Rodney King Dead at 47: Thoughts on his Life, and Remembering Sa-I-Gu

June 17, 2012
Rodney King, 1965-2012

The news just broke that Rodney King, whose videotaped beating at the hands of LAPD in 1991 and the subsequent acquittal of the participating officers, triggered widespread rioting including the infamous LA Riots, has died. He was 47.

CNN reports that King was found dead this morning at his home by his fiancee. He is believed to have drowned in his backyard pool, and police don’t believe that foul play was involved.

With only a few moments to process the importance of King’s death, I can’t help but react with sadness: Rodney King’s was a life over-shadowed by race. The police who attacked him took from King the chance to live a life outside of the spotlight. For our part, we were accomplices: we made King — and his beating — into a powerful symbol of racial injustice, forgetting that he was also just a man.

This image, viewed at countless kitchen tables, put a face to the brutal treatment of African Americans at the hands of police.

In the coming week, it’s likely that King’s death will rejuvenate discussion over his 1991 beating, the subsequent trials, and the corresponding riots. We will talk about race, police brutality and the justice system. We will talk about the landmark importance of the riots in energizing the African-American community, and how it helped raise awareness about racial bias against that community at the hands of local officers and the justice system.

In all this discussion, let us not forget the victims of the L.A. Riots. The 1992 L.A. Riots resulted in widespread targeting predominantly of Korean-American immigrants, particularly small business owners who served predominantly African American communities. There was also widespread looting of those businesses resulting in millions of dollars in property damage. Countless armed showdowns occurred between looters and members of the Korean-American, which gave the appearance of an all-out race war. The L.A. Riots would later be known as Sa-I-Gu within the Korean-American community, and has become a prime example of the ongoing interracial tension between the Black and Asian communities that continues into today.

In the aftermath of Sa-I-Gu, Asian Americans wondered why our community bore the brunt of racial anger expressed by the African-American community against White cops. We wondered why Koreans were abandoned by L.A. police, and forced to arm and defend themselves. We were also forced to face the racial implications brought on when Korean-American immigrants enter into all-Black, economically-stressed enclaves to open businesses, siphoning money out of those communities. We had to contemplate whether we had contributed to inter-ethnic tension by permitting Korean-American business owners to treat their own clientele with suspicion and sometimes even open racial hostility.

Looking back at the riots today, I am struck by how little relations have improved between the Black and Asian communities. Racism remains between Blacks and Asians with few examples of shared political interests and efforts. Few inroads have been made between our  communities, and there is little consideration (by either side) about coalition-building over common issues like race, education, healthcare, and police brutality. At the risk of appropriating King’s death as we have appropriated his life, I hope we can take this opportunity in the coming weeks to re-examine how the African-American and Asian-American communities interact with one another, and find ways to improve it.

On a semi-unrelated note, it’s also ironic to me that next week marks 30 years since the racially-motivated murder of Vincent Chin at the hands of Ronald Ebens and Michael Nintz. Like Chin, King was a symbolic figure who helped galvanize his community towards political action and activism. But, like Chin, King’s infamy was less about him as a person, and more about the circumstances of his beating (and in Chin’s case, his death). In some ways, King’s life reminds us of the pressure of that kind of fame and notoriety, and the stress of trying to live one’s life to the standards of being cast into the role of a sociopolitical icon. I can’t help but wonder — had Chin lived — what his life would have been like. Would he have been a proud symbol of racial activism? Would he have suffered under the pressure of an entire community looking to his beating — but not him — for inspiration? It saddens me that we may never know.

The bottom line is that both Ronald King and Vincent Chin (and others, like Trayvon Martin) were victims: victims of institutionalized racial hate that indelibly marked — perhaps for better and perhaps for worse — their lives and their legacies. We may never know what life King might have lived had he not been stopped or beaten that night in 1991, but we do know that he will go down in history as yet another life that was forever changed by the ugliness of race in this country.

  • Ben

    What do you mean when you say “racial implications brought on when Korean-American immigrants enter into all-Black, economically-stressed enclaves to open businesses, siphoning money out of those communities.“?

    To use the phrase “siphon money out of the community” makes it sound as though the Koreans were somehow committing a crime by opening businesses in black areas.

    No money was “siphoned” out of the black community, whatever money business owners makes is their money to do with as they please. The local community benefits in several ways; from local tax revenues, sales tax revenues, license and permit revenues and so on and so forth. Not to mention the jobs that are created for local warehouse operators and their employees and drivers who have places to deliver their products to. These companies increase local tax revenues with the taxes that they pay on their costs of doing business.

    It seems as though people expect Korean immigrants to pay some kind of extra fee for being in black neighbourhoods.

  • Jenn

    @Ben

    Thanks for your comment and for reading. The point of this post was to address both sides of the tension, and African-American community activists make a valid argument in noting that Korean-American business owners started small businesses in all-Black neighbourhoods, but that money doesn’t remain within the community.

    The point arises in that Korean-American shopkeepers will open convenience stores catering to local clientele, but profits from those stores will rarely be spent in local businesses to boost the local economy. The money does not circulate within the all-Black neighbourhood to stimulate local economic growth and support local Black-owned businesses. These small businesses also do not typically hire local residents, so that potential salary money is lost (most of these businesses are small, family-operated businesses that protect the bottom line by relying upon the “unpaid” labour of family members). And local tax revenue and fees typically are paid to larger governing areas that don’t guarantee that they will actually return to benefit the local residents (political neglect is often why these areas are depressed in the first place).

    Now, I think there’s a mistake made by anyone who would suggest that this is all done by immigrants with malicious intent (it is not; it is pure capitalism). And certainly Korean-American immigrants are within their rights to make money and spend it wherever they please.

    But I think it’s not productive to refuse to see the counterpoint to the argument, that the consequences (if not the intention) of Korean-American business owner influx into these communities is a high rate of efflux of money out of already economically-depressed areas, most of which is not reinvested to stimulate the local economy. When you couple this with the often poor treatment of Korean shopkeepers of their clientele (I’ve witnessed this when I’ve gone into Asian-owned stores with my bf; they will follow him around while leaving me alone), one begins to understand why Korean-American business owners may be perceived as predatory.

    That doesn’t justify racism against Koreans or Asians in general, but it does demand a rational treatment of the argument that recognizes that BOTH parties have valid arguments to make. The temptation is to paint one side or the other as villains; the truth is that neither side is wholly right or wholly wrong. This is exactly what makes this debate so difficult: no one is really at fault here, but the circumstances produce a hotbed of racial tension.

  • Ben

    Hi Jenn

    “The point arises in that Korean-American shopkeepers will open convenience stores catering to local clientele, but profits from those stores will rarely be spent in local businesses to boost the local economy. The money does not circulate within the all-Black neighbourhood to stimulate local economic growth and support local Black-owned businesses.”

    Well, my queery is that I’m not sure what this even means – and I agree that we need a rational approach, I just don’t think that this is a reasonable argument. Okay, I can accept that racial tensions were stoked on both sides – Korean attitudes as well as long-time anti-Asian attitudes in American culture.

    Apart from being a gross generalization (I doubt that Koreans were spending no money locally – but how much is enough?)this idea that Koreans are doing something…what…wrong?…immoral?…socially awkward?…if they don’t spend their money locally sounds like a way of rationalizing racial bullying. Besides, again, how much would they be obliged to spend?

    Plus, to suggest that the Koreans should somehow fill a gap of civic responsibility vacated by local governments seems also like a rationalization of prejudice. These local governments are elected by local residents so if they are not doing what they are supposed to do with revenues collected from local business owners (including those owned by Koreans)the it is the duty of local residents and their community leaders to speak out. Instead Koreans were targeted.

