“This is Alabama. We Speak English.”

Check out this thiry-second TV ad, called “Language”, from Tim James, a Republican running for Albama governor. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Can you believe this mess?

Tim James is honestly campaigning on a platform of language discrimination. One of his campaign promises is actually to disenfranchise American citizen who don’t speak English by eliminating non-English government documents. 

It’s probably unnecessary for me to point out, but a full 20% of Americans speak primarily a language other than English at home. Of those, roughly 20% speak an Asian language. So, we’re talking about a good chunk of Americans, including a sizeable portion of the Asian American community, who may rely on non-English government documents to function. Further, most of the other 80% of Americans who speak a non-English language at home are Spanish-speaking. Thus, eliminating non-English government documents will overwhelmingly affect members of the Asian and Latino communities — who collectively make up about 4% of Alabama’s population.

Clearly, James isn’t counting on those votes to elect him governor. Although, perhaps he should — a recent poll shows James polling at only 8 points in the Republican Gubernatorial primary in Alabama, behind fellow Republicans Bradley Byrne and Roy Moore. Although, then again, James may also be the joke of the race: not only did his campaign release a whiny press release disputing the numbers of the aforementioned poll (because it shows their candidate doing really badly amongst all segments of Republican voters), but Tim James’ campaign website has to have the single worst example of header image Photoshopping I have ever seen. I mean really — go check out his campaign website. What is up with that header image? Not only are James’ ear and sleeve fading into ghostly non-existence, but that left-over beige background around his neck makes it look like he’s engulfed in a form-fitting plume of desert sand. I guess none of those all-American, English-speaking campaign staff James hired know how to work a background filter, huh?

Oh, and Gawker points out the irony that Tim James, who just hates them foreign languages, is the son of former Alabama Governor Fob James. That’s right — “Fob“.

Inside Black-Asian Tension: The Stuff That Doesn’t Make the Headlines

This is, like, the only picture on the Internet of an Asian shopkeeper and a Black customer. And I think it’s from Europe.

I posted earlier this week about inter-ethnic tension between the Black and the Asian community. That post has garnered a bit of heat, much of it warranted. For one thing, I opened the post citing two examples of criminal violence perpetrated against Asians by Black offenders, and went on to quote a commentary written by a Black man who was raised to target Asians for petty theft. Although the intent of my post was to lay out some recent examples of conflict between the Black and Asian communities (and to go from there to describing how both communities are guilty of internalizing untrue racust stereotypes about one another), the post unintentionally left some readers with the impression that the tension manifests, almost exclusively, as violent crime perpetrated by Blacks against Asians, thereby perpetuating the very stereotype that Blacks are predominantly criminal. I certainly failed to balance the recent spate of Asian-targeted crimes with the murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, who was killed by an Asian shopkeeper presuming Harlins to be a shoplifter.

Restructure criticized me, writing:

I understand the intent of this post, but I think it was poorly executed. I think you should have written this post while being hyper-paranoid about perpetuating stereotypes about black criminality/danger/violence.

Since I strongly value Restructure’s opinion on anything I write, this comment gave me pause for thought. On the one hand, Restructure is right that my post was perhaps a little too careless in its depiction of the problem, leading it to over-emphasize the importance of the outright criminal acts that have grabbed the headlines lately (and consequently to have it fall into the same tired tropes of Black criminality). And, for that, (and other weaknesses in the writing of my original post) I do apologize.

However, on the other hand, another commentor, jm, wrote:

I consider myself a liberal and a fair person. And so that means I won’t say the “safe” thing for fear of offending people. Yes, inter-ethnic tension is wrong as is violence. But in your attempt to address this issue, you’ve perhaps skirted the elephant in the room and instead, chose to bend over backwards to excuse VIOLENT criminal behavior of people who just happened to be black.

[…]

There MAY be interethnic tension between blacks and asians but the majority of the violent perpetrators are black and you cannot avoid that.

