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When Blacks and Asians Clash

asians protest in baltimore

Pictured Above: RadAsians a group of anti-racist, feminist, anti-homophobic, trans-inclusive Asian-identified students at UNC Chapel Hill. For more information please check out:

Media stories about clashes between Asians and Blacks during the ongoing uprising in Baltimore, Maryland have been getting a lot of attention over the last week or so. There was this one on NPR, that at least attempted to offer a balanced view, and this one in the Daily Beast that, not surprisingly, didn’t. In the end, most of the coverage is incomplete, and more designed to drive page views than provide real news.

Jeff Yang did a great job of taking this trend down on the CNN site. You should read the article. But there’s more to this story that deserves some consideration.

What these stories also fail to tell us is that Asian-owned businesses in Black neighborhoods usually operate without incident, a situation that suggests the owners have professional or even cordial relations with their neighbors. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be viable enterprises. But that’s business as usual, and stories about business as usual don’t drive page views.

Also in the category of business as usual is the ongoing neglect of primarily Black, low-income urban neighborhoods, and the day-to-day harassment of low-income Black people in these neighborhoods by police. We only cover that kind of harassment when it ends in death, which happens a lot, but not in most of the cases in which Black people are unjustly mistreated. This kind of business as usual for low-income Black people, should be newsworthy, or at least it would be if mainstream news outlets actually thought of Black people (and Asians, btw) as an important part of the audience they are serving. Sadly, they obviously don’t.

But, there’s even more. If you look closely at live television news feeds, you’ll see that there are a fair number of Asian Americans among the protestors. Some of those Asian Americans are getting arrested for acts of civil disobedience alongside African Americans.

I call that remarkable in a city that is 2.6 percent Asian according to the most recent census. Remarkable maybe, but, apparently, not sensational enough to inspire the kind of rubber necking mainstream media thrives on.

By sensationalizing Black-Asian tensions (and isolating these tensions from the tensions between Blacks and whites, whites and Asians, Asians and Latinos, Native Americans and settlers, etc.) while also ignoring the context for them, the media also heightens those very same tensions. They heighten tensions by extrapolating from these isolated incidents to the attitudes of whole communities. Doing that causes us to anticipate tension. Anticipating tension, in turn, tends to cause those tensions to rise.

But, worse of all, these stories of tensions between Blacks and Asian are often, even usually, anti-Black. That’s right. I said anti-Black, as in racist, even if maybe unintentionally.

They nearly always cast innocent Asian strivers as victims of Black rage gone wild, expressing itself in ways that appear savagely selfish, irrational, and driven by bigotry that has little if any basis in logic. By doing so, they feed a very old and very negative stereotype.

That stereotype is just that, a stereotype. But, it is, nonetheless, one of the popular justifications for mass incarceration and criminal profiling, and informs the kind of thinking that is driving the extraordinary number of incidents of brutality and death of Black people at the hands of police officers in the first place.


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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

21 replies on “When Blacks and Asians Clash”

I don’t mean to sound rude but I’m not sure I understand the point. Are you saying that the media is making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to Black and Asian race relations? I hate to say it but I think these tensions are very real, and tend to be glossed over by highly educated, progressive thinkers who don’t want it to disrupt their notion of a unified front. Asians have a long history of racism. People tend to excuse their racist Asian grandmothers by saying they’re “traditional” or whatever, but in the end, it’s just good old-fashioned (though mostly uninformed and non-malicious) racism. It shouldn’t be excused, but it also shouldn’t be ignored or treated like it doesn’t exist.

Actually, I do understand these tensions exist. I’m not a formally “highly educated” person, if what you mean is college degrees. I grew up in a low-income, multi-racial situation and have lived most of my adult life in primarily Black neighborhoods where I’ve experienced the kind of tension you’re pointing to here and where I’ve formed life-long friendships with some of my Black neighbors. I live in a majority Black neighborhood now and regularly chat with my Black neighbors who know me, visit with my dog when I’m on walks, etc., and where I occasionally feel some resentment, too. I also am not excusing the racism of Asians, grandmothers, mothers, me, or anyone. I’ve written on this site about the racial bigotry of my parents, example, and understand I’m far from perfect myself. My parents have lived most of their lives next to a military base where, for a long time, the only Black people they had personal contact with were very young enlisted men, often single, often in basic training, on pay day, and formed their opinions of Black people on that basis; an impression that was reinforced by racist media.