    I think that people rationalize the 1992 riots because they just don’t want (or feel as though they are not allowed) to call it for what it was; an anti-Asian race riot carried out by mobs who simply didn’t like Koreans. I personally think it is disgusting that a violent mob has been allowed to somehow represent the local community. I would like to believe that most of the African-Americans living in the area did not act like a lynch mob and did not agree with its racism. Yet, it is a lynch mob that has been glorified as the voice of a people – never mind that if they had the opportunity to murder Asian people en masse, then they would have.

    Finally, this point about Koreans being rude to the locals (again I think this has often been exaggerated in the name of hyperbole)- is that a reasonable excuse to attempt to lynch people and destroy their property?

    Again, I agree that a rational approach is necessary but that means we have to argue against irrational, and unreasonable arguments when we see them.

    Anyways, I appreciate what you have tried to do with the post, I just don’t think it is helpful to accept an argument without questioning its validity.

  • Keith

    “I think that people rationalize the 1992 riots because they just don’t want (or feel as though they are not allowed) to call it for what it was; an anti-Asian race riot carried out by mobs who simply didn’t like Koreans. I personally think it is disgusting that a violent mob has been allowed to somehow represent the local community. I would like to believe that most of the African-Americans living in the area did not act like a lynch mob and did not agree with its racism. Yet, it is a lynch mob that has been glorified as the voice of a people – never mind that if they had the opportunity to murder Asian people en masse, then they would have.”

    This is you rationalizing the issues effecting at the time a disenfranchised community. To sit up here any say that the riots were some ploy to attack Korean Americans is not only over simplistic and ethnocentric garbage, it is just classicist and racist. But hey just feel free to push this lie and maybe you can get that honorary white status that you are hoping for chump.

  • Ben

    Keith

    Honorary white status? Your comment is a prime example of why people can’t call the attacks on Koreans for what they were; they will be personally attacked and called a racist. Do racists write things like “I would like to believe that most of the African-Americans living in the area did not act like a lynch mob and did not agree with its racism“, but I guess that in your self-righteous rage you forgot to read the fine print.

  • Keith

    Yawn, you done with the self pity or are you just throwing up more red harings? I don’t give a fuck how you try to make your self look like a victim here, your comment is back handed and racist and in no way is design to work on realistic issues such as crime and poverty in working class neighborhoods. If you are calling a crime “chink bashing” because an Asian American by an African American is robbed yet ignoring the the overall issues of crime in those communities than I call you a racist, if you are more interested in crying about having to live in communities with people with issues yet are not willing to be part of the community then I can give a shit what happens to you.

    Racism happens when their is no justice, do blacks that rob Asians Americans , Whites, Latinos, and African Americans get processed to the fullest extent of the law hell yeah. Anyone can be a bigot but you are the type of bigot who is only interested in his Honorary whiteness by post passive aggressive bullshit online. But that’s typical of folks like you.

  • Ben

    Keith…

    Wow. So much for a rational approach to this issue. You are embarrassing yourself with your hysterics. I’m not sure what universe you occupy but the targeting of Koreans in the 1992 LA pogrom was more than a case of an African-American robbing an Asian-American.

    To be honest it is hard to see what point you are trying to make because it is impossible to see passed your diatribe of childish name-calling and pathetic attempts at well-poisoning. You are just not making any sense.

    Why don’t you actually address the points I bought up instead of screeching at the top of your voice in the hope that no-one will notice that you haven’t actually said anything?

  • James

    Ben,

    I disagree with calling the events following the Rodney King beating in LA a ‘pogrom’.

    However, I don’t believe that widespread civic unrest is a rational response to any issue. Therein lies the problem with discussions of this issue – people have little choice but to apply rational thought to irrational behavior, which never works. I think Jenn’s post artfully negotiates the competing perspectives involved – but I see value in her characterization of the gripes some African Americans held against Korean shopkeepers in that time and place.

    I’ve experienced hostility and fear in immigrant-owned convenience stores; I’ve been followed around stores by shopkeepers. I do not patronize those stores afterwards, nor have I ever looted a store in response. That’s just crazy.

    But I do not question that a population can consider itself besieged when police brutality against their members without punishment, rampant poverty among their number persists without response, and immigrant disrespect for their humanity goes without address.

  • Ben

    James

    I don’t think that anyone is trying to apply rational thought to the irrational behaviour of the riots (and yes, it was a pogrom by any standard definition).

    I would hope that we could apply rational thought twenty years after the events in the hope that this process could be a basis for making progress. Unfortunately, as Keith has shown us, people want to stay in the self-righteous certainty of their rage. And that’s why there’s such little progress.

    As I have already acknowledged,tensions were evidently stoked by mutual racial antagonism – yes we’ve heard ad-nauseum about how rude Koreans are, but am I supposed to believe that decades of almost instinctive anti-Asian attitudes that are embedded in the identity of Americans (including black ones) did not, in at least some of the racially charged interactions between African-Americans and Korean immigrants, find expression in the community’s own behaviour towards these immigrants? Am I supposed believe that there were no African-Americans entering into Korean owned stores with racial antagonism towards Asians? The 1970’s to 1990’s were something of a heyday in American anti-Asian xenophobia after all. Were African-Americans immune to America’s racial antagonism and economic suspicion towards Asians?

    We’ll probably never know.

    The way that I would hope rational thinking would be useful is during the process of reconciliation – which hasn’t taken place because we’re not allowed to step outside the accepted narrative that a raging mob that is out to kill Asians and burn their places of business is the real victim. Why do rational people insist on upholding the integrity of a mob that probably doesn’t even represent the real character of the community it came from?

    A good start would be to ask from what evidence do people draw the conclusion that Koreans have or do “siphon” money out of the black community? Is there a study out there that has tracked the spending habits of Korean immigrants and shown definitively that they never spend their money locally? If there are no such studies then the truth of the claim has to be in doubt. Is it, therefore, rational to hold that view, but even more importantly is it to remain silent when people uphold it as the truth?

    The hardships that you describe are real, but that doesn’t make the targeting of Korean immigrants any less racist. It just gives people an convenient excuse to ignore it.

  • James

    From Dictionary.com:

    po•grom? ?[puh-gruhm, -grom, poh-]
    noun
    an organized massacre, especially of Jews.

    Under no standard definition can the LA Riots be described as a pogrom. That language overdramatizes the serious violence and property damage Korean shopkeepers endured during those days. It’s just not accurate.

    Further, rioting is irrational. Rational people do not target small businesses in their communities for destruction. It’s criminal behavior, and this entire conversation involves attempts from all of us to derive something sensible out of what happened. I don’t think it’s really possible to do so, frankly. Certainly it’s made more difficult when racial fault lines still divide.

    Look, Ben – I respect that you found mutual racial antagonism in the time leading up to the riots. I take issue with your characterization of the riots themselves. I’m no expert on the LA Riots, but in reading your comments one could take the impression that all the destroyed businesses where owned by Korean immigrants, and that African Americans living in predominately Black neighborhoods should have no problem with a significant proportion of the small businesses in their neighborhood – where it is most convenient for them to shop – being owned and operated by people from other places with no social or kinship ties to the neighborhood.

    This is where the ‘siphoning’ perception emerges: even if Korean shopkeepers purchase some items locally, it’s hard to imagine the bulk of the Korean shopkeepers profit being spent on goods and services in the Black community whose patronage made that profit possible. Now, the obvious answer would be to stop shopping in those stores, and I have no doubt many people did exactly that. But to be clear, we are talking about neighborhoods where gun shops and liquor stores – often Korean owned – were more ubiquitous than banks and grocery stores. Many commentators found this problematic, long before 1992.

    The obvious counterargument that Korean immigrants should not be condemned for being small business owners is noted, but does not sway me. I don’t think Korean immigrants should be attacked for being small business owners. But when these same shopkeepers send their children to elite American universities with revenue generated from African American customers with whom they share mutual distrust and often outright hostility, I find that relationship difficult.

