Why do we need all those damn Asians anyway?

asian_american_republicansI can tell you one reason we need them.  Without them we would not have any Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese restaurants.  I for one do not want to have to drive to China for takeout Chinese food!  Another good reason we need them is because they love science and math subjects. This makes them very astute when it comes to computers, engineering and some of the other hard sciences that many White kids can’t seem to handle anymore.  I could mention Chinese laundries, but I have not seen any of them since I left Brooklyn many years ago and I am not sure if they still do laundry.

We like to think that we have been more tolerant to Asians than we have to other minorities but a brief historical review of how we have treated Chinese and Japanese immigrants in this country suggest we may be kidding ourselves.  We let many Chinese in during the 19th century to help build railroads and when we did not need them anymore, we passed a law excluding Chinese from immigrating to this country.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882. It was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in US history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. The act followed revisions made in 1880 to the US-China Burlingame Treaty of 1868, revisions that allowed the US to suspend Chinese immigration. The act was initially intended to last for 10 years, but was renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. It was finally repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943. Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Exclusion_Act

Early stereotypes of Chinese have them as bumbling servants as in the old Paladin show where the hotel bell hop is called Hey Boy or cooks as in the Ponderosa show where Hop Sing with glaring pidgin English was often portrayed wielding a cooking knife and yelling at Hoss to get out of the kitchen.  The Slanted Screen is a 2006 documentary which explores many of the stereotypes that put Asian actors into a narrow range of roles that were generally stereotyped caricatures of Asian men.  It was many years before Asian men could find leading roles.  Marriage outside their ethnic background was taboo for Asians as it was for Blacks and was the subject of a series of laws.

“Anti-miscegenation laws discouraging marriages between Whites and non-Whites were affecting Asian immigrants and their spouses from the late 17th to early 20th century. By 1910, 28 states prohibited certain forms of interracial marriage. Seven states including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah extended their prohibitions to include people of Asian descent. The laws of Arizona, California, Mississippi, and Utah referred to “Mongolians”. Asians in California were barred by anti-miscegenation laws from marrying White Americans (a group including Hispanic Americans). Nevada and Oregon referred to “Chinese,” while Montana listed both “Chinese” and “Japanese” persons.”  Wikipedia

Many of our Asian stereotypes, when not depicting them as servile cooks, depict them as inscrutable, diabolical, cunning and malicious.  Do you remember the arch villain in the first Hawaii Five-O?  Mc Garrett’s recurring nemesis was named Wo Fat.  He was so cunning that he managed to return in many of the episodes of Hawaii Five-O to cause mayhem and havoc.  I still remember the early serialized Flash Gordon episodes from the 1930’s, where the major villain was a character called Ming the Merciless.  Ming was incredibly evil and used many scientific gadgets from death rays to rocket ships to Pacific Chivalry.try and capture Dale Arden and make her his unwilling bride.  What could be worse for a White woman then to be married to an evil Asian?  She of course was in love with Flash Gordon but provided a suitable excuse for being rescued about every other episode.  Back then, women were rather helpless creatures who always needed a man to rescue them.  Come to think of it, it is still a favorite role for women as noted in many movies today, but that is another story.  Another classic villain was Dr. Fu Manchu.  He was a fictional character introduced in a series of novels by British author Sax Rohmer during the first half of the 20th century. The character was also featured extensively in cinema, television, radio, comic strips and comic books for over 90 years.  He became an archetype of the evil Asian criminal genius.

Asians seem to make either very good cooks or very good villains.  I have not mentioned their role as Karate, Kung Fu and martial artists. That would take a blog of its own to cover.  Suffice it to say, that all Asians are Kung Fu experts except when it comes to portraying the role in the movies.  At that time, we can substitute White actors such as David Carradine who played the lead role in the TV series Kung Fu.  Charlie Chan, a Chinese detective had been played for many years by Warner Oland who was Swedish and by Sidney Toler who was Scottish.  But you know, you can’t really tell those Scotch and Swedes from an Asian, at least if you are Caucasian.

Animosity towards Asians increased during the Second World War.  Japanese-American citizens were stripped of their lands and most of JapaneseAmericansChildrenPledgingAllegiance1942-2their belongings and sent to forced relocation camps throughout the US.  Families were uprooted and split apart because of a national fear that those “Dirty Japs” would support their homelands and sabotage the war effort.  It is worth noting that no such disruption or internment was waged against Germans or Italians or Austrians.  Upon the end of the war, thousands of the relocated Japanese-American citizens found that their lands had been sold or confiscated and that they had nowhere to return home to.