Other commentors dismissed the recent acts of violence as representative of anything more than kids thinking that Asians are fun to beat up on. Still other commentors (curiously) criticized the post for having too “kumbaya” a tone, and instead advocated that perhaps segregation is indeed the best course of action.

After having read all 22 of the comments on my first post, I have concluded one thing: many people didn’t like the post, but most people didn’t like it for different reasons.

Based on these diverse reactions, it seems that the issue of inter-ethnic tension between the Black and the Asian community is an exceptionally hot-button debate that promotes varied and disparate opinions. Clearly, than, this topic deserves more than a single post, written hastily in the middle of my work-day. Instead, this issue deserves a series of posts — a series that can hopefully encourage discussion about the complex, and apparently exceedingly controversial, relationship between the African American and Asian American communities.

In this post, I’d like to clarify a point that I did not make clear in my original post: we’re talking about the inter-ethnic tension between Blacks and Asians right now because of the assault spree in Brooklyn and the recent murder of Tian Sheng Yu in California. But, these are sensationalized, headline-grabbing crimes that are symptomatic of, but not literally representative of, the tensions that exist between the Black and Asian communities. For every Tian Sheng Yu and Latasha Harlins that makes the newspapers, there are one, two, maybe even ten daily examples of mistreatment and hostility that never makes the press.

More importantly, it’s these mundane, day-to-day interactions — not the headline-grabbing crimes — that are the root manifestations of the inter-ethnic tension between Blacks and Asians. While it’s tempting to conclude from the sensationalist stories of assault and murder that inter-ethnic tension between Blacks and Asians are exclusively represented by examples of physical violence, that’s like concluding from stories of hate crimes and lynching that all racism requires a pillow case and a burning cross. It’s also tempting to conclude from the sensationalist stories of assault and murder (which recently have involved Black assaulters targeting Asian victims) that Blacks universally target and victimize Asians for crime; yet interrogation of the day-to-day incidents reveal that both Asians and Blacks are capable, and culpable, when it comes to perpetuating the tension and hostility between our communities.

The mundane, day-to-day hostility and distrust is far more prevalent than the headline-grabbing crimes. They are also more sinister because they are rarely interrogated in the spotlight of forums like these, because they are so subtle as to exist only as an undercurrent between our communities, contextualizing inter-ethnic interactions without ever being challenged.

These day-to-day interactions can be so subtle that they barely register as a conscious affront even to the participants. Yet who is to judge the impact when an Asian grandmother refuses to hand a customer his change directly, but instead leaves it on the counter so as to avoid touching Black skin? Who is to judge the impact when the Black child openly mocks the Asian child for his accented English and not-quite-fashionable mode of dress? Who is to judge the impact when the Asian father clutches his daughter more tightly to him whenever they pass a Black man on the street? Who is to judge the impact when the Black veteran, unemployed, sees the same Asian faces he fought in Vietnam now taking the last dollars he has left, out of the community?

Most interactions are quick and unassuming; only rarely do these interactions become violent and criminal. Yet, it is these interactions that, left unchallenged, perpetuate the untrue stereotype amongst Asians that Blacks are rude and criminal — despite ample evidence to the contrary. And it is these interactions that, left unchallenged, perpetuate the unture stereotype amongst Blacks that Asians are disdainful and opportunistic — again, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

In a way, I feel like I stand at a crossroads between both communities (although, I confess that I have experienced far more anti-Black sentiment in the Asian community than I have experienced anti-Asian sentiment in the Black community). I have seen Asian shopkeepers follow my African-American boyfriend around a store, keeping a wary eye on him from the moment he walked in the door, as though he is liable to pocket every trinket on the shelves if they turn their back on him for an instant. And, I have seen Black girls mutter and insult me, behind my back and to my face, particularly when they see me arm-in-arm with electroman.

And, above all, I remember the words of my mother who was indoctrinated, from childhood, with the notion that dark skin equated with poverty, disease, laziness and untrustworthiness. I remember my mother who believed that we, as East Asians, shouldn’t mingle with anybody who had darker skin than us (although, ironically, I am half-Cantonese and am several shades darker than both my sister and my mother). I remember my mother extending that attitude to my Asian Indian best friend in grade school; I wasn’t allowed to be friends with him. Later, she extended that same attitude to electroman, shunning my relationship with him as though he was ‘beneath’ me, socially and intellectually.