What I am saying, however, is that the media focuses specifically on these tensions and has since the LA uprising because it drives readership. The CVS that was trashed in Baltimore was a white-owned business. Other white-owned businesses were also trashed. We don’t see stories that frame with as “white-Black” tensions. We also don’t see stories of people getting along, working together, etc. Instead, the focus is repeatedly on these tensions. There are tensions all around – between Blacks and Asians, East Asians and Southeast Asians, Whites and just about everybody, Latinos and Asians, Latinos and Blacks, etc. What I’m suggesting is that the “evidence” of Black-Asian tension is drawn from the actions of a tiny minority of Black people in very unusual circumstances and then magnified as if they are simmering near the surface everywhere. But in middle class neighborhoods where Black and Asian people find themselves living side by side, there don’t seem to be tensions, or at least no one seems to be attacking one another. On college campuses where Blacks and Asians attend school together, there appear to be fewer tensions between Blacks and Asians than between Blacks and whites and Asians and whites. But this is outside the frame of these stories because they aren’t controversial. When we get along, the media looks the other way. When we don’t – and it does happen – we hear that there are these tensions. I’m just suggesting that’s lazy, exploitative journalism.

“Asians have a long history of racism. People tend to excuse their racist Asian grandmothers by saying they’re “traditional” or whatever, but in the end, it’s just good old-fashioned (though mostly uninformed and non-malicious) racism. It shouldn’t be excused, but it also shouldn’t be ignored or treated like it doesn’t exist.”

I don’t see what your point is. Literally every racial group includes some racist people in it, Asians are no exception.

I think its a bunch of hype. All of the Asian stores in my area actually HIRE African Americans. They are far from racist, but I do occasionally see the racism coming from the other side. Most of the people who shop at these stores have a good relationship with the Asian storekeepers/owners, but there is that ever present swathe of ignorant people who keep things off balance.

Black-Asian tensions: Not cause of Baltimore (Opinion) –
Jeff Yang: The narrative of animus between Asians and African Americans is a sad distraction from the real issues surrounding urban unrest.
My response to Jeff Yang:
Blacks protecting Asian stores in Baltimore -same as in Newark NJ in 1968 – my dad’s laundry was on Court & Washington Sts during the so called riot in Newark. Several years later he told me on that day someone came to our laundry, said something was going to happen that night, dont worry, just take a chair & sit outside your store, and nothing will happen to you or your glass windows. My dads laundry was unscathed. Clearly this exemplifies the warmth of Black/Asian relations. This was my experience growing up there. This was not a “riot” but an uprising. Contrary to Obama there is a purpose to Baltimore – to demonstrate disrespect for the values of property that are used to exploit other peoples.

There are several different view-points and personal experiences that people have faced- some positive experiences between Asians and Blacks and some that are negative. Historically there are numerous reasons why Asian and Black relations have been strained. Personally, my parents own a beauty supply store in a predominantly black city because their products cater to them specifically. The business has been open for more than 22 years now and throughout those 22 years it’s only recently become relatively safe to the point where my parents don’t feel like they need to watch every customer for fear of them stealing. It’s been a rough journey, trust me, what child wants to see her mother beaten by people who come in for the sole purpose of stealing? Like I mentioned, there’s a lot of background history, misunderstandings in each other’s cultures and stereotypes that has shaped Asian and Black relations. More recently there has been steps to improve the two races relations but for the most part it’s still the same as it was 22 years ago. The Baltimore riots reminded me of the LA riots, society in general still has a long way to go… Baltimore was a protest that unfortunately changed paths to a senseless riot- it did not give any righteous standing when it involved stealing, burning, and fighting.

