Black Americans Should Help Asians Fight Bigotry

Allies: African-americans Should Not Believe That Bigotry Against Asians Will Help Them. The Groups Should Work Together.

April 20, 1997|By Gerald Horne

AFRICAN-Americans should be leading the charge against those who have targeted Asian-Americans in the wake of the campaign finance scandal in Washington. Isolating Democratic Party donors with Asian surnames and, at times, returning their donations is the kind of bigotry that easily can increase the overall level of racism in this nation - and this is bad news, above all for African-Americans.

However, so far, African-Americans have not been overly vocal in their criticism of these practices. Perhaps there is a naive idea that putting the spotlight on some other racial group for a change will deflect bigotry away from blacks. But this is a gross miscalculation.

Still, it is easy to understand why some African-Americans might think that focusing on Asian-Americans is a welcome respite.

After all, the beginnings of a sizable black presence on the West Coast were a direct result of the internment of Japanese-Americans.

In Los Angeles, for example, virtually overnight ""Little Tokyo" became ""Bronze-ville," as residents of Japanese ancestry were carted off to internment camps and migrants of African descent from Texas and Louisiana took their place. Japanese-Americans living from Seattle to San Diego were victims of human rights violations, but there was silence from leftists, civil rights groups - and African-Americans. This silence, however, was surprising because before World War II, African-Americans had looked to Asians as models and allies. Japan's defeat of Russia in the war of 1905 was viewed by many blacks as a direct refutation of the theory and practice of ""white supremacy." In the 1930s the Nation of Islam - which to this day speaks of the ""Asiatic Black Man" - received assistance from its conservative counterparts in Tokyo, united as they were on a common platform of ""anti-whiteness." On the left, W.E.B. Du Bois - the venerable founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - saw Japan as the ""champion of the darker races."

World War II changed the relationship between Asia and African-Americans as Tokyo sympathizers like Elijah Muhammad were jailed and other blacks, like Du Bois, became convinced that the war would improve the civil [See Asians, Page 7f] rights climate in this country. There was hope not only that blacks fighting for the United States would be rewarded but, as well, that this war against Hitlerite racism abroad would discredit ""white supremacy" at home.

This was not an inaccurate perception as the walls of segregation began to crumble after the war. However, this epochal development did not bring racial equality, and the frustration generated as a result led to the conflagration known as the ""Watts Uprising" of 1965 in Los Angeles. This was also the year, perhaps coincidentally, of immigration reform and an upsurge in the number of immigrants - particularly from Asia - that began flooding California.

Los Angeles exploded into flames again in 1992 in the aftermath of the first Rodney King trial. During the rioting, Korean-owned stores were looted by African-Americans, leading to speculation that the businesses had been targeted. There was widespread anger in the African-American community over the relatively light sentence a Korean-American store owner received for killing a black teen-ager. As John Singleton's brilliant film ""Rosewood" demonstrates, blacks historically have railed against the idea of collective punishment - penalizing a community for the alleged transgressions of one member - but this is precisely what was counseled by some in 1992.

Sadly, certain black creative artists did not help matters: Ice Cube's Korean-bashing lyrics complemented the gratuitous anti-Korean violence in the Hughes Brothers film ""Menace II Society."

In 1993, there was an opportunity for a form of reconciliation between Asian-Americans and African-Americans when the thoughtful City Council member Michael Woo ran for mayor of Los Angeles. He had spoken out early and often against the depredations of the Los Angeles Police Department - particularly the police brutality that too often affected blacks - and his campaign symbolized a local version of the ""Rainbow Coalition." But certain black leaders, notably Rep. Maxine Waters, who had counseled her constituents in 1992 that they must swallow their doubts and vote for a moderate Southern Democrat for president to defeat the Republicans, was unable the very next year to support the liberal Woo, and thus a Republican won City Hall.

It did appear that some black leaders, with the retirement of Tom Bradley, were reluctant to see another minority win.

Of course, African-Americans voted for Woo at a higher rate than, for example, their European-American counterparts, but this is nothing to brag about because the latter group, despite predictable denials, seems to be concerned - more than most - by the improving fortunes of Asians and Asian-Americans.

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