Why Only Multiracial Solidarity and Restorative Justice Can Solve Racial Attacks on Asian AmericansBreaking News
tags: racism, immigration, Asian American History
Ishould have written this article a year ago. But every time I thought about the escalating attacks against Asian Americans, my unhealed trauma got in the way. With the recent assaults against Asian American elders in my beloved community of Oakland Chinatown, I believe now we must all accept the responsibility to speak up.
Multiple cities across America from San Francisco to New York have seen for more than a year the disturbing phenomenon of Asian American elderly being randomly assaulted for “walking while Asian.” And yet the lack of outcry and media attention to this violence, until now, speaks to the persistent exclusion of Asian Americans from America’s collective racial consciousness. I ask myself, would the silence have been as conspicuous from our political, community and media leaders if the victims were of a different race?
When some of these cases involve young Black men as assailants, opportunistic politicians are quick to use Asian Americans as a racial wedge in calls for stronger policing. Others avoid addressing the attacks for fear of further criminalizing Black people. However, as a society that values human rights for all people, we must design solutions that will both protect Asian American elders and also avoid the further criminalization of Black males. It is possible to do both. But this approach will require multiracial partnerships and must utilize a restorative justice approach.
We know that Donald Trump’s scapegoating of China for his own failed COVID responses has spurred anti-Asian attacks. But Trump’s maligning of the Chinese government also triggered a pre-existing condition of racial antipathy against Asian Americans. Addressing today’s escalating urban attacks against Asian Americans offers us an opportunity to address the complexities of race relations between Asian American and Black Americans and the political history of intentional racial division. Here is my contribution to this collective cause.
When I came to America in 1968, after the last vestiges of the Chinese Exclusion Act were removed by the tailwinds of the Civil Rights Movement, we were one of the first Asian American families in our communities. My perspective about Black Americans was formed by my Black neighbors in Philadelphia, who defended us when the gang of white kids in our housing complex threw rocks and racial epithets at me and my sister — a regular occurrence whenever we went outside. To my 4-year-old self, Black people were my heroes and my friends. This early experience was life-defining and propelled me to become a lifelong advocate for justice for all people.
My experiences of racial solidarity changed when we moved to the suburbs of Rochester, New York, and the Black students bused in from the city singled me out. They somehow knew that there was a racial pecking order, with me at the bottom. They could sense that I would not complain about their attacks and that if I did, the school may not have cared. In retrospect, I’m sure that the students bused in were treated as second-class citizens at our predominantly white suburban school, and they acted out the cycle of oppression by venting their frustrations on someone safe — me. It didn’t matter to them that I was also oppressed by the white dominant culture.
The Vietnam War was going on at this time, and inflammatory anti-Chinese and anti-Vietnamese rhetoric was all around us. Little did I know, this was also when the Asian American “model minority” myth was popularized as a racial wedge to wield against the Black Power movement.
At the same time, my grandmother banned me from playing with Black friends who lived in our neighborhood. I saw her behavior then as the epitome of oppression. Today, I understand that my grandmother, who had never met a Black person before coming to America, was fed racist stereotypes about Black people through the TV shows she watched.
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