Many Americans lump all Asians together and a variety of derogatory names can often be heard when listening to talks discussing Asian-Americans including:  gooks, slant eyes, chinks, slopes, Buddha-heads and zips.  The failure to make distinctions between Asian cultures is not only a problem for many Americans in conversation but it was a prime reason for the Vietnam War.  In the documentary “Fog of War”, the former Vietnamese war minister Võ Nguyên Giáp can be seen telling McNamara how dumb he was for not realizing the animosity that existed between the Chinese and the Vietnamese.  Part of our war assumptions was that Vietnam would go communist and ally themselves with the Chinese.  This was an assumption that as Giap told McNamara was utterly false and totally unsupported by any historical data.

We can pat ourselves on the backs and tell ourselves that these stereotypes and assumptions are all a thing of the past, but this would continue our delusions of acceptance and racial tolerance.  Even today our attitudes towards China and Japan and much of Asia tend to be condescending and arrogant. According to some experts modern anti-Chinese sentiment is the result of China’s rise as a world major power.  Self-delusion can be harmless or it can be extremely dangerous.  In this case, it is extremely dangerous.  Consider the following:

“As part of the Chinese exclusion policy of NASA, many American space researchers were prohibited from working with Chinese citizens affiliated with a Chinese state enterprise or entity. In April 2011, the 112th United States Congress banned NASA from using its funds to host Chinese visitors at NASA facilities.  Earlier in 2010, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) had urged President Barack Obama not to allow further contact between NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA).”   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Chinese_sentiment_in_the_United_States#Modern

Or consider these comments and situations:

  • According to foreign media reports, on October 16th, a “kill everyone in China” remark appeared during the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” a late-night talk show program of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), and shocked American public opinion. For days, over 25K people on the net petitioned on the White House website, demanding that the American Broadcasting Company cancel this program as well as apologize for the racist speech in the program.
  •  Thousands of Chinese Americans and overseas Chinese rallied Saturday outside CNN’s studios in downtown Los Angeles to protest anti-Chinese remarks by one of the network’s commentators. Cafferty (news commentator) said in CNN’s political news program ‘The Situation Room’ that goods from China were “junk,” and referred to the Chinese as being “the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the past 50 years.”
  •  It is difficult to look at a newspaper or go on the Internet without seeing another analysis or op-ed about the rise of China. These pieces often range from cautionary tales to alarmist declarations of inevitable Chinese aggression. japanese-internmentThough time will tell, the majority of these commentaries reinforce the belief that a more powerful China will be belligerent and upset the current status quo. Paradoxically, China is being led down this very path by regional actors who insist on publicly labeling China as a regional antagonist, creating an environment of suspicion and distrust, and using rhetoric that marginalizes China’s growing economic and political power.
  •  Republican candidates have repeatedly cited China as an economic threat to the United States, and some have run political ads that civil rights groups say are xenophobic and racist. Concern is growing that such attacks may lead to more discrimination, or perhaps violence, against Asian-Americans.
  •  On Super Bowl Sunday, Pete Hoekstra, a Republican former member of Congress and now a senatorial candidate in Michigan, ran a statewide campaign ad featuring an Asian actress “thanking” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for sending American jobs to China. “Your economy gets very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs,” the actress says, accompanied by Chinese-sounding music while perched on a bicycle after riding on a path next to rice paddies. After a public outcry that the ad played on Asian stereotypes, Hoekstra stopped running it and deactivated a companion website with Asian themes.

You just can’t trust those inscrutable evil scheming Chinese.  Why give them the benefit of the doubt?  Is it to our advantage to start a war with China?  Perhaps a pre-emptive nuclear strike would end the threat of China as an emerging world power? Consider the following news headlines:  (Listen to the song We are the Children as you ponder these headlines)

Amazon has several popular books that are focused on our “inevitable” coming war with China.  The vast majority of Americans do not seem to think that there is anything wrong with this “drum roll” to war.  Then we wonder why our foreign relations with China seem to be up and down.  Imagine you were a Chinese-American living in this country, how would you feel sitting in the middle of this barrage of anti-Asian rhetoric?  Are we still looking for scapegoats because of the economic recession that hit this country, or is it simply that we cannot tolerate people who come from a different culture or who look different than we do?