I’m really sorry your parents and you suffered so, Anna. The point of the post, though, was that we ought not extrapolate from these incidents in low-income neighborhoods where anger runs high and relations are strained all around, including between black people and other black people, to all black people and their attitudes toward all Asians.

@Anna, I am always confused as to why Asians open stores in predominantly black cities or neighborhoods. They come to where it is overwhelming black, they know nothing of the culture, sometimes can’t even properly communicate with the residents, have a chip on their shoulder and expect for people to welcome them with their over priced items with open arms. Sounds like they think they can exploit those people easier. I can’t stand self righteous “white washed” Asians like you! You come on here and claim that only recently, after 22 years, your parents can “feel safe” in their store. Why were they there for so long if they felt so unsafe? Black people get tired of foreigners (don’t know if your parents were born here or not, anyway…), specifically Korean, Chinese and Arabs, coming into the ghetto with their jacked up prices on merchandise and treating them like sub humans. And, I believe it’s all by design because they could open stores anywhere but choose to come to those areas so they can take advantage of low income, mostly uneducated people. Too many Asians would rather side with the white racist regime and it’s sickening. Not black you may be, but you are not white, regardless of your white spouses and neighborhoods. The civil rights movement paved the way for blacks, Asians and Hispanics. Japanese Americans were the only Asians to march alongside and protest with blacks during that era – that is telling. Maybe the LA and Baltimore riots were senseless to YOU, but when people are disenfranchised, profiled, and murdered, Dr. King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Hopeless and helpless people have taken shit so long, they riot. It’s pathetic to hear people complain about rioting and stealing and not say a damned thing about a man who was beaten so badly his spine was broken. Pathetic.

Patty how are you confused? You dont know anything about business then. SUPPLY VS DEMAND. If there were black owned beauty stores or white owned or whatever, there would be a steady supply already…

Instead of then stating a general reason for this (money= business), you start to go into race and communication and exploitation… Do you need a weave? Do you need hair supplies? Well you can either boycott it or buy it. Thats life thats America..

And black people are foreign too..dont forget..we get tired of you too! And please stop quoting MLK! LOL. He would be rolling in his grave if he saw that you are quoting him to justify looting. thats what “low income, mostly uneducated people” do right? Thats what you typed anyway..

“Black people are foreign too” come again? Black People fall into two categories Immigrants or Descendants of slaves, aka property, and 9/10 those immigrants are also descendants of slaves. And I too don’t understand why Asians willingly open businesses in neighborhoods of people they look down on. The people they “serve” aren’t good enough to be respected but hey, money.

1. “Black people get tired of foreigners (don’t know if your parents were born here or not, anyway…)” You’re whining that Asians are racist, while you’re blatantly ignorant. Immigrant or not, people with American citizenship are NOT foreigners. They are AMERICANS.

2. “Japanese Americans were the only Asians to march alongside and protest with blacks during that era – that is telling.” Another sign that you’re ignorant of history, although you pretend to know it and quick to judge people. Until 80s and 90s (when Reagan and Bush government kicked in and social justice movement as a whole became less active), vast majority of Asian Americans were Chinese and Japanese. And even them were less than 1% of the entire population in the 60s. (If you don’t know, Asians weren’t allowed to migrate until early 60s, and people who immigrated in the late 19th century and early 20th century were Japanese and Chinese). Of course you couldn’t see Koreans, Vietnamese, and other Asian ethnicity involved in the movement because they simply weren’t living in the United States at that time. Also, with less than 1% of the entire population, Asian activists were silenced from the media.

I just can’t stand these people who think they are learned when they don’t even know the most basic history. So uneducated.

Whites love this stuff; they did it in LA and they’re doing it in Baltimore: pit Asians and blacks against each other as a means to divide and conquer both.

They can’t have Asians and blacks united because it will come at the price of white power.

See them for what the mainstream white media for what it really is and call them out on it.

Well a reason why over half of the businesses damaged in Baltimore were Korean owned is that Korean immigrants are willing to run stores in impoverished neighborhoods when others aren’t. I don’t think they were really targeted on the basis of the ethnicity of the owners.