But no one writes a newspaper story about these daily interactions, so small as to be virtually invisible to all involved, yet fueled by the most deeply ingrained of racism and misunderstanding. No one talks about how a simple insult, hurled by a Black customer in frustration or anger at being treated like a criminal by an Asian shopkeeper, widens the gulf between both communities. And the wider the gulf, the more ingrained our negative stereotypes of one another, and the more these hostilities become fodder for an enraged child (Black or Asian) to lash out against a member of the Other in a sensationalized (and completely unjustifiable) crime of violence. The violence, thus, is symptomatic — but not representative — of the inter-ethnic tension between Blacks and Asians.

Therefore, while it is easy to focus on the recent sensational crimes, we must not become distracted by them. I think the far more prevalent problem are all the incidents and attitudes we’ve encountered, and all the narratives we experience, that we don’t talk about because they never make the papers. But bloggers, unlike mainstream media, aren’t beholden to readership statistics the way the press is; so why is it that even in the blogosphere, we seem to eschew discussion of the day-to-day racism that exists between the Black and Asian community (and yes, I am guilty of this too), and are only now talking about it when it has become sensationalized?

Update: As I was publishing this post, I got this article in my Google alerts: NAACP Hopes to Diffuse Tension Between Asians and Blacks in San Francisco. Some choice quotes:

Human Rights Commissioner Linda Richardson told New America Media that the commission held a hearing Thursday in Chinatown and that their executive director also had private meetings with Asian-American leaders with regard to the recent violent acts.

“The commission will concentrate on education about this issue, and in bringing the Asian and African-American communities together to begin a healing process,” Robinson said.

African-American leaders are already working on “our own [black-on-black] violence, but they also don’t want these recent incidents to lead to a general castigation of the entire African-American community as perpetrators of these racial crimes,” she said. “It is only a minority of the population responsible for these acts, and that is unacceptable.”

[…]

Out in the streets of Bayview-Hunters Point, near the Muni stop where Huan Chen was attacked, long-time resident Bernard Robinson says the community “needs jobs for young students…That’s why there’s so much violence and robbery here because they have nothing to do. Parents also don’t look out enough for their kids and guide them.”

Robinson, 62, said he’s witnessed violent acts by African-American men on Asians, and he’s also seen black-on-black violence in his neighborhood. Robinson appealed to his neighbors to “live and work together to end the violence.”

[…]

Rudy Asercion, executive director of Westbay Pilipino Multi-Service Center, said the NAACP is primarily concerned with diffusing the tension between Asians and African Americans in the city so that there would not be any retaliation from Asian Americans and further violence from either group. Asercion supports the NAACP’s move and the belief of the convening group “that it will take a sustained and cooperative effort among all communities to stop the violence.”

Update II: Yikes. Don’t write your posts at 3 am in the morning, folks! I’ve edited some of the grammar in this post so it doesn’t sound like crazy rambling.

Leland Yee Receives Racist, Homophobic Hatemail from Palin-ites

(Hat-tip: Angry Asian Man)

California State Senator Leland Yee reports that his office has been inundated with racist hatemail and death threats, after campaigning to have California State University Stanislaus release information about an upcoming campus fundraiser by former Governor Sarah Palin. Stanislaus officials contend that the details are unavailable, however critics of Palin’s visit want to know if the former governor will be receiving her usual honorarium of $100,000 an appearance from the school. Tellingly, students from the school found pages 4 through 9 of Palin’s contract in the administration dumpster, demanding that Palin be given a hotel suite, first-class airfare or a private jet, pre-screened questions, and “bendable straws” (according to a press release from Yee).