Karen and I have an adopted Korean daughter who came to this country when she was 5 years old.  Within three weeks she would not speak Korean and quickly learned English and realized that to fit in she had to be like “other’ Americans.  “Other” in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, meant like Caucasians.  She never felt like she was like the rest of the family despite our best efforts to help her assimilate. In elementary school she felt angry and sad when other children called her “Chinese eyes”.  As an early adolescent she would often stand in front of the mirror pulling her eyes rounder and saying “I don’t look Korean do I?”  Later in high school and eventually when she went to college she began to accept her Korean heritage.  She relearned the Korean language and began an intense effort to find her birth mother. She was successful in both endeavors.  She not only found her birth mother but also her birth father who had left her mother early in the marriage.  021

In 2000, Karen and I went with Susan and her youngest son to meet her birth parents.  Because Sam (her youngest son)
was turning one year old, her Korean family arranged a large celebration on the occasion of his first birthday as is traditional in Korea.  At first, we were treated rather suspect, since her birthmother had thought, Susan (Hei Sook) was stolen by her American parents.   When the entire story of her adoption was laid out, attitudes changed and we had a warm reception with Susan’s birthparents.  Now Susan is raising two young Korean American sons (our grandsons) and learning some of the difficulties they are having as they try to fit into a predominately White culture.

No one has ever said it would be easy for immigrants.  Irish, Jewish, German, Italian, Polish, and many other minorities have all had difficulty fitting in.  However, White minorities have the advantage of similar ethnic characteristics.  African Americans, Mexican Americans and Asian Americans are much more easily discernible (although of course this is not always true) and therefore much easier to stereotype and discriminate against.  A recent study done at Cornell University and published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology (Vol. 60:2), reported the following findings:

“Our findings suggest that exposure to day-to-day racial micro-aggressions is common and that seemingly innocuous statements,41-kids such as being asked ‘Where were you born?’ or being told ‘You speak good English’ can have an adverse effect on Asian-Americans, in part, because such statements often mask an implied message that you are not a true American,” said Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, co-author of the study with Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development at Cornell.”  “The combination of having one’s racial reality questioned, and having to decipher mixed messages, is a core feature of the micro-aggression experience,” Ong added.

For two weeks, 152 Asian-American college freshmen in the study completed a daily evaluation of their experiences, emotions and physical health, including a checklist of 20 racial micro-aggression events.

The researchers found that approximately 78 percent of the participants reported some form of racial micro-aggression within the two-week time frame. Overall, participants experiencing more racial bias events had more negative emotions, fewer positive emotions and more symptoms of physical discomfort (e.g., headache, stomach ache, sore throat).

For individual participants, the racial bias events were associated with higher levels of negative emotion and more physical symptoms that day and the day after, suggesting that the experience of these daily stressors may influence health and well-being over time. The researchers also found that racial invalidations (e.g., being treated like a foreigner or overhearing racially biased sexual stereotypes) were more prevalent and harmful than racial micro-insults (e.g., being told an offensive joke or comment concerning how Asians talk).  (See Cornell Chronical April 24, 2013)

Conclusions:

Prejudice again st Asian Americans is often more subtle but no less prevalent then prejudice against other minority groups.  Systemic racism against Asian Americans exists in various forms and to varying degrees at all levels of American society.  Numerous studies have documented this bias and several well-known books have been written that discuss the problem.  One of my favorite was the book:  A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki (Dec 8, 2008).  It is fruitless to deny discrimination and it is equally fruitless to ignore our biases and prejudices.  The best solution entails frank discussions of the cultures that we create in our country and more transparent attitudes that openly acknowledge our biases.  Only through honest and open dialogue can we overcome our ingrained stereotypes.  It does no good to ignore them or pretend that they do not exist.

Racial prejudice, anti-Semitism, or hatred of anyone with different beliefs has no place in the human mind or heart.”   — Billy Graham

Time for Questions:

Do you know any Asian Americans?  Do you have any Asian American friends?  How much do you know about Asian cultures?  Have you ever traveled to any Asian countries?  Have you seen any examples of discrimination against Asian Americans?  Why do you think people discriminate against Asian Americans?  What can you do to help prevent discrimination?  Do you speak out against prejudice and discrimination?

Life is just beginning.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Why do we need all those damn Asians anyway? | Johnpersico's Blog

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