    It’s like watching Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, about the business of Black hair care – eventually, you learn that the weaves and extensions and other forms of fake hair come from India and Korea, and that Korean entrepreneurs own the majority of businesses that sell Black hair care products. The issue here isn’t with capitalism – it’s with the economic imperialism that carves up the Black dollar like European nations dissected Africa. Even when a Black woman purchases items that only people with her type of hair would use, she’s still subject to her buying power fueling other communities’ interests.

    This phenomena is not found everywhere. It’s found in Black communities all across America, and was caused by integration and business loan racism and many other factors. But it happens – and you can’t discuss the story of Sa-I-Gu without this nuance and remain accurate.

  • Jenn

    @Ben

    Thanks for your reply, and sorry for having been away from this for a couple of days.

    Apart from being a gross generalization (I doubt that Koreans were spending no money locally – but how much is enough?)this idea that Koreans are doing something…what…wrong?…immoral?…socially awkward?…if they don’t spend their money locally sounds like a way of rationalizing racial bullying. Besides, again, how much would they be obliged to spend?

    I haven’t spent a lot of time researching this (so I apologize if this isn’t the most comprehensive set of evidence), but I just did a very quick Google search. This article cites a 2004 study that shows that 95% of money entering into economically depressed predominantly Black communities via income leaves that community rather than remaining to circulate. This is because African-Americans are a large percentage of the consumer base (relative to their population size) and there is a dearth of Black-owned businesses available to frequent, particularly within Black-predominant economically-depressed neighbourhoods (the largest identified majority of businesses are in healthcare and social assistance, the latter of which are unlikely to be taken advantage of by an Asian small business owner). This study discusses the relationship between Asian and Black entrepreneurship and notes that foreign-born self-employed immigrants tend to displace native-born self-employment (particularly in the context of Black-owned businesses) in part because they have higher access to debt capital and thus have a “leg up” in establishing a successful business, particularly in depressed areas where the initial investment required is lower.

    The major way for income spent by a consumer within a particular community to remain circulating within the community is through salary: a local business hires local residents, thus money remains within the community to continue to restimulate. Interestingly, the majority of Asian-owned small businesseses report that they do not have any paid employees, thus any dollars spent within that business goes only to the business owner and family. Since Asian business owners that open shops in predominantly Black neighbourhoods rarely live next to their shops. Asian-Nation discusses some of the statistics that back up these assertions, and while there are no hard numbers to support the initial lack of non-Asian employment by these businesses, asserts that these businesses are starting to address these concerns by hiring more local employees.

    Bottom line: no one is justifying or excusing the riots. Nothing justifies assault and looting. At no point in this post am I saying that Korean-American shopkeepers deserved this treatment.

    However, there is an important difference between justifying and acknowledging both sides of the argument. It is important to recognize that neither Black residents nor Korean American shopkeepers were entirely villains or victims in this incident. The riots erupted from interracial tension, misunderstandings, and anger that arise from understandable feelings from both sides; we are only doomed to repeat these events so long as we refuse to acknowledge our own wrongs and shortcomings.

    Also, I disagree with your assessment that the Riots were committed by a roving band of African-Americans that deliberately and maliciously set out to target Asians because they hated Asians. It was not a pogrom. I think this is a gross oversimplification of the events leading up to the riots. The riots were a response to the Rodney King verdict, and although they ended up targeting Asian shopkeepers, this was not a conscious and deliberate action on the part of the rioters. Korean Americans were a target of convenience, targeted in part because of existing tensions, in part because police did not protect them, and in part because rioters were expressing anger towards any and all non-Black businesses. It’s notable that 40%, but ONLY 40%, of businesses looted by the rioters in 1992 were Korean-owned; if this was specifically an anti-Asian riot, than that number would have been significantly higher.

    I agree with James: the riot was irrational, disorganized, and an expression of anger and unrest over the injustices faced by the African-American community. I think it does the entire event a disservice to characterize it as deliberately and maliciously anti-Asian; I don’t think that reflects the facts and I think it ignores the actual reasons for the unrest in the first place: police brutality and racial profiling.

    Plus, to suggest that the Koreans should somehow fill a gap of civic responsibility vacated by local governments seems also like a rationalization of prejudice. These local governments are elected by local residents so if they are not doing what they are supposed to do with revenues collected from local business owners (including those owned by Koreans)the it is the duty of local residents and their community leaders to speak out. Instead Koreans were targeted.

    One more important point I’d like to make: criticizing the circumstances that led up to the riots, i.e. the act of opening a small business in a Black-predominant neighbourhood, is not the same thing as blaming the Korean shopkeepers. Had Koreans done more to stimulate the local economy, there may have been less unrest. But pointing this out is not arguing that Koreans should have a priori been inspired to do so. No one is saying that Koreans should have replaced the duties of local government; but we do need to recognize that local governments were not fulfilling their responsibilities, and the actions of Korean American shopkeepers were exacerbating, and putting a face, on the problem.

    In the end, this post was about trying to resolve interracial tension between Blacks and Asians that in part occurs at the intersection between Asian-owned businesses and Black customers. I’m thoroughly depressed that the Us vs. Them mentality persists. I’ll say it again: so long as we react defensively rather than openly about this issue, that tension will continue. One can, at the same time, suggest that Korean Americans contributed to the tensions between Asians and Blacks while at the same time deriding the riot itself. Factionism only breeds more conflict.

    I urge all of us in this thread to see past our own camps and recognize that the other side has a valid argument, even if that argument is critical of “our side”. Further, we need to be constructive and ask: where do we go from here? How can we put aside our differences and build a better relationship between our communities? As Mr King put it, “can’t we all just get along?”

  • Jenn

    The way that I would hope rational thinking would be useful is during the process of reconciliation – which hasn’t taken place because we’re not allowed to step outside the accepted narrative that a raging mob that is out to kill Asians and burn their places of business is the real victim. Why do rational people insist on upholding the integrity of a mob that probably doesn’t even represent the real character of the community it came from?

    With all due respect, Ben, would you mind citing your evidence that the 1992 riots were motivated by a specific desire to kill Asians? I only ask because you have on the one hand requested evidence in support of the absence of recirculation of money in Black-predominant neighbourhoods, but on the other hand, have not provided any evidence to support your assertion that the rioters set out that day to commit an anti-Asian massacre. Indeed, all the coverage I’ve seen of the riots fail to support that interpretation of that day’s events. Even the Sa-I-Gu documentary (which I’ve seen in full and which is sympathetic to the Korean shopkeepers) describe the riot as a riot that ended up targeting many (but not exclusively) Asians, but not as a lynch mob.

    As a clarification and summary of the economic data, the evidence supporting loss of income out of Black neighbourhoods:

    1) Economic studies show that $95 out of every $100 spent in economically-depressed Black neighbourhoods leave that community, and that any dollar spent in those neighbourhoods only circulates on average for 6h before exiting the neighbourhood. That is in comparison to 28d in Asian-predominant neighbourhoods. This is of course due to money spent outside of Asian-owned businesses, but supports the argument that money is leaving the community.

    2) Foreign-born Asian self-employed small business owners tend to displace native-born small business owners when they compete directly, in part due to economic advantages related to initial capital enjoyed by the foreign-born immigrant.

    3) The vast majority of Asian small businesses do not have any paid employees. Since salary is the primary avenue for money recirculation within a local community, this is the main pathway for money to leave the community.

    4) The major industries of Black-owned businesses are in social work, healthcare, warehouses, and transportation services — none of these industries are likely to be frequented significantly (except perhaps warehouses) by Asian-owned small businesses or their owners. My main point is that relatively few Black-owned businesses are in retail, food service, or wholesale import/export; which would be the primary business type that would be able to forge a partnership with or be patronized by an Asian small business. No one is arguing that Koreans wouldn’t go to a neighbouring Black-owned shop to buy a soda — but in the grand scheme, this is chump change relative to getting money recirculating locally. The absence of Black-owned small businesses in general, and specifically in sectors that would partner with Asian-owned small businesses, contribute to the leaving of money out of these communities.