But there have been crises at times. A couple of decades ago there was a string of murders of Korean owners of businesses in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Resentment of the relative success of these immigrants compared to African-Americans born and raised in DC was definitely a factor. The Korean-American business community worked hard at developing good relationships with African-Americans at that time, and the wave of murders ended.

No Bill Samuel, it is NOT because of resentment due to the success of the businesses Koreans own in African American neighborhoods – how do you know, not being black? I have heard it hundreds of times: it’s because these Koreans, who come from Korea, and have all their information about black people from the media, treat them like trash, curse at them in Korean, follow them around in the store, snatch money from their hands, throw water at them and short change them! You need to talk to some of the blacks if you want to know why they feel as they do. If they’re so scared of black people, why open your store in their neighborhood? That’s just stupid! They know the areas are impoverished and don’t have a large supermarket chain and figure they can make money off of them. I just wish the blacks wouldn’t buy from them and put their butts out of business.

1. How many black owned beauty stores are there in America? I can find national records of it..

2. How many successful wealthy black people are there in America? A lot..Trust me..A LOT.

3. How come they dont open up a beauty store themselves? For us Buy us right? Because even black people know not to trust black people.

4. And if they DONT open up a does the black community get their weaves/ beauty products? Someone has to do it right? How come no blacks are doing it? The ones that are rich?

Think about it..

Jo, your response feels incredibly racist and classist, especially number 3. Just…wow. Not helpful to the dialogue.

Jo, you sound stupid.

You talk about you being tired of black people yet you have the GALL to open shops in BLACK neighborhoods and capitalize out of them. Secondly, stop acting like you have some profound knowledge of MLK yourself. The looting/rioting is what the media CHOSE to focus on to divert the attention away from the grassroots organizing going on in Baltimore. Seems to me like you’re distracted yourself. Bottom line is, if you want to open a store in a black community, then fine. But don’t act like you’re doing anyone any favors besides yourself.

I didn’t know Blacks and Asians had many problems when living side by side, if I go into the beauty supply store, the Asain lady is usually eyeing everybody , including the white people suspiciously. I’ve been cool with a lot of Asian people my age and younger and their elders just seem to be no nonsense and stuck in their ways more than racist.

I went to high school with a lot of Asian kids and they usually lived in the black neighborhood and were very submerged in black culture, it was always us( Blacks, Hispanics, Asians) against them when whites decided they wanted to call one of us a racial slur. I do see a lot of white media trying to pit us against each other, you know with them being the model minority and all. You’ll see white media saying “they did it,why can’t blacks” but you’ll rarely see Asians participate in it.

I think white America uses the lack of Asians in the public eye as a way to exploit them and falsely add them to their side of every discussion , but 73% of Asian Americans voted for Obama(democrat), are for immigration, vote for gay rights, doesn’t sound very “white to me”.

It is laughable to read some of these comments, especially with Patty and Jo going at it. Joseph and Shantel said it right, its just all about pitting the races against each other, to find a way to redirect the blame from white people.

Oh and Patty, were you not “Tricia” from two years ago (from Scot’s older posts)? Your sentence structure and tone is the exact same.

“Both” a Bigoted Black and Asian Boy will likely forget their idiotic hatred for one another the moment an AUTISTIC or ASPERGER RETARD like “ME” comes stumbling into the room ( That’s right folks, I can say the “R WORD” because I’m Autistic ) Then they’ll both gang up on us. Doesn’t matter what skin color, eye shape, religion, or non-religion we are. We’re the new J*PS. & NI**ERS.

Yeah, that’s right people! Us “ASPIES” are pooped on much more than you will likely ever be in your own lifetime. Regardless of your skin color or religion. Indeed Dr. King wishing to see people judged by the “Content of Their Character” would likely be disappointed to see us be the new lynching boy. Us ASPIES hate racism and classism so quit making us the silent suffering class.

Doesn’t matter if you’re from the ghetto or the burbs your just a piece of garbage to bully and pick on. Let alone accept or give a job to. Better not forget their “Ghetto, Model Minority, and White Boys alike who might read this. Asperger’s knows no color barriers invented by assanign peoples like you and you know who you are!

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