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.

Anti-Asian Assaulters Turned in by Parents

Two of the attackers, caught on a security feed

I posted late last week about a spree of anti-Asian hate crimes in Brooklyn: at least five elderly Asian women have been assaulted in the borough in the last ten days. It turns out that the perpetrators were children, with one of the girls only 12 years old; according to the victims, the girls assaulted the women while two boys of similar age acted as lookouts. After the news about the assaults broke, the parents of three of the children turned them in.

The inescapable fact is that the perpetrators are African-American, and appeared to be targeting Asian women. While it’s not clear what motivated these attacks, I can’t help but think of Spike Lee’s landmark film, Do The Right Thing, which examines the racial strife of a mixed-race neighbourhood in Brooklyn.

I don’t want to project too much onto these kids (not at least until we know more), but I can’t help but see the whole incident as a tragic example of how America is still far, far, far away from being post-racial.

While the original article doesn’t mention the race of the perpetrators, it does include this telling reaction from a (presumably Asian) resident of the neighbourhood:

“I’m horrified, scared,” neighbor Tiffany Tan said. “As long as you don’t go near them, it’s okay.”

What does Ms. Tan mean? Don’t go near the particular kids who attacked the Asian women? The neighbourhood where the attacks took place? Or, all Black people?

The last thing we need is for Asian people to take away from this horrific series of crimes that they need to avoid Black people, because Black people are somehow too scary and violent to interact with. Attitudes like that are only going to exacerbate the tension, miscommunication, and outright hostility that already exists between the Black and Asian communities.

Adam Carolla Apologizes for Being a Racist Asshat

A racist asshat.

“[Manny Pacquiao]’s from the Philippines and because he’s prayin’ to chicken bones and stuff like that, everyone’s kinda like, ‘Well you gotta respect him for his belief system.’ No you don’t. He’s a f****n’ idiot. … [The Phillipines] got this and sex tours, that’s all they have over there. Get your s**t together Philippines. Jesus Christ. I mean, again, it’s fine to be proud of your countrymen. But that’s it? That’s all you got?”

This is what Adam Carolla thinks of Filipinos.

In a breathtaking display of sheer ass-hattery, Carolla called boxer Manny Pacquiao a “fuckin’ idiot” and described the Phillipines as little more than a collection of prostitutes and witch doctors in a recent podcast. In roughly five minutes, Carolla managed to insult an entire country and culture as backwards and barbaric, while completely dismissing the plight of Asian sex slaves who are forced into prostitution by a national economy rampaged by poverty and unemployment.

Meanwhile, Carolla’s podcast was broadcast on CBS, and has made barely a splash in local mainstream media. Whereas Michael Richards was rebuked for days for his racist rant against African Americans, whereas John Mayer was reduced to tears following a blistering storm of criticism over his racist and insensitive remarks he made in Playboy, and whereas Don Imus was publically fired by CBS Radio for his use of a racial slur on his talk radio show, coverage of Adam Carolla’s racist, anti-Filipino rant on his podcast has been minimal at best.

The only folks who seem to have batted an eye over Carolla’s racism are the Asian American community, where calls for an apology have been widespread … and virtually ignored by the mainstream.

Still, it seems that the Asian American community’s outrage is worth something: a mispelled, grammatically-incorrect, generally incoherent, and totally insincere apolo-Tweet. Writes Adam Carolla on his Twitter account:

Read your comments.Sorry if I offended many of u.I don’t preplan my commentary. I try to be provoctive,funny but I crossed the line&im sorry

Sorry if he offended someone for calling the world’s pound-for-pound top boxer an “illiterate” “fuckin’ idiot” who “prays to chicken bones”?

Yeah, you gotta do better than that.

Anti-Asian Hate Crime Spree in Brooklyn

Racial Hate Crimes by Type of Offense in 2008. Statistics originally published by the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics.

Caught this on my Facebook this morning:

Asian women targeted in Lower Manhattan

All of the victims were attacked in lower Manhattan in and around the Baruch Houses. Surveillance video shows five teens entering the scene of one attack that happened on March 31 at the Gompers Houses at 90 Pitt Street. Two of the teens are female; three are male.

In the most recent incident, a 68-year-old woman was assaulted on Tuesday in front of 247 East Broadway at about 11 p.m.

Police say all of the victims have been Asian and between 50-71 years old.

Read more

At first, I thought this was a copycat of the sick rapist in California who was targeting Asian females for sexual assault and rape last year — but, no, this is a completely different kind of fucked up: teenagers beating up elderly Asian mothers and grandmothers. How twisted do you have to be to think that this is a fun Friday evening activity for you and your tween posse?

The tragic fact about hate crimes is that the statistics are probably a woeful under-estimate of the actual number of hate crimes that occur on a day-to-day basis in this country. Victims are often reluctant to report minor crimes, and law enforcement officials also may fail to recognize a violent crime as a hate crime.

Further, Asian Americans may be reluctant to report a hate crime, for a variety of reasons. The Japanese American Citizens League lists these possible reasons for hate crime underreporting in the APIA community in their (phenomenal) guide to hate crimes in the Asian American community, When Hate Hits Home.

Even though many police departments are set up to investigate hate crimes, incidents of hate crime reporting involving Asian Pacific American victims is seriously underreported to the police. Reasons for this include:

  • Immigrant victims may face language and cultural barriers to filing police reports.
  • Immigrant victims are often unfamiliar with American law and fearful of law enforcement.
  • Some victims are afraid that by reporting hate-related attacks, it will draw attention to them and make them vulnerable to further attacks.
  • Some victims believe that their complaints will not be taken seriously by the police, or worse, that the police will persecute them for reporting incidents

While understandable, this response to a hate crime actually disadvantages both the individual victims of a hate crime and the community in general. Silence in the wake of a hate crime can make it appear as if our community isn’t being victimized by hate crime perpetrators — diverting important preventative resources from our community — and it can actually embolden offenders to act again and more violently.

The FBI’s 2008 hate crime statistics show that 3% of race-based hate crimes were enacted against Asian American Pacific Islanders, but I wonder how closely this reflects what’s really happening to our community on the streets?