    I have not found any studies showing the relative proportion of Asian vs. Black-owned businesses within Black-predominant neighbourhoods. I don’t think those numbers actually exist, unfortunately, but I think we can all accept that Asian-owned businesses are relatively common in economically-depressed non-Asian areas that serve predominantly non-Asian clientele.

    Again, I need to emphasize: no one is arguing that this was a malicious act on the part of Korean American shopkeepers, or that they should have a priori acted differently. That being said, they did contribute to the problem because they were, through no deliberate fault, contribute significantly to the exit of money away from economically-depressed Black neighbourhoods.

  • Keith

    I don’t see black businesses as Empowering, but I do see how those who go out of their way to dominate and exclude blacks from industries they started are economic imperialists. And many of these same folks hold racist beliefs of the same people they are suppose to be catering to. A good example would be former editor of Essence magazine Constance White.

  • Ben

    James..

    Standard usage very much permits the targeting of Korean businesses in 1992 to be described as a pogrom. The only reason there weren’t more Korean deaths is because they defended themselves effectively. You can call it an attempted pogrom if it is easier to digest, or a failed pogrom, but the objective fact is that a mob targeted Koreans and their property for destruction. Whether or not you feel that this over-dramatizes the events is a subjective matter – the truth takes no notice of subjective feelings.

    I’m actually surprised by some of what you have written. I do think it problematic that the locals supposedly have issue with a large portion of local businesses being owned by outsiders.What you have written is the standard complaint of nativist bigots who are resentful of immigrants because they are there. But I don’t believe that you see yourself as expressing a bigoted point of view and I don’t think that you are a bigot. It is actually in the same vein as those who don’t want black neighbours or a black employee because they are perceived to be ” people from other places with no social or kinship ties to the neighborhood”. Social and kinship ties evolve. My guess is that a significant factor in preventing that happening in LA in 1992 was racism from both sides.

    That means owning the fact that prevailing anti-Asian attitudes derived from xenophobic antagonism and economic resentment directed at both Asian countries and Asian-Americans are likely to have played a significant role in how well (or badly) Koreans were welcomed into the community, and how much (or little) tolerance there was for differences in cultural mannerisms. I would suggest that America’s casual anti-Asian racism played a huge role in the development of the conflict. The parallels between anti-Asian rhetoric in American politics, hostile depictions in the media, and the threatening martial tone of America’s perennial “get tough on foreign imports (meaning Asian)” sloganeering, that was, and to some degree still is, prevalent in America’s culture, bears an uncanny resemblance to the attitudes expressed in the riots. There is a sinister familiarity with the idea that American jobs and money are being “siphoned” out of the pockets of honest Americans by unscrupulous Asians who don’t “give back”. That’s why we have boycotted at various times the products of Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and now China.

    I think that we both agree that there were (and continue to be) profound issues of racism, poverty, neglect, and discrimination in black communities, and that these conditions were significant in 1992. I argue that the targeting of Koreans was caused partly by these factors, but also factors relating to America’s cultural distrust and antagonism towards Asians and Asia.

  • Ben

    Jenn

    Thanks for your reply!

    I don’t mean to bust your chops about this but an article that quotes (not cites) an excerpt from a book which itself is quoting from an unspecified study, neither of which directs us to the study itself, is hardly convincing. There’s nothing in any of those links that make even a weak case that Koreans are largely responsible for siphoning money out of black communities.

    If you make the case that salaries are the main avenue for money leaving the community then it would have to be shown that the Koreans as a group are making substantially more than the African-Americans as a group in whose neighbourhoods they do business. Given that Koreans are likely to constitute a fraction of the population in black neighbourhoods, it seems logical to assume that the actual amount of money that goes out of the neighbourhood in that way can only be a fraction of the total amount that is earned and going out of the neighbourhood. I will say that I don’t think that the majority of Koreans are getting rich, and the profits that they do make are far less than people would like to believe.

    Yes your links do support the argument that money is leaving the community, but they absolutely provide no substantial evidence that it is leaving through the Koreans. Furthermore, I would argue that the black businesses that you list are likely to generate far more revenue that the mom and pop Korean stores. Should I believe that the Korean who runs the 711 has more revenues than the local healthcare providers? Transportation? Warehouses? Those industries are huge revenue generating concerns, and I would be very surprised if we were to discover that they generate less revenues than retail.

    Then of course, we have local government who take their hefty share of the profits. You have dismissed this point out of hand, but I think that is unfair since the main ways that local businesses contribute to the economies of the communities in which they live – and it is really the only way that most small businesses are expected to contribute. You can argue that these taxes aren’t spent locally, and unreasonably shift the focus back on Korean spending habits but that is just argumentative and unreasonable. I don’t buy it that this resentment that Koreans are siphoning money out of the community (which seems more and more unreasonable and less and less supported by hard evidence) counts as a reasonable cause for understandable anger.

    I find it problematic that you deride a Korean buying a soda as chump change and it really illustrates the lack of reason applied to this subject. You dismiss money going back into the community via taxes, permits and licences, sales taxes, cost of doing business (local warehouses and drivers), revenues generated from use of electricity, gas, and water. Then you insist that it is more right that Koreans should spend their money locally, then you dismiss the fact that a Korean might spend their money locally on things like soda, as “chump change”. What exactly is it that you (and James, and others) want the Koreans to spend their money on? What does this particular aspect of Korean social involvement look like? How much would actually be satisfactory? If these sound like unreasonable questions then it only highlights the unreasonable sentiments being expressed. How should the Koreans have stimulated the local economy – and again, I’ve seen no evidence that they didn’t spend their money locally.

    Refer to the comment to James for why it is appropriate to label this event as pogrom – in standard usage it has been use to describe any event in which an ethnic group is targeted for destruction of property and person. As for evidence that Koreans were targeted, that is a hard call. No-one has actually ever asked the question, or investigated the notion because; 1) It just isn’t high on anyone’s list of priorities, and 2) You can’t ask that question without being called a racist. On the face of it the charge is hard to prove – just like it has been almost impossible to show that Koreans are largely responsible for siphoning money out of black communities. It take some degree of reading between the lines to notice some hints of a racial inflection that speak pretty loudly. Most references to the riots refer to the targeting of Korean stores – news reports and personal testimonies both. There really shouldn’t be any doubt that Korean properties were targeted, this seems like an objective historical fact.

    Only two Asians were killed in the riots; one was shot in some kind of factional problem with other Koreans, the other was a Vietnamese man who was shot by an African-American who shouted a racial slur during the murder. An African-American, Alan Williams, describes an incident in which he rescued a Japanese man (Tak Hirata) from a raging mob intent on beating him to death, noting that he felt it wise to hide the man’s face because of is Asian descent. There are also testimonies of Korean business owners being warned by (black) customers that they should probably close early if the King verdict came back not guilty. That hints at two disturbing things; Koreans were going to be targeted and, even worse, there was some pre-meditation involved, and hence some degree of planning. I would suggest that the reason only 40% (easy for us to say!) of Korean businesses were looted was because they defended themselves, and that is also likely the reason why more Asians weren’t killed – they knew to stay away (because they had been told that they would be targeted) or they defended their properties.

    As I’ve said before, I appreciate the intent of your post, but I don’t think that there can be progress if we ignore the racism directed at Koreans (and all Asians), both in LA and in society in general. The LA riots are the first indication that the race issue in America had moved beyond black and white. The stories that I related above indicate that this idea that the Koreans were somehow exploiting the local community and siphoning money away, is not necessarily a viewpoint held by all (or even most) in the community. Upholding the integrity of those who targeted Koreans is an insult to all of the good people in those neighbourhoods who acted with decency. We can’t hear their stories because it has been drowned out by glamour of a raging mob.