Ever since openly criticizing Palin’s visit to Stanislaus, Yee reports that he has been inflammatory correspondance from around the country. His press release quotes a few of these comments:

An expletive-laden fax received yesterday in the Senator’s San Francisco and Sacramento offices says, “To: JoBama Rectum Sniffer Fish Head Leland Yee” and then in all capital letters, “WERE YOU TO EXTRACT YOUR HEAD FROM TREASONOUS MARXIST NIG**R HUSSEIN OBAMA’S RECTUM, YOUR BRAIN WOULD STILL FUNCTION AT ITS PRESENT MUCH DIMINISHED LEVEL BUT AT LEAST THE NIG**R SH*T SMELL WOULD EVENTUALLY DISSIPATE.”

The fax, which included a graphic of an American flag adorned pickup truck dragging a noose, also states “FIGHTING The Marxist Nig**r Thug Hussein Obama” and “Safeguard the Constitution, Death of all Domestic Marxists!”

Another fax received by the Senator’s office with a similar graphic says, “NEW WEBSITE COMING SOON: lyeesucksobamasnig**ras*.com,” as well as “JoBama. HE IS BRAVE ENOUGH TO KILL OUR UNBORN, JUST NOT BRAVE ENOUGH TO CALL OUR ENEMIES WHAT THEY ARE: Muslim Terrorists!” The fax also includes a rifle scope targeting a shirt with the communist hammer and sickle symbol dripping with blood.

One of the phone messages left after hours in Yee’s office voicemail says, “You know, I heard that Senator Yee wants to nix Sarah Palin from speaking at Stanislaus State…Maybe we ought to have a homosexual with a long enough di*k to where he can stick it up his as* and fu*k himself while he is on stage giving a speech. That would be acceptable to Leland Yee. So, good thing you run in San Francisco ’cause you’d never make it anywhere else.”

Nice to know the callibre of Sarah Palin’s most ardent supporters.

Inside Black-Asian Tension: Sometimes It Is About Racism

Inter-ethnic tension between the Black and Asian communities has risen to the forefront of blogosphere discussion in the last couple of weeks, following several reports of violence between the two groups. In Brooklyn, five elderly Asian women were violently assaulted; some of their attackers, all of whom were Black teens, were turned in by their parents.

And in San Francisco, a 59-year old San Francisco man named Tian Sheng Yu, was brutally attacked while he and his son were out shopping last Friday afternoon; Yu died this morning following a head injury sustained during the attack. Prosecutors — who arrested the perpetrators (who happen to be 18-years-old African American men) after one turned himself in — note that the attack appeared to lack an obvious motive (such as robbery), and that Yu and his son may have been targeted based on their race.

Tian Sheng Yu
Tian Sheng Yu, 59, died this morning following a brutal assault on Friday afternoon in the San Francisco area. Prosecutors are investigating whether this is a hate crime.

These are only the few of the many examples of Black-Asian tension that make the headlines; yet, (as many within both communities can attest) deep conflict and resentment between our two communities persists below the surface.

New America Media posted a commentary from 22-year-old Amanze Emenike, a Black man who was raised in one neighbourhood in the San Francisco area to target Asians and Latinos, not fellow Blacks, for petty theft and crime. Emenike argues that recent examples of violent and non-violent crime (apparently targeting Asians) are not symptoms of anti-Asian racism, but of economic opportunism.

If young people try to rob an old black person in Hunters Point, they usually don’t know who they are messing with and they can fall into beef with the victim’s family or community. Robbing African Americans, it’s more likely that the family will come back and harm the robber. So young people go after Chinese and Mexicans.

[…]

The reason Asian kids are getting robbed is because there is an assumption that young Chinese kids on Third Street are filthy rich and have an i-Pod or laptop on them. To a young, broke black male, the appeal of nabbing a few hundred dollars from some Asian kid’s pocket is even greater during this recession. The young homies in Hunters Point need money for shoes and clothes.

