This Stereotype Affects You, Too

I recently agreed to blog on Change.org, a large progressive activism site, as one of their regular Race in America contributors. Here’s my first post over there:

This Stereotype Affects You, Too

We all intuitively know that stereotyping based on race is harmful. But surprisingly, there are comparatively few studies that examine how stereotyping occurs — and what is indirect effects might look like.

A new study, though, suggests that stereotyping is a psychological process that actually promotes a broader “stereotyping” attitude that affects all minority communities, not just the ones being actively stereotyped. In other words, my stereotype is your stereotype, too.

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Chinese Americans Join Protest against AZ Anti-Immigration Law

Be afraid, for the Asians are mobilizing against racism!

The media seems intent on painting SB 1070, the bill signed into law last week that would make being an undocumented immigrant a state crime, as an anti-Latino law. Everywhere you turn, you hear about the ramifications of this bill against Latino residents of Arizona, both legal and undocumented. But, while the impact of this bill on the Latino community will be profound here in Arizona, I think this insistence on focusing exclusively on SB 1070 as a “Latino” issue creates the same divisive wedge normally used to prevent minority communities from forming coalitions and building bridges. Even Reverend Al Sharpton, who spoke the other night on Larry King Live, failed to talk about the impact of SB 1070 on the non-Hispanic community.

The truth is that SB 1070 is harmful to all Americans, both White and of colour. Yet, we aren’t talking about the fact that the second largest group of undocumented immigrants who cross into America along Arizona’s southern border are ethnic Chinese; Asians in Arizona are also very likely to be targeted for racial profiling by Arizona’s state cops when SB 1070 comes into effect this summer. And we certainly aren’t talking about the dangerous precedent that Arizona’s anti-immigrant law will have across the nation, in terms of state’s rights, legalized racial profiling, and privacy issues; yet, it is these consequences that can have dangerous ramifications for all people of colour.

It is for these reasons that progressive and minority communities should be mobilizing in full force against SB 1070, and not be distracted by the false notion that the law will not affect you. Beyond the fact that we shouldn’t stand idly by while minorities are disenfranchised, we must also recognize how we, too, are threatened by this unjust law.  

New American Media has a short article about Chinese American groups on both the east and west coasts urging their members to participate in protests against SB 1070. Here’s the article:

Chinese Americans to Join Protest against Arizona Law

Chinese American leaders on the east and west coasts urged community members joining the Labor Day demonstration to protest against Arizona’s anti-immigration law. The leaders also called for immigration reform, reports China Press.

Hong Zhen from the New York Immigration Coalition described the Arizona law as “non-American”and an ugly way to criminalize undocumented immigrants. He urged President Obama to reform the immigration system. Li Hua from Chinese Staffs and Workers Association said criminalizing undocumented worker violated human rights.

Meanwhile, Asian community leaders in San Francisco said that even though the Arizona law targeted Latino communities, Asian Americans and members of other ethnic groups should fully participate and show their disagreement on any anti-immigrant law

In addition to the groups described above, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), chaired by Representative Mike Honda (Democratic Congressman from California) released a statement on behalf of CAPAC on Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill. Here’s an excerpt (read the full text here):

As a Japanese American who spent part of my childhood in an internment camp, I know all too well the effects of scapegoating and racial profiling. I suffered through what happens when governments pass policies based on fear and misguided attempts at law and order.

This law is un-American as it unjustly targets communities of color, in particular immigrant communities, which have been critical to the economic growth of our country throughout our nation’s history.

The law’s enactment also demonstrates the urgent political and moral imperative for the federal government to act now on comprehensive immigration reform.

Comprehensive immigration reform is particularly important for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. There are currently 1.5 million undocumented Asian immigrants who contribute to our communities and economy everyday and who could contribute more if they were legalized. Millions of families are separated for years, sometimes decades, waiting in the backlogs of our broken family visa system.

White House AAPI Initiative To Increase Asian American Access to Federal Programs

Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House's AAPI Initiative.

With Asian American Heritage Month just around the corner, the White House’s Asian American Pacific Islander Initiative announced today that it will be holding a series of events and round-table discussions with APIA community leaders to improve access and participation in federal programs.

Here’s the press release:

White House Initiative Launches Campaign to Increase Asian American and Pacific Islander Access, Participation in Federal Programs

In advance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders today announced the Obama administration’s efforts to improve the lives of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities underserved by federal resources. The Initiative will collaborate with top agency officials and community leaders in roundtable discussions on education opportunities, housing, jobs, employment issues and health disparities. Experts with hands-on community experience will advise federal agencies on critical issues and share innovative models of proven success.

“We want all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to know what resources the Obama administration has available to help improve their lives,” Executive Director Kiran Ahuja said. “By building strong collaboration between federal agency officials and community leaders, we’re taking the first step towards investing in a mutually beneficial partnership to create easier access to educational opportunities and program services.”

“The President is committed to maximizing the government’s ability to address the needs of the AAPI communities through this initiative,” Chris Lu, assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, said. “President Obama and his administration are doing everything we can to support the efforts to increase AAPI access and participation in federal programs, especially during these tough economic times.”

Like all Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are suffering severe challenges in the current economic crises. AAPIs have experienced the largest decline in homeownership of any racial group over the last year. Poverty rates, work-related injuries and job losses also have increased.

Working with Initiative co-chairs U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Ahuja has already built a strong team at the Initiative. She has enlisted many administration officials to hold dozens of events during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will discuss employment and labor issues with community leaders. Secretary Locke will hold a Web chat to discuss the Initiative’s work, and Secretary Duncan will visit a public school with a high percentage of Asian American students and a strong bilingual education program.

“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.