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Racism on the Rise, Part 2: Chinese-Americans Face Prejudice (Again!)

by anonymous circulation Thursday, May. 03, 2001 at 10:30 AM

The following series of small articles concerning growing prejudice against Chinese and Asian Americans circulated on the web recently. These are the consequences of the current adminstration's ridiculous red-baiting with China (to take our minds off other things like the economy and Jenna Bush's drinking habit), so absurd considering that China still has favored trading status with the U.S.

errorWhen in doubt about China, look at the labels on your clothes and household items,
then read the following:

1. Subject: Village Voice Article on Spy Plane Backlash
In Media Merriment, Fine Line Between Humor and Hate Fun With China
by Chisun Lee

Universal Press Syndicate
Since a U.S. spy plane and Chinese fighter jet collided on April 1,
Americans have had more to laugh about. Members of the media have been
cracking all kinds of good ones about the funny little yellow people.
Some recent yuks, compiled by Asian American civil rights organizations:
"I don't pretend to know who these Chinese people are. I know they're small,
maybe one or two feet high. I know they sound funny when they talk. I know
womenfolk have sideways vaginas. But underneath their scales, they're just
you and me." -Saturday Night Live host Alec Baldwin during an April 7 sketch
which he played a deranged marine trying to incite the 24 U.S. crew members
being held on Hainan Island to attempt a takeover of the entire nation.

"I will be in favor of apologizing [to the Chinese] the moment they
apologize for all those menus they keep leaving outside my front door. . . .
I've got considerable sympathy for the Red Chinese-despite the fact that if
my dog were a member of the American crew, Jiang Zemin would have eaten him
now." -National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg in his April 4 column.

"Ching ching chong chong."-comedy troupe Capitol Steps in a skit at the
April 3 opening reception of the American Society of Newspaper Editors
convention. Hundreds of editors laughed as a white man, dressed in a black
wig and thick glasses, conversed in a made-up version of Chinese.
"If I were president of the United States, I would declare war on the
Chinese, but not just because they held 24 of our folks on Hainan Island for
11 days. . . . We should unload the big ham on China because of all the
annoying artsy-craftsy crapola they manufacture and send over here. . . .
Real men wouldn't have to waste their afternoons slogging through craft
emporiums looking at faux leopard-skin hat boxes if it weren't for the
Chinese slapping together all of this garbage and unloading it over here."
-Austin American-Statesman staff writer John Kelso in his April 15 column.
"The Chinese now say they are taking a hard stance. Now they say they are
to double the amount of MSG they put in our food." -NBC Tonight Show host
Leno on the April 4 show.

"So now the Chinese have the spy plane and George Bush is playing hardball
them. He said not only does he want the spy plane returned, he also wants it
dry-cleaned." -David Letterman on CBS's April 4 Late Show.

A "fry over" was how talk radio host Don Bleu of the San Francisco area's
101.3-FM described the plane situation during an April 6 bit. Playing music
from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the background, he made prank calls,
seemingly to strangers in China.

Morning host Ray Lytle of WQLZ in Springfield, Illinois, declared he would
not patronize Chinese restaurants or play Chinese checkers until the U.S.
crew returned home. In one gag, he told listeners he was dialing numbers at
random for residents of New York's Chinatown. He mocked one woman, who
stayed on the line, for her limited English proficiency.

"Get a sense of humor!" objectors to this brand of merriment are likely to
hear. Cracks about racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, and fat
or stupid people are, after all, just good, clean, all-American fun. By no
means should we suspect that the jocular dick-swinging-it's not incidental
that most if not all the jokesters are white men-disguises a morass of
social anxiety that in the face of a perceived threat can easily transform
to hostility. But the experience of Asian Americans has proved that for
minorities, mockery can work just that way. A new documentary about the
McCarthy-era persecution of suspected Chinese American communist
sympathizers-the Chinatown Files, whose New York debut this week at the
of Modern Art is eerily relevant-shows today's yellow-baiting is far from

>From animated cartoons to newspaper headlines, popular messages dubbed
anyone who looked or sounded Chinese an oddity at best, at worst a threat.
With testimony from the FBI, historians, and victims, the film recounts how
thousands of Chinese Americans across the country-many of them U.S.
citizens-were systematically spied on, interrogated, jailed, and often
deported by government agencies, all in the name of national security and

Racial humor is "used a lot of times just to demonize certain people," says
documentary director Amy Chen. "They're rendered despicable, and it's
possible to persecute them."

