Ferguson and Filipinos: What’s It Got to Do with Us?

Members of the Asian American community at UC Davis are taking a stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and their continued struggle for survival in the face of police brutality. All black lives matter.

Image: Members of the Asian American community at UC Davis.

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri have calmed down, in stark contrast to the initial days of violence incited by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white policeman and spurred by a militarized police response and general insensitivity to the majority African American community.

The issue, however, is far from settled. I’m not talking about the various versions of how the senseless murder took place. I am talking about the fact that African Americans as a group live a harsher, more disadvantaged, and segregated reality than other racial/ethnic groups in a country that is supposed to value freedom, equality, and justice.

Consider some statistics listed by Monique W. Morris, co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute:

  • The unemployment rate for African Americans with a four-year college degree is 8 percent, almost double the unemployment rate for similarly educated whites;
  • The current real median income for African American households is 16.8 percent lower than its pre-2001 recession peak;
  • 42 percent of African American children are educated in high-poverty schools, compared to 38 percent of Latino children, 15 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children, and 6 percent of white children;
  • African American youth make up 16 percent of public school students nationwide but account for 35 percent of suspensions and 39 percent of expulsions;
  • Only 16 percent of persons under the age of 18 nationwide are African American but 32 percent of total juvenile arrests are of African American youth; and
  • 25 percent of elderly African American voters, compared with 8 percent of elderly whites, do not possess the identification that would be required under new photo-ID laws introduced in 40 states before the 2012 election.

In addition to systemic and structural disadvantages, African Americans are subject daily to racism, their lives determined in large part by the color of their skin. Racist stereotypes of black men and youth persist, which lead white police officers to profile, target, beat up, and indiscriminately shoot unarmed citizens – and black parents to instruct their children to be wary of the very people who are supposed to protect them.

The shooting of another unarmed black youth and the alternate reality of African Americans leave me profoundly saddened and exhausted by Race in America, a cancer that festers, seemingly incurable. Yet I can hear some kababayans, fellow Filipinos, and other Asians asking what Ferguson has to do with us.

I say look at the mirror and open your eyes. We too are people of color and we share a whole lot more with African Americans, more than with whites, and more than some of us would like to admit.

First, as Asians, we share a history of being brought here to provide cheap labor while being denied basic rights. In the 1800s, Chinese were drawn to the United States to mine for gold and build the Transcontinental Railroad. Yet it didn’t take long for Chinese immigrants to be lynched and murdered during the anti-Chinese movement. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively ended immigration from China and prevented Chinese immigrants and their native-born children from becoming U.S. citizens.

The U.S. annexation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century attracted Filipinos to work the canneries in Alaska and farms in California. In 1929, anti-Filipino riots erupted in California, after Filipino men displaced white farm hands and socialized with white women. In 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which revoked the rights of Japanese Americans and sent over 100,000 women, men, and children to internment camps scattered throughout the United States. Five years later, President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946 which took away veterans benefits pledged to 250,000 Filipino service members who courageously fought for America in World War II.

Today, we are valorized as being model minorities – hard-working, acquiescent, and agreeable – so long as we act the part and keep our place. Following Ferguson, Colorlines reporter Julianne Hing points out that we and other Asians in America are faced with three choices: invisibility, complicity, or resistance.

In a letter to supporters of 18 Million Rising, Pakou Her, the Asian American group’s campaign director, writes

As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Ferguson is a call to action and solidarity. While our experiences with racism are not the same as the trauma of racism lived by Black people, there are plenty of reasons to be enraged about the damage being wrought by systemic oppression. If we as AAPIs fail to act, if we remain silent and choose to fill the shoes of the “model minority,” we have chosen the side of oppression.

So, which do you choose? Will you remain silent and feed the racial cancer we all suffer? Or will you act? Nasa inyo na ‘yan, it’s your call.

Originally posted in The FilAm.

Marion Barry Scapegoats Asians

Washington, D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry caused an uproar last Tuesday over his racist comments against Asian shop owners in his ward.

“We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go . . . We need African American business people to be able to take their places,” Barry said after keeping his seat during the council primary.

The controversial politician has since tried to backtrack and modulate his outrageous opinion of Asian business owners. Barry visited a man he called, to his face, as a “good Asian” on Friday and managed to make things worse.

Peter Cho, whose family grocery has been in Barry’s jurisdiction since 1984 and is a vice president of the Korean-American Grocers Association, was not appeased. “It was like a racist comment, because he did specify one group of people,” Cho told the Washington Post, still smarting from the councilmember’s earlier words.

Barry’s singling out of one group is problematic to say the least. First, are Asian shops the only dirty ones in the area? Doesn’t the condition of these “dirty” businesses reflect the environment more and indicate broader problems that Barry and other D.C. officials have been unable to address?

More importantly, Barry continues the odious practice of blaming Asians which has led to discrimination and at times violence against a group that only wants to work for their American dream.

A letter released by D.C. area and national Asian organizations points out that Barry’s comments “fan the flames of racial divisions and imply that Asian Americans are not invested in developing a robust economy that benefits all residents.” It also expresses concern “that remarks such as these can perpetuate stereotypes of Asians taking jobs away from other Americans, which can fuel racism and animosity towards community members. In fact, individuals of Asian descent are frequently blamed for the economic woes that this country has faced when perceptions are fostered that our community is thriving in this economy at the expense of other minority communities with whom we work and live alongside.”

