America’s Anti-Asian Racism in Black and White
There was an interesting post over at Angry Asian Man about violence committed against Asian American students in Philadelphia.
While anti-Asian racism is American as apple pie, the interesting thing was that the perpetrators involved in these racist attacks were predominantly African Americans….
As documented by the Philadelphia Weekly, Asian American students at several Philadelphia high schools have been subject to not only “name-calling, verbal threats, petty robberies, random punches in the head while walking down stairwells, and general intimidation” but also “massive rumbles where outnumbered Asian students were pummeled by packs of teens, sending several of the victims to hospitals.”
The article further notes,
Male and female Asian students—especially those new to the country, who speak little or fractured English—have been targeted over the past few years, in schools from the Northeast to South Philly, in elementary and high schools. Students and activists say that Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Pakistani and other Asian youth have been singled out, assaulted in cafeterias, hallways, on city streets, school buses and everywhere in between.
Indeed, the “culture of violence against Asian immigrants has existed for so long at some public schools that students almost accept that random beat downs are a part of life.”
As one student named Wei Chen put it, “They don’t even know you…. They just hit because you’re Asian.”
These Philadelphia schools and district administrators effectively practiced a policy of benign neglect that compelled Asian American students to launch petitions, write letters, hold meetings, and even stage walk-outs in protest.
As a result, school officials eventually began to address this violence by staging meetings with students and parents alike, increasing school security, and launching initiatives like something called the “International Welcome Squad.”
What was also notable about these anti-Asian assaults is how the Philadelphia establishment has been somewhat, shall we say, hesitant to call out the fact that the attackers are predominantly African American.
The Philadelphia Weekly article itself addresses this issue in a backhanded way: “While the victims and the school district are reluctant to lay the attacks at the feet of African-American students, the fact is that black students make up 62 percent of the total population. They tend to be the alleged perpetrators.”
The article goes on to assert that this anti-Asian sentiment is driven by general battles for turf and dominance. Sociologist Elijah Anderson is thus quoted as explaining:
The outsiders—the Asians who are making inroads—can then be called into account for any moves they make within that situation. You have race prejudice developing as a sense of group position, a proprietary claim on certain areas of the home turf…. It’s a human thing…. It could be Asians who get jumped. It could be blacks. It could be white, Italian, Jewish, whatever, if you know what I mean. This is not unique to blacks and Asians.
These attacks may be an abstract human thing, but they also involve specific forms of anti-Asian racism and violence.
If the situation had been reversed and the attackers were mostly Asian American students and the victims were African Americans, would there be such a tendency to minimize the issue of racism?
One probable factor in cases like this one is Oppression Olympics. In general, Oppression Olympics creates a hierarchy of oppression in which, for instance, the racism suffered by one group is considered insignificant to that of another group that has greater perceived claim to historical suffering. Not surprisingly, self-styled Progressives of many stripes are particularly guilty of playing this game of Oppression Olympics.
Since African Americans have been historically oppressed by America, there is a hesitancy to fully address acts of racism or prejudice committed by African Americans against other minority groups–unless they can somehow be fit into mainstream American complaints about supposed “reverse racism.” One stark example is the anti-immigrant vitriol espoused by some African Americans.
Ultimately, America is about power–not justice. Since African Americans have more political representation and power than Asian Americans, they will have greater ability to define the meaning of these events according to their interests than Asian Americans–not unlike how White America routinely does on a much greater institutional scale.
In general, inter-minority conflict in America is something that often gets swept under the rug. America’s current racial/ethnic paradigm is still largely dominated by Blacks and Whites, with their perspectives and issues marginalizing that of other groups.
Indeed, some academics have insisted that America’s racial system is evolving towards a supposed “Black/Non-Black Divide” in which Asian Americans and Latinos will be assimilated into White America in opposition to Black America.
In other words, you have only two choices of identification.
You are either Black or White.
Or as George W. Bush would say, you are either with us or against us,
This kind of Black-White political straightjacket, however, will increasingly be untenable in twenty-first century America, as other minority groups grow in numbers and presence–and seek to develop their own independent politics.