The butt of the joke gets isolated, shoved under a spotlight, and ridiculed
for being different. A vulnerable place to be, especially at times of
heightened international tensions when the U.S.'s very virility hangs in the
balance. (Much, incidentally, has been made in the news of China's need to
save face. There's less heard about the scramble in this, the land of
cowboys, football, and Rocky, to preserve another anatomical part.)
Those who dismiss the notion that a silly spy plane standoff could set off a
xenophobic explosion don't realize there's much more at stake than
aeronautics secrets.

"Asian Americans are becoming the sacrificial lamb to secure the U.S.'s
position as the superpower of the world," declares Sin Yen Ling of the Asian
American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "They are positioned as the
domestic threat-foreign, unassimilable, loyal to the motherland." Fanning
the flames of anti-Asian suspicion, she suggests, is a way not only to boost
patriotism among the masses but also to divert attention from such gaping
chinks in the nation's ideological armor as booming prison numbers and
racial profiling in law enforcement. "It goes back to the U.S.'s being the
greatest, the place where everyone should be happy to be living," Ling says.

Shock jocks didn't know they could be so deep. Well, their profundity
remaining up for debate, it's safe to say their shenanigans do contribute to
a general atmosphere where it becomes acceptable to mock or do worse to
people who look and sound a certain way. What sets members of the media
apart from some yahoo holding court in the local bar is the power to reach
millions of eyes and ears and "give the sense that this stuff is OK out
there in popular culture," according to Asian American Journalists
Association national president Victor Panichkul. He argues that commentators
should therefore take care to "express an opinion intelligently, without
resorting to pejorative racial stereotypes."

For every prank executed by the media, civil rights groups suspect, there
are dozens that Asian Americans experience on a more intimate level in
workplaces, on buses, in the streets. Not even Capitol Hill is immune,
according to Diane Chin, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative
Action. Recalling a recent gathering of civil rights organizations where
Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke, Chin paraphrases the senator's words: "The
in Washington is increasingly anti-Chinese. You need to do something about
that." Chin says, "I think of her as one of the most conservative Democrats.
That that's what preoccupied her, as a civil rights issue, was fascinating

Even before the current diplomatic crisis, recent controversies involving
Asians, such as the Wen Ho Lee case and campaign financing scandals, helped
a "media hysteria" that documentarian Chen says carries distinct
overtones of 1950s alarmism. Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA)
national president George Ong is frustrated that even decades later the
"forever foreigner" suspicions about Asians haven't lost their potency. "I'm
a third-generation American, and there's talk of us being sent back to our
own country. This is our country!" he exclaims. "How dare they say we should
sent elsewhere."

During times like this, advocates counsel, Asian Americans should be on the
alert. According to the most recent audit of anti-Asian violence, which
covers 41 states, 486 incidents occurred in 1999, up 57 from the previous
year. "A lot of the research around hate violence indicates that the
beginning is the dehumanization of whatever group it is. There can be a
correlation drawn between when a group is cast as "other," or demonized with
whatever stereotypes work against that group, and hate crimes against that
group," says Chin.

The current climate reminds more than one observer of the 1982 murder of
Vincent Chin. Two unemployed white auto workers beat the Chinese American
man to
death with a baseball bat, allegedly having mistaken him for being Japanese
during a time of strong popular frustration over what was perceived as an
encroaching Japanese economy. As memorable in some circles as the Rodney
King or
Amadou Diallo incidents, the killing is famous for having galvanized a
nationwide Asian American rights movement.
The less obvious costs of anti-Asian sentiment can be even greater. A
history of popular intolerance and government scrutiny effectively stunted
Asian American political organizing for decades, activists say, rendering
the community even more vulnerable to attacks. Persecution is no less
possible today, they argue.

"I would certainly not be surprised" if government agencies were "looking at
people's allegiances" as a result of the tensions with China, says First
Amendment activist Kit Gage, who coordinates the National Coalition to
Protect Political Freedom. "It's so easy to justify," she says, in light of
the 1996 anti-terrorism act that granted the FBI sweeping powers to
investigate even constitutionally protected activities. With Arab Americans,
she explains, the FBI are routinely "going to people's offices and
workplaces, asking about their attitudes toward the Middle East."
According to Gage, "word will spread" of the government's probes, "and it
has a nice chilling effect." She points out that it is perfectly legal for
anyone-visitor, resident, or citizen-in the U.S. to express pro-China

But the true space for such free expression, according to the OCA's Ong, is
narrow, given that even contributing to the Democratic and Republican
parties is tougher for Asian Americans. In the wake of the China-related
campaign finance commotion of the 1990s, he says, "The whole Asian American
community suffered." Asian Americans "were singled out because of what
happened," and "you had to furnish proof that you were an American citizen"
make a donation to the major parties.