Perhaps Barry ought to look at a mirror first before he starts wagging his tongue, blaming others for his impotence at uplifting his own community

Asian American Groups Decry Racial Slurs Aimed at Jeremy Lin

February 19, 2012; Source: ESPN[ | Last week, NPQ took note as Fox sports commentator Jason Whitlock issued an apology for an offensive racial tweet about NBA phenom Jeremy Lin. Now ESPN finds itself issuing a similar apology.

After the Knicks’ winning streak—spearheaded by Lin—ended Friday night, ESPN’s mobile website ran the headline “Chink in the Armor.” The racial slur, regularly suffered by Asians—including Lin, during his Harvard days—was immediately noticed and quickly spread via Twitter and the blogosphere.

The offensive headline was taken down in less than an hour but the damage had been done. ESPN issued the requisite apology Saturday morning:

Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.

Asian groups have nonetheless decried the use of the “C” word.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund released a statement, which reads:

ESPN’s use of the derogatory headline “Chink in the Armor,” describing Jeremy Lin’s turnovers as costing the Knicks its seven-game winning streak on Friday is racist and inexcusable. Although ESPN issued a statement apologizing for its lapse in editorial judgment, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) asks that this apology be aired prominently on ESPN’s television programs, so that it is clear to all viewers that this racist language is unacceptable…The time for apologies is over. The media and the general public must understand that racist language and stereotypes used to describe Jeremy Lin are an insult to all Asian Americans, and no one should tolerate their use.

The Asian American Journalists Association, which had previously called out Whitlock’s inappropriate tweet, posted an open letter to ESPN on their Facebook page:

New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin had a bad night Friday. Regrettably, so did ESPN. Using “a chink in the armor” to describe Lin’s poor performance was inexcusable…

AAJA’s letter also indicates that the organization sees this as a “teachable moment.”

We understand and appreciate that the offensive headline has been removed. But that’s not enough. We would like to understand how it happened and what actions are being taken by ESPN to make sure such missteps do not recur. Your internal review could be instructive for others in our industry who want to improve the systems they have – or need to put in place – to ensure that fairness, accuracy and good taste are reflected in the news coverage of our communities.

ESPN heard the outrage loud and clear. The employee responsible for the headline has been fired and a news anchor who uttered the slur a couple of days before the headline fiasco has also been suspended. ESPN responded:

We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN. Through self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism, we will be better in the future.

Now if only others would likewise reflect on the harm done by racial slurs and promise to do better in the future.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, February 21, 2012.

Asian American Journalists Call Foul on Offensive Tweet

February 12, 2011; Source: Sporting News | New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin has proven once and for all that, despite his Harvard degree, he is a baller to be reckoned with. Sadly, his rise has also put the spotlight on racism suffered by Asian Americans and Asians in general.

On Sunday, Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock apologized for an offensive tweet he posted after Lin’s impressive performance Friday against the Lakers.

“Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple of inches of pain tonight,” Whitlock wrote, which he later admitted was “immature” and “sophomoric.”

This admission came after Asian American Journalists called him out.

“Let’s start by saying that your tweet in the midst of the Jeremy Lin hoopla was inappropriate on so many levels,” the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) wrote on its Facebook page.. “It doesn’t hold up to the conduct of responsible journalists, those in sports or otherwise, who adhere to standards of fairness, civility and good taste.”

Whitlock, however, was not the only one to spew racist tweets during Lin’s sudden ascent. Complex.com highlighted what it called “The 20 Most Ridiculous Jeremy Lin Nicknames on Twitter” days before the Whitlock debacle. Epithets include “the great fried rice hype,” “air dumpling,” “fortune rookie,” and “Linja.”

“Isn’t Jeremy Lin’s real name Yao Ming?” @theblowout tweeted. Because all Asians look alike, right?

The AAJA told Whitlock that “outrage doesn’t begin to describe” what they and the Asian American community feel. After having been in this country since the 1700s, we remain perpetual foreigners; and yes, in the interest of full disclosure I am Asian and proud of it.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, February 14, 2012.

College Republicans Hold Racist Bake Sale

September 27, 2011; Source: CNN | Race continues to be an issue, even among Millennials, a generation that some say is “post-racial.” This was on full display Tuesday at the University of California–Berkeley, where the Berkeley College Republicans held a bake sale which has been characterized as racist.

The “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” offered baked goods priced by race. Pastries were sold to white men for $2, Asian men for $1.50, Latino men for $1, African American men for 75 cents and American Indians for 25 cents. All women got 25 cents off these prices.

The bake sale was in protest of SB 185, which, if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, would allow public state universities to consider race, gender, and nationality in the admissions process so as to foster campus diversity.

The Berkeley College Republicans acknowledged that the controversy was planned.

“We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point,” the president of the group, Shawn Lewis, wrote in response to the uproar. “It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender.”

Other college Republican groups have hosted similar events across the country which have also been met with indignation and protests. Some university officials, such as those at Bucknell University, the College of William and Mary, the University of California–Irvine, and Southern Methodist University, stopped these events. The University of California–Berkeley, however, did not prevent the incendiary bake sale.

Originally Posted in Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire,  September 30, 2011.