame if you're taking it that boundary? The article doesn't even attempt to qualify or disqualify the significance of "white racism," only to highlight the unique issue of an ironic account of minority on minority racism.

      That is exactly why Ma's article fails to adequately address the issue of black on Asian violence - there is no logical reason (or way) to separate the expression of violent anti-Asian racism (from any group) from the cultural normalization of racist behaviour towards Asians.

      The culture of widespread mainstream American hostility towards Asia is the only way to understand and explain the acceptance and indifference of American society towards anti-Asian Asian racism - regardless of who the perpetrators are.

    3. @AD

      Ben pretty much took the words out of my mouth.

      I'll add a bit more -

      If you don't see the history where white americans and media pitting minorities against each other, while plugging the Asian American as 'model minority' and Blacks as 'thugs' - and the impact of this on the Asian and Black communities...

      Well, hopefully you have a legitimate reason for the ignorance.

    4. Well, we have to be careful to ascertain whether or not this was legitimate racism that occurred. If the racism was intended yet not legitimate, the body and society actually reacts in a way which rejects the racism as if it never happened, thus rendering any effect essentially neutral.

  3. We should focus on the source of these issues - THE MEDIA.

    There are two significant factors that significantly contribute to the racism and injustice we, as Asians face in society today:

    Firstly, the Western mass media mainly demonizes and ridicule the Asian's Image, while legitimizing hate against Asians with its sickeningly inaccurate representation of Asian cultures, false stereotypes, as well as derogatory roles.

    Secondly, there is absolutely no repercussions in violence and racism against Asians at all.

    Unless this change, the next generation of Asians in the next decade will still be bitching about the exact same thing. Heck! It might even be worse for them if this trend continues.

    We should be focusing our effort and resources to thwart and counter the effect of the media. It is destroying the very foundation of our cultural and social identity. We are already seeing its effect - Many Asians out there are doing everything in their power to tear away from their Asian identity (eyelid surgery, plastic surgery, Asian males being left out in the dating game by Asian females as well as other races, etc.). We can't really blame them, can we?. Afterall, with degrading and emasculating Asians' representations portrayed in the mass media such as Ken Jeong, William Huang and the likes, who the hell would want to be associated with anything to do with the Asian identity? Being "Asians" would mean being associated with all the negative attributes and the false stereotypes. Without any retribution on our part against all this injustice and racism, we are letting the racist people in power define our Asian identity for us.

    As of now, raising awareness is the only thing we can do. Although personally, I feel that something more needs to be done least the next generation of Asians will still suffer the same cycle. Suggestions and ideas are always welcome.

  4. Wolf

    Good points. It is likely that anti-Asian violence in the black community is overlooked because in order for mainstream America to acknowledge it they would have to acknowledge the role that cultural hostility plays in normalizing racist behaviour towards Asians across all levels of American society from the Capitol all the way down to the inner city.

  5. black on asian violence? you mean black on asian violence in the bay area.

    where else does this occur? please point out the TREND.

    and, i'm assuming you regard these things as hate crimes? why are there so few reported hate crimes against asians if they are so under siege by the heathen black hoards who pounce on the poor innocent asians whenever they can?

    anyway, it's in various asian cultures to be racist, imo. i think asians are more racist than whites actually.

    1. In New York and Philadelphia the racial violence committed by African-Americans on Asian children required justice department intervention. Plus, ongoing tensions in LA. So no, it's not just the Bay area. These four areas, however, account for around 12% of the Asian-American population which is not an insignificant number.

      Of course the real issue is that these crimes are enabled by the unwillingness of authorities, administrators, and community leaders to address the problem. In the New York and Philly school violence some teachers and admins were reported to have instigated racial baiting, and tampered with vital evidence.

      But I think that overall, you have missed the point of my post.

    2. Exactly. Took the words right outta my mouth lol.

    3. look, some asians are gonna get assaulted, etc. just like everyone else living in those communities.

      why should a black community leader, or even an asian leader, address this in the way you think they should?

      violence is a fact of life in many of these areas and no one is exempt. everyone is fair game. everyone - a woman, a man, a boy, a girl, old and young. this is why they can't really address the problem.

      it doesn't matter how nice you supposedly are. there are black people who are very nice who get their asses beat down all the time. there are black kids do well in school and are harrassed or beaten or even shot. there are hardworking people who are standing on the street corner and just get shot by someone in a passing care.

      there is too much violence in these communities in general for anyone to pay more attention to asians getting their asses kicked cuz everyone is getting their asses kicked. everyone catches hell. you ain't special hun.

      people who are there (regardless of color) just need to figure out how to keep their noses clean and get out as soon as possible.

      if these are hate crimes, where are the stats? why aren't people pressing charges or demanding these incidences be treated as hate crimes? are they? you have not submitted any proof or evidence that this is a trend. none. nothing. nada. and some of those incidences are old. no links...

      one thing black people can do is argue discrimination. blacks are so experienced at it - it's the history in this country. you need to know how to track institutional racism and data, etc. you gotta have proof dude. your argument is just weak and based on an opinion but no facts.

      and, lmao at ongoing tensions in l.a. you think koreans are nice to black people? and mexicans, for that matter? of course there will be tensions.

      just for clarity's/accuracy's sake, according to the lapd, most of the people arrested during the infamous l.a. riots were actually latino/mexican. evidently they had issues with koreans too, but we won't talk about doesn't fit your tidy little narrative.

    4. Anon

      It isn't my narrative. It is a cold hard fact that Asians have been targeted for racial violence in the four main communities where Asians and blacks live in proximity. The justice department has found that in both New York and Philly, the civil rights of Asian students was violated - that's a matter of history.

      Why these attacks on Asians in Philly, New York, and the Bay Area haven't been included in hate crime stats I don't really know - but that doesn't mean that they aren't hate crimes. In one day at South Philly High School there were over thirty separate incidences of biased crime against Asian students, yet they were not classified as hate crimes. Go figure.

      I'll also note that figures for hate crimes against African-Americans are low compared to the degree to which African-Americans might testify to experiencing them. So it's unlikely that hate crime stats tell the full story for either Asians or African-Americans - few in either community would agree that hate crime stats are an accurate assessment of the presence of hate crimes.

      I'm not interested in competitions to see who suffers the most from racism - it neither changes the facts already presented to you. It is pointless to use the African-American experience of racism to deflect from the fact that Asians are being targeted for racially biased attacks and harassment from that community. That is a piss poor strategy - and it allows racism to hide behind the genuine experiences of disadvantage and discrimination in black communities. It harms the credibility of the African-American struggle. Testimonies of Asians across the country, Justice department findings, plus the casual acceptance and expression of racism towards Asian people across all echelons of American society hint strongly at a culture of anti-Asian racism within the black community.

      Blaming this violence on the most disadvantaged members of the black community is both dishonest and immoral. As the justice department findings showed in both New York and Philly, violence in schools was enabled by those in power - teachers. admins, local leaders (who also stoke the flames of bigotry for political gain), and even security personnel, were either indifferent or even sometimes contributed to the culture of racism. So it's not just the poor - that would be too easy an excuse.

      I am interested in reading about the role of Latinos in the LA riots so please provide any links you might have - I would appreciate it.

    5. @Anonymous

      Also please use a name on your posts so I know who I'm talking to.