Comedians and columnists will continue to insist they mean no harm, that
their yellow humor is all in good fun. They can't imagine what kung pao
cocker spaniel has to do with political persecution and racist violence.
Would that these jesters existed in a vacuum, where racy speech never had
racist consequences.

Research assistance: James Wong

Tell us what you think. editor@villagevoice.com

E-mail this
to a friend.

2. In light of the recent events regarding the US spy plane that went down
China, I came across an interesting article in today's morning SF Chronicle.
It's pretty startling to me, a person of Asian-American descent, that this
survey "was conducted before the recent collision between a U.S. spy plane
and a
Chinese fighter jet off Hainan."


3. Racial Hate Crimes at Duke
Two racially motivated harassment/hate crimes have been recently committed
against Asian Americans at Duke University (details at bottom). For your
and education, we feel that all members of the Duke community should be
aware of
these two events. We hope each of you will take a pro-active stance against
this harassment and violence by encouraging the formation of a clear and
well-publicized racial hate crime policy and protocol, and initiating
about race relations and University support for Asians and Asian Americans.

The details of the two incidents follow below:

An Asian American woman was walking to her dorm room
on West
>Campus late at night last week. A large number of
>men saw her
>and harassed her by shouting that she return the spy
>referring to the US-China spy plane stand-off.
>The chemistry test of an Asian American freshman
>disappeared the day of the test; however, an unknown
>forged his name on the top of another student's
>test. A week
>later, on returning from a weekend trip to
>Washington DC, he
>unlocked his room and found that his room had been
>rifled and a
>large sum in cash had been stolen. On his desk was
>his freshman
>yearbook, open to the page with his picture. His
>picture had
>been crossed out with a red pen, with the note "it's
>time to go
>home chink." He also received two threatening
>e-mails - one
>full of racial slurs (pasted below) and the other
>with an
>article regarding a decapitated man. Since then,
>the campus
>police have conducted a half-hearted and sloppy
>investigation of
>the matter. The officer assigned to the case failed
>interview the student until a month after the
>incident, when she
>had come to a dead end and was ready to meet with
>him to close
>the case. At this meeting, she accused him of
>forging the
>entire crime, threatened him with 2 years of jail,
>and tried to
>force a confession out of him because "it's less
>work" for her.
>The threatening e-mail to the student, sent from
>over soon
>[over666soon@hotmail.com], with the subject line
>"blessed the
>the question is simple
>yellow wetback, dont fuck around so much with the
>keep it cool fo shizzle my nizzle.. u lucky enough
>to be gong to
>skoo here u shit licking wetback chink.. the day
>will arrive..
>eat ur heart out with a fuckin bottle of soy sauce
>.. we dont
>welcome YOUR KIND here u Littllee nigglet... go back
>shainghaI and fuKkIN stay out of the mother fuckin
>land of the
>U S of A. things aint so EZ ne-more mr hotshot?
>thErE goez Ur
>"A!" in chem, easiest mutha fukkin course atDOOK,
>and im gonna
>PreVAil mutha fucka. you are mine soon. watch yOUR
>JAcKKKKKK 666 66
> perhaps its tim.e... u pray... im GONNA ENjOY
>As a result of these incidents, we have the
>following list of
>concerns for the University:
>(1) A clear and well-publicized University policy
>and protocol
>on racial hate crimes, distributed and taught to
>RAs, ACs, and
>Campus Police; and published on the web
>(2) Additional support to OIE, ICA, and CAPS to
>increase their
>visibility on campus
>(3) Provide funding for events to raise awareness
>about racial
>hate crimes, both on a local and national level
>(4) A thorough investigation into the conduct of the
>officer in
>charge of case two; if misconduct is found, issue
>appropriate formal reprimands and actions, including
>a formal
>apology from the officer to the victim (5) A
>re-investigation of case two and all parties
>involved, including
>a detailed examination of each stage of the first
>investigation, under the guidance of Sally Dickson,
>Dean of the
>Office of Institutional Equity
>Please help us support awareness of racial hate
>crimes by
>forwarding this e-mail to any interested parties. If you would
>like to offer advice or support, please contact
>patty at
>- patty chen, asa president, and christina hsu, asa
>vp political
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