  • Jenn

    Ben,

    Thanks for responding. I actually find it helpful to know what statistics you think would be most persuasive to you, since there’s many ways to go about approaching this discussion:

    Furthermore, I would argue that the black businesses that you list are likely to generate far more revenue that the mom and pop Korean stores. Should I believe that the Korean who runs the 711 has more revenues than the local healthcare providers? Transportation? Warehouses? Those industries are huge revenue generating concerns, and I would be very surprised if we were to discover that they generate less revenues than retail.

    One might think that transportation and warehouse firms would make more money, but in fact, that’s not necessarily the case. It turns out that the vast majority of Black-owned small businesses take in much less in receipts than Asian-owned small businesses. In total, Asian-owned small businesses accumulate roughly 5x as much as Black-owned small businesses; a summary of the data would conclude that although Black and Asian-owned small businesses are nationally about equally prevalent, the majority of Asian-owned businesses are more successful and make more profit than Black-owned small businesses. This is reported in the 2007 Small Business census data listed here. In short, the Census data bear out the notion that Asian-owned small businesses make more profit than their Black-owned competitors.

    (This is actually interesting enough that I might write a post on these data some day. There’s a lot of ways to think about what the numbers might be telling us).

    Yes your links do support the argument that money is leaving the community, but they absolutely provide no substantial evidence that it is leaving through the Koreans. Furthermore, I would argue that the black businesses that you list are likely to generate far more revenue that the mom and pop Korean stores. Should I believe that the Korean who runs the 711 has more revenues than the local healthcare providers? Transportation? Warehouses? Those industries are huge revenue generating concerns, and I would be very surprised if we were to discover that they generate less revenues than retail.

    Ben, please note that at no point do I make the argument that Korean-American businesses are the “primary” avenue whereby money leaves Black communities. I don’t think that’s necessarily true (or false); the data suggest that this is happening, but it cannot tell us how much of a factor Korean American small businesses are relative to, say, the local Wal-mart. The difference is, however, that, unlike the local Wal-mart, Asian-owned small businesses limit recirculation by not hiring locally, which isn’t true of the local Wal-mart. But, since I can’t find numbers telling me how much of a % of local businesses within economically-depressed Black enclaves are Asian-owned, we can’t really draw any hard conclusions here about the degree to which this is a factor. We can say it’s a factor, but not the extent.

    I find it problematic that you deride a Korean buying a soda as chump change and it really illustrates the lack of reason applied to this subject. You dismiss money going back into the community via taxes, permits and licences, sales taxes, cost of doing business (local warehouses and drivers), revenues generated from use of electricity, gas, and water. Then you insist that it is more right that Koreans should spend their money locally, then you dismiss the fact that a Korean might spend their money locally on things like soda, as “chump change”. What exactly is it that you (and James, and others) want the Koreans to spend their money on? What does this particular aspect of Korean social involvement look like? How much would actually be satisfactory? If these sound like unreasonable questions then it only highlights the unreasonable sentiments being expressed. How should the Koreans have stimulated the local economy – and again, I’ve seen no evidence that they didn’t spend their money locally.

    I was saying that a Korean American who goes down the street to purchase a soda will not recirculate the same amount of money as hiring a local employee. This was in response to your assertion that Korean Americans will shop locally; I was saying that purchasing a soda is negligible relative to hiring locally and/or forging business partnerships with local businesses. Sales taxes, as I mentioned earlier, do not necessarily go directly to benefit the local neighbourhood. Heat and electricity: these definitely do not go to the local community; they go to utility companies, which are government-subsidized private enterprises.

    I think the waters are getting muddied in the difference between spending money in ways that may result in bodies that reinvest the money into the community, and spending money in such a way that it STAYS WITHIN the community to recirculate. Taxes, fees, and utility bills are avenues whereby money leaves a community, to go to larger pools of money where they may (or may not) get redistributed in forms that benefit local residents (e.g. schools, roads, etc). This is not the same thing as person A buying an item from person B, who in term pays person C, who then buys an item from person A. In the second example, the dollar stays a dollar (not becomes a road, or a school) and is recirculated directly from person-to-person within a community, before exiting it in the form of taxes, fees, etc. Each exchange stimulates the local economy by basically keeping cash flowing (this is sort of Economy 101); but the minute that money leaves the cycle, it is effectively out of the local economy.

    Is having an Asian-owned business in a neighbourhood going to bring tax revenue to a neighbourhood? Yes. But this is not really the same thing as discussing how that business participates in the street-level local economy.

    As for evidence that Koreans were targeted, that is a hard call. No-one has actually ever asked the question, or investigated the notion because; 1) It just isn’t high on anyone’s list of priorities, and 2) You can’t ask that question without being called a racist.

    I disagree. If you would characterize this as a pogrom, there should be ample evidence that ranging mobs were actively seeking to target Asians exclusively.

    The important point here is “exclusively”, as in they bypassed people of other races and ethnicities to target Asians because of anti-Asian hatred. If this happened, than what explains the Reginald Denny beating? Why was Fidel Lopez attacked? As I’ve pointed out, only 40% — less than the majority — of shops looted during the LA riots were Korean-owned. What explains that rate, if this was, in essence, an ethnic cleansing? Why would an anti-Asian mob waste 60% of its energy on non-Asian owned businesses?

    Bottom line: I am not arguing with you that Asian Americans were targeted during the LA Riots. I argue that they were not targeted to the exclusion of other non-Asian groups. I think there was a lot of dissent in L.A. following the LA Riots against any non-Black locals, exacerbated by the recent shooting death of Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du, a Korean shopkeeper. Koreans were victims because they were not Black and were geographically convenient. The LA riots were a race riot that included racism against Asian Americans, but I think it’s unproductively hyperbolic to liken it to a premeditated pogrom. Following the LA riots, there was a great deal of anti-White anger expressed by rioters and commentors alike; that can’t be simply ignored.

    As I’ve said before, I appreciate the intent of your post, but I don’t think that there can be progress if we ignore the racism directed at Koreans (and all Asians), both in LA and in society in general.

    To be honest, Ben, I find the suggestion that I am ignoring anti-Asian racism a little insulting and offensive. I’ve been trying to approach you rationally and as fairly as possible, and yet I feel as if I’m being characterized as some sort of sellout because I won’t toe your party line, here. It’s not as if I’m saying the violence against Korean Americans in 1992 was okay. I’m not excusing the violence at all. I’m simply pointing out that this was more than simple anti-Asian racism. This was a perfect storm of complicated economic, political, and social conflicts that led to a riot that scholars still, today, struggle to understand. I think it does the entire conflict a disservice to try and boil it down to a large-scale lynching, especially because that basically ignores the complexities of the issue to paint some groups as “good guys” and “bad guys”. While that narrative is compelling, I don’t think it’s productive to simplify things to that extent, and in so doing, excuse Korean Americans from having to face how they may have unintentionally contributed to the conflict. Korean American shopkeepers didn’t deserve to be targeted, but there simply aren’t any good guys or bad guys in this situation.

    And no one is glamourizing a mob. I also find that insinuation of my motivations really insulting.

  • Jenn

    I had a chance to breathe and think about this from a different angle: I think this may be a problem of correlation vs. causation. We know from the numbers that a large (but not majority) of victims of the LA riots were Korean-American shopkeepers. We have your cited stories of Koreans who were warned that they may have to defend themselves in the case of a riot. In short, we have a correlation between the riot and property damage against Koreans.

    But I think where we’re stuck is whether or not the property damage happened BECAUSE the mob hated Asians. Correlation vs. causation. What we’re forgetting is the police barricades that were erected to protect predominantly White neighbourhoods from the riot, whereas Korean Americans and their shops were within the boundaries of the riot, were non-Black, and were left vulnerable by police. You assert that Koreans were deliberately targeted to the exclusion of other non-Black groups by a roving mob of anti-Asian racists. I assert that Korean Americans were victims of convenience because a large proportion of White businesses were not accessible. What kind of evidence can we dig up to distinguish between these two hypotheses?

