Rights panel urges candidates to end Japan-bashing

February 29, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights yesterday called on political candidates to steer away from "Japan-bashing" in campaigns, saying the strategy will only fuel racial tensions against Asian Americans.

"Find a way to campaign without using racial epithets . . . or coming up with sophisticated ways to do the same thing," said Arthur Fletcher, chairman of the commission, who singled out Republican Patrick J. Buchanan for criticism.

"At the moment it looks like Pat Buchanan is playing the devil out of it," said Mr. Fletcher, a Bush administration appointee.

"There is a way to campaign without playing on racial fear," particularly at a time when the economy has many Americans on edge, he said.

The commission and Mr. Fletcher were among a chorus yesterday urging politicians to cool their rhetoric. At separate events, the head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the president of the Arab American Institute expressed similar concerns here about candidates stirring racial tensions.

"You may be able to win playing racial politics, but you can't govern," said Raymond L. Flynn, mayor of Boston and president of the mayor's group.

In a speech before the National Press Club, where he was appealing for candidates to focus on the needs of the cities, Mr. Flynn said the slumping economy tends to increase racial tensions as people fight for the "crumbs" of a pie.

Meanwhile, James Zogby, leader of the Arab American group, said the Japan-bashing is affecting other ethnic groups as well, referring in particular to the America First campaign of Mr. Buchanan.

"America First and protectionism leads to race baiting and that's wrong," Mr. Zogby told a press conference called to release a report on the views of the presidential candidates on Middle East issues.

"We're aware of this. We're afraid of this," Mr. Zogby said. "People haveto really challenge the morality of this kind of race baiting."

The civil rights commission's appeal was part of a study, "Civil Rights Issues Facing Asian Americans in the 1990s," released yesterday. It found Asian Americans are victims of widespread discrimination and racial violence across the United States.

The report, based on a two-year investigation, includes 44 recommendations of steps that could be taken to help solve civil rights problems facing Asian Americans.

They include increased Asian American participation in education, particularly on school boards, and more involvement in politics.

"This lack of political empowerment leads the political leadership of the United States to overlook and sometimes ignore the needs and concerns of Asian Americans," the commission says.

Asian Americans are one of the nation's fastest growing populations, reaching an estimated 7.3 million.

Yet, Asian Americans with limited English skills do not receive much support in the way of bilingual services or other culturally appropriate materials to make sure their needs are met, according to the report.

Like other minority groups, Asian Americans are failed by the JTC education and health systems and face employment discrimination, Mr. Fletcher says.

Beyond that, the report says, Asian Americans experience a backlash from the stereotyped "model minority" label.

Mr. Fletcher said Asian Americans resent the label. Society, he said, is "holding up Asians for Blacks and Hispanic to pattern behavior after," but "the police treat them with the same brutality as they do blacks."

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