San Jose Mercury News, May 3, 2010
The year 2010, not yet half over, has brought forth numerous sadistic black-on-Asian attacks. One question now stares everyone in the face: What role did racism play in these incidents?
From San Francisco to New York, the recent attacks have been cowardly and horrific. A few weeks ago, two black teenagers punched 59-year-old Tian Sheng Yu in the mouth in downtown Oakland, before and after they assaulted his son. The father fell on his head and passed away a few days later.
In January, black teenagers kicked and beat 83-year-old Huan Chen after he got off a Muni bus in San Francisco. He, too, died from his injuries.
Between late March and early April, five black teenagers assailed five older Asian women, including one who was 71, on separate occasions in or near a public-housing project on the Lower East Side of New York.
In these and other similar attacks, the perpetrators’ motives have varied. Some, like those who attacked the late Huan Chen, wanted his money before they ran off laughing. Others, like the teenagers who struck in Manhattan and in Oakland, did so for no apparent reason than the beating itself.
Had white teenagers inflicted similar horrific violence on Asian residents across America in a series of incidents over a short four-month period, the country — or at least the cities where the crimes took place — would have rushed to engage in some serious soul searching about white attitudes toward Asians.
Instead, local officials and the local media have bent over backward to deny or ignore the issue of race.
San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell was eager to label the attackers as just thugs who targeted the “weak and vulnerable.” Oakland City Council member Jean Quan was similarly quick to discount the role of race, explaining that Chinese residents of Oakland make themselves “easier targets” for criminals through their frequent failure to report crimes committed against them.
New York’s local media sources, including WCBS and NBC New York, failed even to report the race of the teenagers who targeted and terrorized elderly Asian women, though the assailants’ race was there for the world to see, on surveillance video.
Inconveniently, when violence is involved, willful blindness is not tolerance. Even if no racial intent could be proven in court for some of the recent crimes, the spate of cross-country black-on-Asian attacks did not occur in a vacuum. Rather, many African-Americans in crowded and unsafe urban centers often view every Asian — Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino or Korean — as a “Chinaman” who is unworthy of basic human decency or respect.
In one city after another, black teenagers and adults frequently hurl racial slurs at the “Chinamen” among them, at the grocery store, on the bus, on the subway and in the streets. If the “Chinamen” are lucky, no violence will ensue.
Maybe certain black teenagers learned to hate Asians in an environment where their hatred went unchallenged and unquestioned. This does not mean that African-Americans in general hold some innate animosity toward Asians, nor does the recent violence detract from the kindness and friendship that blacks in this country regularly offer to immigrants of all stripes.
Yet the grotesqueness of the latest interracial violence should inspire some serious soul searching. Urban environments that breed and condone racial hatred do not promote peaceful streets and secure neighborhoods. For those who wish to prevent similar attacks in the future, maybe they should start by denouncing racism, whatever its source.