    Also, help me out here: how would the Rodney King verdict stimulate an anti-Asian mob to go find Asians to beat up? I guess I just don’t follow the logic here of how the mob got from the verdict to deciding to go beat up and loot Asian stores… Asians had nothing to do with Rodney King, so why would there be an anti-Asian lynch mob spurred to action by the verdict?

    (I really don’t mean to be condescending or anything — for me this is really the biggest sticking point in your argument. If I can understand this, maybe I can see where you are coming from…)

  • Ben

    Jenn

    First of all, let me say that I intend absolutely no offence and have not tried to make insinuations about your motives – in fact, I have said that I appreciate that you have attempted to provide a balanced perspective. I’m actually shocked that you seem offended by what I’ve written – I think that I’ve been extremely straight-forward with what I’ve said, and I don’t think I’ve made the discussion personal in any way at all. I haven’t accused anyone of ignoring anti-Asian racism, but I think a case can be made that people aren’t seeing it or won’t allow themselves to see it.

    “Ben, please note that at no point do I make the argument that Korean-American businesses are the “primary” avenue whereby money leaves Black communities. I don’t think that’s necessarily true (or false)….We can say it’s a factor, but not the extent.”

    But that is the widespread and seemingly completely accepted perception of the truth. I can agree all day long that racist attitudes expressed by Korean immigrants played a role in creating this situation (something which can more straightforwardly be resolved) – but this charge that Koreans are siphoning money out of black communities and that they are somehow being unfair in how they spend their money seems to be nothing more than a political ploy utilized by on-the-make-wannabe-Malcolm X’s hoping to gain influence through inciting hostility based on a charge that has little factual support. It is also hugely important to know the extent to which money leaves the community through the Koreans – if there’s no basis for it and it continues to be bandied about then it becomes nothing more than a cynical tool to incite opinion against an ethnic minority. If the amount of money that Koreans “take out” of the community is a minor factor (which so far, it seems to be) then why is it even part of the dialogue?

    If the Koreans aren’t the primary reason for money leaving the community, and it is likely that even if they didn’t recycle their money into the local community it wouldn’t be substantial enough to affect the local economy, then I think the idea deserves to be challenged and thrown on the trash heap. If it is unreasonable and irrational then it should be called as such.

    “I was saying that a Korean American who goes down the street to purchase a soda will not recirculate the same amount of money as hiring a local employee.”

    That doesn’t follow. If money is leaving the economy to the tune of 95%, and it is pretty certain that Koreans are not the one’s primarily responsible for it, then that can only leave local consumers who are not spending within the local economy. Hiring a local employee (when and only when economically feasible)is good because it is a step in creating the social and kinship ties that James was talking about, but why wouldn’t these employees follow the same spending patterns as everyone else in the community who seem to be not recycling their income?

    I will also note that the goalposts have shifted somewhat – initially the proposition was that Koreans don’t spend their money in local businesses leading to money being drained away from the community. James talks about the siphoning issue as being one in which he feels it is unlikely that Koreans spend the bulk of their profits at local businesses, and you have also mentioned profits not being spent locally as one way that money is leaving the community. This to me is the problem when an unreasonable proposition is defended – because the premise is vague and not based on any discernible facts (i.e the belief that Koreans are causing significant damage by not recycling money into the local economy) then the solutions are vague and skewed. But again we just have no data to support the idea that 1) the Koreans don’t spend at local businesses; 2) That employing locals is a means to stop the flow of money leaving the community; 3)The money being taken out of the community (itself a vague and dubious concept and far from proven) by Koreans is substantial enough to be a detriment to the local economy.

    I still think that it is unreasonable to downplay the value and economic return of taxes, permits, and utilities. The point is that these revenues are supposed to be used to develop and maintain the local community, why (or if) this doesn’t happen can in no way reflect on the contribution made by local Asian businesses – should they not pay their taxes and instead distribute the money directly to the local community? Plus, you forget that these revenues pay employee salaries to people who may live locally which as you suggest will get recycled through the local economy. This aspect of the issue absolutely cannot be downplayed – just by doing business in a depressed area reaps huge benefits.

    However you slice it, pointing the finger at Asian business owners for siphoning money out of the community is irrational and completely unfounded.

    “Bottom line: I am not arguing with you that Asian Americans were targeted during the LA Riots. I argue that they were not targeted to the exclusion of other non-Asian groups……The LA riots were a race riot that included racism against Asian Americans, but I think it’s unproductively hyperbolic to liken it to a premeditated pogrom.”

    That doesn’t make it any less of a pogrom – why would you think that? I live in a country that had a similar situation in which the Greek community was targeted in the 1950’s, but Armenians and Jews were also attacked for good measure, but no-one is denying that it was a pogrom (well some political types are!) directed at Greeks. By the same token, I have not asserted that Asians were targeted to the exclusion of other groups, and even if it were true, how would that lessen the charge that Asians were targeted for violence and that more would have died if they hadn’t defended themselves or simply known better than to show their faces? Just because they were not necessarily the only one’s targeted doesn’t mean that they weren’t victims of a pogrom.

    This is not hyperbole. I have no doubt that there were many “opportunists” involved in the riots – people who were out to get new stuff without paying for it, youths wanting to be involved for the fun or excitement or peer pressure, genuinely angry but misguided people needing to vent, gangsters looking to settle scores (several of those killed died in apparent random gang style drive bys), as well as a core of people wanting to settle scores with the Asians they hated. The examples I gave you are taken from personal testimonies and facts taken from official records, in the two cases where the mob was able to get their hands on Asian people, they tried to kill them with clear indications in both situations that they were being targeted because they were Asians, and other Asians were warned that they would have trouble if the King verdict came back not-guilty.

    ”Also, help me out here: how would the Rodney King verdict stimulate an anti-Asian mob to go find Asians to beat up?”

    Why people would target Asians because of the not guilty verdict I don’t really know, but if Korean shop-keepers are told to leave early if the King verdict comes back not-guilty, then that tells me that someone, somewhere knew that Koreans were going to be targeted. That suggests premeditation and perhaps some planning. I’m surprised that given everything that you and James have written, concerning the resentments and hostilities between the groups, that you find it illogical or inconceivable that the mob (or at least some elements in it) would be looking to harm Asians. I think that part of the problem is that we are not talking about a monolithic mob with a grand scheme. As I’ve said, we are talking about a mob that probably contained many different elements, but one of those elements wanted specifically to act on their hatred of Asians. It is kind of like asking why do Americans blame Asian economies for the bad economic decisions and policies of their own elected officials – it doesn’t make sense why that would happen, but it does.

    Finally, the small business census data is interesting. I think it is somewhat misleading to say that Asian businesses make 5 times that of African-American small businesses because the stats show a range of income brackets ranging from under $5,000 to over $1 million (what is a small business? most people would think that a business making over $100,000 isn’t small). I think it would be fair to assume that few (and probably there are none) Asian businesses pulling in over 1 million in the inner cities and unlikely that there are many pulling in up to $100,000. If you divide the table in to what I think might more appropriately reflect a typical business in a depressed area, so that we only go up to $100,000, the picture looks very different. At the same time, including businesses that make up to $100,000 may itself be unrepresentative of the types of businesses in poor black areas. Total receipts of businesses in the $100,000 bracket and above account for 95% of total income for Asian businesses, so if you subtract this amount, you are left with a figure for the Asian businesses that remain (the one’s whose income brackets are most likely to reflect operating in a depressed area) you have a total income that is comparable to black businesses in the same income brackets.

    Either way, if you average out the income for each income bracket, then you’ll find that the differences in income for blacks and Asians in those brackets are negligible. Even in higher income brackets the averages work out to be roughly equal, it’s when you get into the income brackets of $500,00 up to over $1 million that you see some marked differences, and those differences actually favour black businesses. So overall, I don’t think those stats lend support to the idea that Asian business owners in black neighbourhoods are making the big bucks that it would take to drain the community of its economic resources. In fact, based on the averages, they would seem to be living financially precarious lives.