It’s true that racism rarely manifests in the outright, pillow-case-wearing, cross-burning variety: most racism hides in the guise of economic misfortune and ignorance. After all, when Asian immigrants (from countries like China, Japan and Korea) landed in the West Coast, anti-Asian sentiment arose from fears that Asian “coolies” were taking jobs from hard-working White Americans. Anti-Asian hatred was then justified as backlash due to rampant unemployment, not rabid KKK-ness — even if the consequences of both forms of racism (such as discrimination, assault and even lynchings) were the same.

Here, Emenike argues that the targeting of Asians by young Blacks who have fallen into a criminal lifestyle is a matter of survival and opportunism. Fellow African Americans weren’t targeted because you didn’t know whose grandmama you might have just assaulted; but Asians, on the other hand, were fair game because not only were they unlikely to ever be able to track you down (because they aren’t part of your community), but they might have lots of cool Stuff(tm).

Yet, how is this not still racist stereotyping of Asians? Emenike’s sentiments describe the model minority myth to a tee — the justification that Asians should be targeted for crime arises from the presupposition that Asians are meek, mild-mannered and unassuming folks who have shit tons ‘o cash on their person. Moreover, Emenike demonstrates how petty criminals like those he grew up with dehumanize their targets; Emenike thinks about how Black victims are potentially family members of people he knows, whereas he has no problem not thinking about the consequences of his childhood crimes on the families of Asian victims. In other words, Asians (somehow) won’t really be affected by the crime, so we’re all fair game.

Now, this isn’t to say that the inter-ethnic tension between Blacks and Asians is a one-way street. Asians (as Asians will tell you) can be particularly racist against the African American community. Colourstruck hatred of dark-skinned people arose, independently, in many Asian cultures — and manifests today in a “light makes right” mentality that encourages distrust of Blacks amongst Asians (particularly more elderly Asians).

In addition, many Asian immigrants have made their money by being willing to enter economic niches generally not tapped by other entrepreneurs. Because of White flight and anti-Black racism that diminishes opportunities for Black small-business owners (when it comes to getting start-up loans, for example), Asian immigrants frequently have started small businesses in the virtually uninhabited commercial-sectors near predominantly Black residential areas; consequently, in many cities, Asian businesses tend to serve predominantly Black clienteles, where we are perceived as siphoning money from the Black community.

And then, there’s the purely American, directly conflicting stereotypes, themselves. Blacks are depicted in American media as ignorant, lazy, poor, and criminal (which they aren’t). Asians are perceived as meek, eager-to-please, upwardly mobile, and opportunistic (which we aren’t). We sit at the opposite extreme constrasts of racial stereotypes; and in one another, we resent and hate that which we are told they are, and that we are not. In other words, we’re buying into all the racist shit they’re saying about each other.

Couple all of that with a language barrier a mile thick, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfect storm of distrust, tension, and open hostility.

But, what we must realize is that the Black-Asian tension and hostility is not predestined. There’s nothing about our communities that require that we hate one another; indeed, it is the stereotypes, perpetuated by mainstream American culture, that fuels the rage and conflict between our communities.

And, rather than to talk about how both communities have internalized racism against the other community, we hide behind our own oppressions and make excuses about our own bigotry. Mundane conflict between our two groups makes for fodder on YouTube.

In the wake of crimes between Asian and Black communities, it is tempting to, as Brooklyn resident Tiffany Tan remarked, “[not] go near them”.  But that self-imposed segregation will only exacerbate the problem, by allowing racist ideas and prejudice to fester. Instead, to end these rash of Black-Asian conflicts (some headline-making and some mundane), we need to address the root of the problem: why do our communities have beef in the first place?

In order to do that, we need to open the lines of communication between the Black and the Asian community, and address the racism that both our communities are guilty of internalizing. We need to talk about the reasons that we foster prejudice against one another, and the costs — in human lives — of that hatred. Only by interacting with (not isolating ourselves from) each other will we see how the real problem is not one another, but the racism that we collectively face.

Kal Penn Robbed at Gunpoint

Thank goodness Penn wasn’t hurt! He’s been a great voice for the Asian American community in the Obama administration this past year.

Kal Penn Robbed at Gunpoint in D.C.