The racist manifesto attributed to vigilante racist, Dylann Roof, is troubling for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that Roof’s diatribe reflects certain broadly held and increasingly mainstream beliefs among whites, like, for instance, that Blacks are the true racists and whites are under attack. And this plum, “black on White crime” is the real problem, while white on black assaults are overblown, indicating a lack of concern for, or even a conspiracy against, white people.
Roof’s manifesto serves as evidence that, in a society whose elected political leaders often blame Black people for everything from the erosion of the (white) middle class, to the proliferation of illegal drugs, and even the national deficit, white supremacy is enforced through acts and attitudes that exist on a continuum. That continuum begins with implicit racial bias, and ends with acts of terror of both the state sanctioned and vigilante varieties. Each end of the continuum creates the context for the existence of the other and everything in-between.
But as I read on, I tripped across this statement:
I have great respect for the East Asian races…Even if we were to go extinct, [Asians] would carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.
Ugh. It felt like a punch in the gut. But why? I mean, it’s not as if I haven’t run across this belief among white supremacists before. Back in the late 1980s and early ’90s I was a leader of a local organization in what used to be called the National Anti-Klan Network (and the short guy in the middle of the picture above). Back then, I ran into many a vigilante white supremacist with Asian fetishes, many because they were admirers of Japanese fascism in the WWII era. The point of connection there was fascism, so among his white supremacist peers, this guy isn’t that unusual.
Moreover, if the manifesto is, indeed, authored by Roof, this statement about Asians is just one in a long line of reasoning that is corrupt to its core. Given his racist reasoning, lumping all Northeast Asians together and imposing ridiculously false traits on us follows logically, right?
But here’s the rub. Roof’s belief that Asians are especially racist is also widely held. It taps a belief that many carry, and it’s one that needs to be countered if we are ever to get to the roots of racism in white supremacy, Western colonialism, slavery, and other racially justified forms of brutal conquest and extreme exploitation.
I’ve encountered this belief that Asians are especially racist in a lot of situations, not least of which on this very blog. For instance, a couple of years ago I wrote a piece called “Why Are Asians So Racist?” The title was supposed to be click-bait. Boy did it work. That article continues to be hit on a daily basis and is among the most viewed posts on this site. And it’s not as if the post is being read. Instead, folks land on it and stay for about as long as it would take to realize that the post doesn’t actually explain why Asians are especially racist – thousands and thousands of times.
As the discussion seems to be live and going wide now, I offer you again, that post, again, below.
Why Are Asians So Racist?
I get asked that question and various riffs on it like “why do Asians hate black people?” and “why do Asians only stick with other Asians?” all the time. While these questions may seem rude, I take them seriously, not least because they contain seeds of truth, even if they’re ultimately based on misinformation.
Before I get into what I meant by that, perhaps, confusing statement, let’s get real about racism. Racism is distinct from ordinary bias because it was created as the justification for and original blueprint of a society in which race and class were pretty much the same thing. Class is how wealth and therefore power is organized. So, race and power are inextricable. And while parts of the original racist blueprint have changed over time, we built real structures and institutions, like our electoral college, ghettos, and suburbs, just to name a few examples, based on that blue print. We can change our minds about the original design, but unless we dismantle and rebuild those structures, we’re stuck with the inequities they create.
This creates a situation in which white racists are no more morally bankrupt than any other brand of bigot, but they are more effective. After all, white as a racial category was created as the basis of a white supremacist political and economic system, just as “Asian,” and “Black,” etc., were created in order to dehumanize and subjugate non-whites within that same system. Even if you perceive Asians to be “so” racist, we’re certainly not more racist if you measure racism in terms of broad impact. And in addition to the structural racial inequality that is the legacy of this history, keep in mind, our political system in based on majority rule.
But there’s more. Asian immigrants almost never arrive here with an understanding of “Asian” as a race nor of the racial attitudes that prevail in the U.S. They have to be taught. New arrivals are inundated with racist messages as they grapple with what it means to be “American,” often without the benefit of actually knowing members of the racial groups that are being defamed, and without access to contrary sources of information in the languages we speak. Imagine what it would be like to be a Vietnamese immigrant landing in Brownsville, New York’s blackest neighborhood, where 93% of residents have been stopped and frisked by police.
Newly arrived immigrants assimilate a culture in which it is business as usual for American authority figures to arbitrarily pick out black people and treat them like criminals. It’s not that hard to see why many reach the conclusion that black people are prone to criminality, a racist impression that will be reinforced by TV, conservative politicians, movies, and popular music. But we all consume these same messages and “all” of us includes a lot of other immigrants, from many parts of the world, including Europe. So are Asians more racist? I doubt it. Instead, I argue we are less subtle when we express our ill-informed bigotries because we often don’t understand the accepted racial etiquette that we use to avoid provoking racial confrontations.
But racial “etiquette” should not be confused for an absence of racism, nor, particularly, of an anti-racist mind-set. Knowing and living in that etiquette simply means knowing how to avoid an argument or the label “racist.”
Oh, and what’s more, that etiquette tends to make racism more rather than less difficult to combat by forcing it underground.
The process of assimilation tends to twist many American national characteristics into caricature as immigrants for whom these characteristics are exotic attempt to distill and adopt them. This makes these characteristics, like racist beliefs, especially apparent.
But while Asians are certainly guilty of racism, we are also among its victims. That might be why 76% of Asian Americans polled by the National Asian American Survey support affirmative action against 14% who are opposed. Asian Americans also tend to favor humane immigration reform and Obamacare. These are all racially charged issues, especially in how they are treated by national political leaders. Yet, Asian American opinion on these issues seems unaffected by negative racial stereotyping.
And this thing about Asians only liking other Asians? Well, that’s sort of true, though I’m not sure “like” is the right word. Identify might be a better one. The peculiar way that Asians are treated results in a shared experience that most folks can’t relate to unless they’re Asian. So, many Asians do tend to identify very strongly with other Asians, especially those that belong to their particular ethnic heritage groups.
Imagine, for instance, that you are an Asian immigrant from Cambodia who came to the U.S. as a refugee of war. Being a war survivor, I’m guessing, is likely to amplify the degree to which you will identify with others of your ethnic group who are also war survivors and, by the way, maybe the only people in your community who speak your language. Then add to this the way in which you are treated – having people react to your inability to speak English fluently as an indication of a refusal to assimilate, as un-American, or simply as a sign that you’re not very bright.
The combination of these experiences might just cause you to stick to others of similar experience who aren’t treating you that way.
But, Asians aren’t more cliquish than other groups. In fact, whites are the most racially exclusive. 40% of whites, according to a recent Reuters commissioned study, don’t have friends of other races. Given the incredibly large number of whites relative to other groups, that’s a big claim. It means that more whites don’t have friends of other races than the total number of people of color in the U.S. excluding Latinos. And this isn’t just indicative of how whites live, it’s also indicative of how whites think. If you don’t believe that, I present all six seasons of Sex and the City, ten more of Friends, and a whole pile of episodes of Girls as evidence.