  • James

    Some scattershot points: I’ve really enjoyed this discussion and hope it continues. Ben’s encouraged me to interrogate my possible nativism, and I’ve been writing about that today. More later.

    1) I think the problem here with the ‘siphoning’ discussion is the distance between perception and reality. Opening a convenience store in a poor neighborhood is not like starting a Starbucks franchise on Rodeo Drive. Looking for areas with cheaper rent to open a store speaks volumes about that entrepreneurs’ startup capital.

    But to the poor people that frequent that areas’ businesses (because they can’t afford to live anywhere else) the business represents a financial plane above where they are. That’s enough for resentment. Whether that resentment is justified morally is another question. The LA Riots may present a violent and race-affected example of that resentment, but I hesitate to apply what I take to be logical concerns about the color of money to the insane extreme of race rioting.

    2) It’s possible we’ve avoided the LAPD too much in this discussion. LAPD officers beat Rodney King, gained acquittals, and more LAPD officers cordoned off sites of civil unrest to protect higher income areas at the expense of lower income ones, where many Korean shops were located. Capitalism requires police protection to operate, and the police in this example failed everyone.

    3) There’s also a question of citizenship. I’m no wannabe Malcolm X, but I question how I’m supposed to feel about a domestic banking system that refused startup loans to African Americans but supported immigrant business plans on faith. Ben’s writing would have us believe that there is no moral room to question waking up every morning in an ethnic community and spending money at local establishments that are owned and operated by people from outside that community.

    Stories of disrespect in Asian stores aren’t entirely relevant at this point, though I could share some myself. My point is that when I travel through Italian neighborhoods, I find Italian businesses. Among the Chinese, you find Chinese stores and restaurants. Mexican Americans throughout Tucson owned the businesses in their neighborhood. If it’s impolitic to suggest that Black communities should have Black businesses within, I’m not sure how I feel about that.

    Again, this isn’t fully formed thinking, but with the lower government spending on some Black neighborhoods and the lower rents within them, I understand why these locales attract ambitious immigrant entrepreneurs looking for a fresh start. I’m not Marion Barry; I don’t consider immigrant entrepreneurship parasitic. I’m just not sure it’s entirely positive for the people who live or work there.

    Because no police officers checked for green cards or birth certificates during the Riots. The entire area was left to burn – meaning that no one’s citizenship mattered enough to protect their property or person, Asian and Black alike. Here, no one’s economic productivity empowered them enough to make government take notice. Everyone was expendable.

    Nothing justifies riotous violence. Sensible people don’t burn businesses. But when people have more of an economic stake in their community, you don’t find this readiness to pillage and burn. I don’t blame mass immigration for this disconnect. Integration seems more at fault, but I’m not yet willing to provide the pass Ben appears so eager to give the immigrant here. More later.

  • Ben

    James…

    “But to the poor people that frequent that areas’ businesses (because they can’t afford to live anywhere else) the business represents a financial plane above where they are. That’s enough for resentment. Whether that resentment is justified morally is another question. The LA Riots may present a violent and race-affected example of that resentment, but I hesitate to apply what I take to be logical concerns about the color of money to the insane extreme of race rioting.”

    I think that you have made two conflicting points here. A logical concern is a whole different kettle of fish to resentment. A resentment will lead to hostile behaviour, a logical concern will cause people to investigate an issue and seek logical solutions. Once you cross over into resentment, then logical concerns have already left the building.

    “There’s also a question of citizenship. I’m no wannabe Malcolm X, but I question how I’m supposed to feel about a domestic banking system that refused startup loans to African Americans but supported immigrant business plans on faith.”

    This is a good example of what I wrote above. Of course there is a huge problem with any lack of willingness from banks to loan to African-Americans, but I can’t imagine that any bank would loan to an immigrant (or anyone for that matter) based on faith. Banks give out commercial loans when they see a solid business idea with a clear business plan, backed, perhaps, by some collateral, maybe encouraged by some experience shown by the loanee. Banks want to see reasonable receipt projections and accurate cost of doing business assessments in any given sector of industry in any given area of town, so that they know that in combination with collateral, the loanee can be assessed to be someone who is able to repay the bank what they are owed. There is very little element of faith involved.

    “Ben’s writing would have us believe that there is no moral room to question waking up every morning in an ethnic community and spending money at local establishments that are owned and operated by people from outside that community.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here, when you say “no moral room”. My comments are a response to the apparently widespread but almost completely unsupported belief that Asian business owners are harming the local economies of black neighbourhoods by siphoning money out. And I’ve made the point that racial tensions (in LA, 1992) have been caused not only by Korean attitudes but also by widespread anti-Asian attitudes extant in general American society and shared (naturally) by some Americans of African descent. I maintain that the problems and issues of tension and conflict between Asians and African-Americans are a product of America’s xenophobia and therefore are merely a subset of the wider anti-Asian xenophobic antagonism of America.

    Thus, logically, people might well question why it is that Asians do business in neighbourhoods, but the filter of anti-Asian chauvinism ensures that this questioning shifts rather rapidly into resentful rage, and eventually and maybe inevitably, becomes violence. People can ask questions all day, but when they allow themselves to become resentful based on uncorroborated information and a societally engineered instinctual dislike of Asians, then that is the point when inquiry has shifted into bigotry. Following the former course of action might, hopefully, lead to possible solutions to any problems of discrimination against would-be black entrepeneurs, the latter course of action leads to reactionary and eye-roll inducing boycotts and sometimes race-riots.

    Here is a series of links to a recent resentment driven and reason devoid boycott of some poor Korean bastard in Dallas. What you will find in the articles is a cynical (wicked even) attempt to destroy a man’s reputation, his livelihood, and all he worked for over ten years.

    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/01/along_martin_luther_king_jr_bo.php

    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/01/live_from_schutzes_head_anothe.php

    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/02/whats_one_way_to_hurt_a_racist.php

    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/03/kwik_stop_protesters_change_ge.php

    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/04/in_the_kwik_stop_story_telling.php

    http://www.dallasweekly.com/news/article_db19d5c8-3c7f-11e1-bb0b-0019bb30f31a.html

    http://www.dallasobserver.com/2012-03-29/news/showdown-at-the-shamrock/

    As you may have read, the charges against the guy were fabricated, and black community leaders didn’t even attempt to apply a logical analysis to what they were being told even though several of the fake charges could easily have been corroborated by investigating police records and perhaps even simply by asking customers.

    Furthermore, all of this took place despite the shop-keeper doing the things that you and Jenn suggest might ease racial tensions – he employs local people, he is on great terms with his customer base (a customer in one article calls the shop-keeper his “nigga”), has good business relations with nearby black businesses, and by his own testimony he makes barely enough to make ends meet.

    This highlights the most important issue missing from the dialogue; how do you utilize the talents of local people and create an avenue for these people to exercise their entrepeneurial skills, and thus create jobs and lift the community. So far, what I hear the most is; “get the Asians out of our neighbourhoods”. But beyond that, no-one has a plan. No-one is putting forward any ideas of how to get capitalism going in depressed areas, but people gain influence and feed their political careers by stoking unreasonable resentment based on racial prejudice.

    Sure, notice that there could be more black businesses serving black neighbourhoods, and the answer is to come up with a course of action to get loan money from the private sector into the hands of black entrepeneurs but don’t use fabricated information to justify racial hostility as a means to stimulate a local economy – it hasn’t worked and it won’t work.

  • James

    Ben, if all you hear is ‘get the Asians out of our neighborhoods’ then you aren’t listening.

    I suggest only that the immigrant desire for economic uplift cannot become the only respectable point in these conversations. Local economic revitalization in an ethnic community is a logical concern for its residents. If this concern is ignored or discarded by those in positions of influence over time, that might lead to some resentment.

