Earlier this week, I gave a standing-room only talk at Yale about the Asian American Model Minority Myth, wherein I talked about the Myth’s anti-Black underpinnings and its dehumanizing obfuscation of the struggles (and very real racism) faced by the diverse people who belong to the AANHPI community. Afterwards, a young Chinese American woman came up to me and introduced herself: her name was Joyce. Earlier this year, her father (Temple University physics professor and former department chairman, Xiaoxing Xi) had been arrested by the Justice Department and wrongly accused of espionage. In 2002, Xi had worked at a company that had invented something called a pocket heater, which is now a restricted technology used in superconductor research. Later, Xi purchased limited access to the technology for one year to continue his research on it.
In an emotional and heartfelt op-ed published this past week, Joyce recounts how in May of this year, the US Justice Department raided the Xi family home. Twelve FBI agents broke into the house in the early morning hours and pointed guns at a bewildered and terrified Xi, his wife, and their children. The agents dragged Xi away in handcuffs, and accused him of sharing the pocket heater schematics with Chinese scientists in 2010, in a series of emails. They implicated Xi — a US citizen who naturalized in 1989 — as a Chinese spy. In addition to facing federal charges of espionage, Xi became informally black-listed: before even having a chance to defend himself in a court of law, Xi found himself demoted from his departmental chairmanship by Temple University.
One inconvenient problem: Xi appears to be completely innocent.
Most of us also know the name of Chelsea Manning, who prior to taking her new identity as Chelsea served as Bradley Manning in the US Army where she leaked the largest package of classified information to the public via Wikileaks, including documents pertaining to US airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning was prosecuted under the Espionage Act and is currently serving 35 years in prison.
This is easily the most underreported story of institutionalized anti-Asian and anti-Muslim racism of 2014.
In the months following 9/11, the United States shifted many of its priorities towards counter-terrorism efforts targeting overseas groups and countries in much of Asia and the Middle East. With that new focus came news of broad recruiting efforts; recruits fluent in Asian and Middle Eastern languages became hot commodities for the intelligence community. Many federal agencies launched programs specifically aimed at attracting agents with foreign language capabilities. From a 2012 FBI report to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security:
The FBI’s Foreign Language Program has made great strides in its ability to meet the rising demand of language needs since September 11, 2001 and has built a sustained and robust program. The program has moved forward through specialized training, increased hiring, retention, technology, and collaboration. The FBI has invested in multiple strategies to increase its foreign language capabilities.
However, new reports are suggesting that simultaneous to the federal government’s focus on language diversity and non-White recruiting, secretive policies of racial profiling have subjected Asian American and Muslim American employees of the FBI and the State Department to profound, unreported discrimination.