    The point is that the concern about the color of money doesn’t stop being logical just because some opportunists and rioters pervert the concern for their own ends. I submit as given that both Asian American and African American entrepreneurs submit well-reasoned business plans to bank when they seek start-up capital. I further submit that over the years banks have had trouble envisioning African American borrowers as good bets.

    I do not blame any immigrants for racism in the banking industry. But I find it difficult to imagine that I as a Black person should take no issue with the end result – inner-city African American communities with few locally owned businesses within. Ben, that phenomena just isn’t found in other ethnic communities.

    If we set the bar so low that questioning the role of the immigrant shopkeeper turns one into Denis Kearney, then the term nativism has no meaning. We aren’t speaking about “how to get capitalism going in depressed areas” Ben. We’re talking about the difficulty presented to residents of urban ethnic communities when the economic base and law enforcement of their community is not from their community.

    We are discussing what happens when a walk down the street in your neighborhood risks harassment from an occupying military force that exists to protect others from you and suspicion from shop owners who only work where you live, no more. Community policing comes from the same intention as supporting ethnic businesses in your community: the likelihood that people like you, who live where you do, will care enough about your community that they will work to improve it over time.

    If it exposes my prejudice to suggest that some immigrant small business owners may not have the same respect for the economically depressed areas where their shops reside as the local residents, than consider me exposed.

  • James

    I have not fabricated any information in this debate. Ben you “maintain that the problems and issues of tension and conflict between Asians and African-Americans are a product of America’s xenophobia and therefore are merely a subset of the wider anti-Asian xenophobic antagonism of America.”

    That is the problem. The unwillingness to consider that some members of a racial community are simply wrong in their words and deeds. It’s arguably easier in the Black community – an enormous proportion of our number are imprisoned every year for criminal activity that is widely publicized to all citizens. We have to accept – if we’re reasonable – that some Blacks are just wrong sometimes.

    I do not perceive a similar attitude in your writing, Ben. From you, immigrants who pursue their dreams cannot be considered hostile or parasitic to anyone. It has to be prevalent anti-Asian bias or false information or the ways the American financial system treats other groups, having nothing to do with Asian morality. I agree that all of those phenomena exist in this country, but I disagree that that explains everything.

    Some Asian shopkeepers are friendly business owners who employ local residents and treat everyone with respect. Some are not. Knowing that, it’s comical to suggest that whatever Asian v. Black tension that exists results from “uncorroborated information and a societally engineered instinctual dislike of Asians”.

    First, what society engineers cannot be instinctual. Second, that “my people, right or wrong” racial solidarity does not allow for the choices individuals make. I’m Black, but I think that when Black people riot and destroy stores, those people need to go to jail. I’ve been consistent. Ben, your consistency supports all Asian regardless of action, and I find that unreasonable.

  • Keith

    James

    Haven’t you figured out that this dude preaching his own version of Manifest destiny?

  • Ben

    James

    First of all I have to qualify a statement that I made in my previous comment;“maintain that the problems and issues of tension and conflict between Asians and African-Americans are a product of America’s xenophobia and therefore are merely a subset of the wider anti-Asian xenophobic antagonism of America” should have included the qualifier “some of the problems ……”. I in no way maintain that anti-Asian racism caused all of the problems, but I’m skeptical of those who dismiss it or downplay the role that decades of xenophobic resentment have negatively influenced or even determined the manner and character of interactions between Asians and non-Asians.

    Its disconcerting that after several exchanges you still hold on to the idea that I am unwilling to see beyond some kind of dedication to racial solidarity regardless of the facts. I will remind you that I have stated several times and in several ways that ethnic tension that contributed to the riots had their roots in mutual racial antagonism. I’ve also acknowledged that black entrepeneurs probably face discrimination in lending practices. I am the one who has asked for reasonable dialogue based on some degree of statistical support. I have heard the African-American and mainstream version of events ad-nauseum, in which it is implied that Korean shop-keepers were responsible for their own troubles, because they failed to adapt to the local culutre when this is not even half of the story. The problem is that to tell the other side of the story which highlights America’s anti-Asian racism as a major contributing factor is something that Americans (both black and white) are reluctant to acknowledge, because by definition it would have to be accepted by mainstream America that such prejudice exists.

    Asserting that Asian businesses siphon money out of black neighbourhoods to the detriment of the local economy goes far beyond mere questioning the issues of the social and economic ramifications of Asian businesses in depressed black neighbourhoods. Progress and co-operation can only be achieved if both sides are willing to reject those aspects of their community’s convictions that incite outrage at the cost of reason.

    Note also that uncorroborated information goes beyond being a cause and has become a propagator of tension – there is still little support for the idea that Asian businesses cause economic damage to local communities where they operate, but the notion is still most often presented as fact. This especially acute if on the one hand assertions are made that this line of dialogue is mere enquiry whilst at the same time this enquiry makes unsubstantiated claims that conclude negative effects on a community from immigrant businesses. We know that they are resented, the question is; is it fair or are the charges in place to rationalize an unreasonable attitude? Dismissing out of hand the economic factors like the revenues from the cost of doing business doesn’t lend support to the idea of rational enquiry.

    The links I posted show far more than the benign notion that “some members of a racial community are simply wrong in their words and deeds“. These were not just some people, these were major players in the leadership of the local community, local black politicians, and NAACP leaders, who joined and expanded an entirely unjustified campaign to demonize and ruin a man who was well and truly an accepted and integral part of the community where he did business, even though he didn’t live there. Now that is the true comedy. That should tell us a couple of things, 1) not living in the community where you do business doesn’t mean that your presence will be sociologically or economically detrimental 2) doing this needn’t be the cause for resentment 3) even if Asian business people do meet the demands of (seemingly clueless) local leaders in the way that they operate in black neighbourhood, extant unacknowledged racial prejudice will still find a voice but will be carried by influential black leaders.

    I sense this dialogue coming to a close, and I will say that I also enjoyed the exchange and the reasonable tone of you and Jenn.

    I will leave you with some things to consider about my position that I hope will clarify my comments

    1. The background issues that enraged the local community in LA in 1992 were derived from legitimate problems stemming from institutional prejudice and neglect towards and against African-Americans.

    2. The tensions that developed between Korean shop-keepers and some members of the local community came as a result of mutual distrust, racist attitudes from immigrants and anti-Asian attitudes from the black community deriving from America’s culturally appropriate anti-Asian hostility.

    3. The riots themselves included a substantial vein of hatred that targeted Asian businesses and persons that justify its characterization as a pogrom.

    4. Persistent claims of Asian businesses siphoning money out of black communities and doing economic harm have little basis in fact and the resemblance to wider-scale American resentment and anti-Asian xenophobia is too acute to dismiss as coincidence, and furthermore the actual benefits of an increased tax base and revenues earned from cost of doing business are unreasonably downplayed and dismissed. Even if Asians were taking money out of the local economy, there is little to support the belief that it is substantial enough to be detrimental.

    5. The charge that Asian businesses are not re-circulating money into the local community because they have few local employees fails because it is far from established that local employees would not follow the pattern of the community to themselves not spend locally. Furthermore, the implication that black businesses will address this problem is not supported by the facts. Of the more than 1.9 million black owned businesses, more than 1.8 million of them were sole proprietors.

    6. The (general) dialogue is severely hampered by the lack any meaningful attempt to put forward a solution beyond the belief that Asian businesses need to be “moved on” in order for black businesses to thrive. Because this is based on the unsubstantiated claim that Asians businesses are a detriment to local economies, the belief itself is unwarranted.

    7. Pushing Asian businesses out of black neighbourhoods will not prevent discrimination in the banking sector, and may , in fact, foster more negative attitudes towards loaning to entrepeneurs in depressed areas.

    Finally, attitudes can be socially engineered so that they become instinctual – this is how racism becomes unconscious and ingrained.

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