As someone with longtime, deep connections to the Asian American community, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent spate of anti-Asian violence. As a longtime activist in improving conditions for African Americans, it is very troubling to me that the perpetrators of anti-Asian violence are disproportionately Black. And as a longtime admirer of the intense Asian American dedication to educational and career success, it is quite disturbing that there seems to be a connection of this success to the violence.
Even more frustrating is that the “woke” Asian American activists, largely made up of Asian American Studies professors whose creed is Critical Race Theory, are exhibiting willful ignorance of the Black aspect of the problem. We can’t solve the problem without understanding its nature.
Many Asians are getting hurt, physically, viciously. But the Asian “woke” insist that the problem can be solved by “education” and “restorative justice,” rather than increased policing. The sad, tragic truth is that these Asian activists care much more about their ideology than about the Asian victims.
The “Woke” and the Model Minority
There is nothing the “woke” Asian-Americans hate more than the Model Minority (MM) portrayal of Asians in the US. MM is viewed as presenting Asians as the minority with the “good” culture, implying that the cultures of African-Americans and Americans of Latino descent are less good. To be sure, labeling various minority groups as “better” and “lesser” is highly offensive and counterproductive, and should be unacceptable to all of us. But it especially rankles the “woke” Asian activists, as it runs counter to their simplistic image of the plight of the Black and Latino underclass as being due wholly to white supremacy and systemic racism.
It also sets up conservatives with an equally simplistic view that MM shows social programs to help the underclass are not needed. Take real estate, for instance. Even in the liberal Bay Area, racially restrictive housing policies remained at least through the 1950s, causing many African Americans to miss great real estate booms, and making it difficult for their descendants to now get into the market. Yet many Asian immigrants, arriving in the US with very little, somehow manage to buy houses. Ergo, the conservatives say, racial problems are minimal and poverty is not a problem for government to address.
Chow says the model minority myth—based on the stereotype that Asian Americans are hard working, law-abiding individuals and the false perception that such qualities have led to their success over other racial groups—has played a significant role in creating a wedge between Asian Americans and other BIPOC communities. “We were painted as an example, a ‘good minority.’ And then there were examples of ‘bad minorities,’ and that was perpetuated, which created even more divide,” Chow says.
Apparently, many African Americans don’t see it that way. There is emerging evidence that the MM notion is breeding Black resentment against Asians, contributing to the tragic wave of anti-Asian violence we are now seeing.
Dept. of Justice figures cited by journalist Andrew Sullivan indicate that the assailants in Asian incidents are disproportionately Black nationwide, committed at a much higher rate than the Black share of the US population:
…24 percent such attacks are committed by whites; 24 percent are committed by fellow Asians; 7 percent by Hispanics; and 27.5 percent by African-Americans…[even though Blacks comprise only] 13 percent of the population…”
His own analysis of NYPD data found:
They record 20 [hate crime] arrests in 2020. Of those 20 offenders, 11 were African-American, two Black-Hispanic, two white, and five white Hispanics.
So, Blacks comprised 55% of these arrests, even though they are only 24.3% of the population of New York.
A Newsweek op-ed claims most anti-Asian hate crimes are not perpetrated by Blacks. In terms of raw numbers, it may be true, but again, viewed in terms of population percentages — there are 4 times as many whites as Blacks in the US — the problem, sadly, is disproportionately Black, as seen in the DOJ data above.
The Newsweek piece’s cited research paper (which did restrict its analysis to violent crimes) state that anti-Asian hate crimes are different from other hate crimes in that the offenders are more likely to be non-white. They add, “This finding may be attributed to animosity toward the ‘model minority’ from other minority groups.” I’ll return to this point below.
Bias in Reports by “Woke” Researchers/Activists
The activists use a broad definition going far beyond violence, including taunts and even employment discrimination, hurtful but less relevant to my focus here on violence. After one badly flawed and biased “woke” study emerged from a University of Michigan researcher, I attempted to engage with the author, stating that academic rigor and completeness must prevail over ideology. I pointed out that the incidents analyzed by the study were mainly nonviolent; the study’s own summary noted that it involved “1023 incidents…679 incidents of anti-Asian harassment and vandalism and 344 incidents of stigmatizing and discriminatory statements, images, policies, and proposals.” Only a small number were violent, and in many of those the race of the perpetrator was unknown.
I also pointed out how selective the study was, in not including evidence contrary to its theme of white anti-Asian hate. The author agreed — but refused to update her report.
Black and Latino “Leaders”
Of course only a small number of African-Americans are committing these crimes, and it would be easy to dismiss this as the actions of a few thugs. But equally concerning are comments and actions by Black and Latino leaders. Black San Francisco School Board member Alison Collins has made a number of anti-Asian tweets. She resents Asians for believing “that Model Minority BS,” and accused Asians of “using white supremacy thinking…to get ahead,” referring to Asians as “house n*****s.”
Though the board distanced itself from Collins, many Asians view various actions of the board, notably changing admission to the academically-selective Lowell High School to a random lottery, as anti-Asian. (Disclosure: I myself have proposed a partial lottery system for Lowell. My point here is the apparent motivation on the part of the Board, not whether the policy is worthy or not.)
California State Legislator Cristina Garcia also has problems with Asians. Frustrated with widespread Chinese opposition to Affirmative Action (with an implicit connection to MM), she talked of feeling “like I want to punch the next Asian” she encountered.
Indeed, Collins’ view of Asians “using white supremacy thinking…to get ahead” is common among the “woke.” They’ve even coined a term for it, white adjacency. Here again is activist Dai-Yi Chow, joined by an activist journalist, Lisa Ling:
[Chow] says that among the earlier generation of Asian Americans who immigrated to the U.S., many assimilated to white adjacency in hopes that it would be the quickest path to safety and stability in the country.
The March 21 Instagram Live discussion between Woodall and Ling directly addressed the subject. “White supremacy always tries to convince those who are non-white that they must either assimilate, or somehow come to terms with the standard of whiteness,” Woodall says. He notes that in referring to “white,” he is discussing a mindset and not a color. “And if we don’t have access to that mindset—and quite honestly, I don’t want access to it—the question then becomes, how do we dissolve a society that is predicated upon that mindset in being in control.”
The egregiousness of this distortion is breathtaking. The “woke” are saying that Asian immigrants to the US, by engaging in the same diligence in school and work they are famous for in Asia, are merely pathetic losers who want to “act white.”
Again, Collins and Chow and not alone. Here is a report on the New York City Dept. of Education:
A city DOE-sponsored panel designed to combat racism told parents that Asian American students “benefit from white supremacy” and “proximity to white privilege,” an outraged mom told The Post… The panel was helmed by the Center for Racial Justice in Education, a group being paid about $400,000 by the DOE, led by Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza…Two CRJE presenters at the February meeting — outlined a racial-advantage hierarchy…The presenters told the room that Asians were on the upper rungs, enough in “proximity to white privilege” to “benefit from white supremacy,” Flinn recalled.
The Model Minority Notion IS Real
Yes, to a great extent, the Model Minority notion is real, at least for East and South Asians. The Asian community activists dismiss Asian-American educational successes as due to immigration policy, formulated initially in 1965 and then in more depth in 1990, that favors educated professionals. In other words, the activists deny that the fundamental issue is one of Asian culture; it’s simply due to socioeconomic class, they say. But it IS indeed culture; the fact is that, due to a cultural reverence for education, even kids of low-income Asian families tend to do very well in school.
While it’s true that many highly educated Asians immigrate to the US via employer sponsorship in the tech industry, there are many others who come here through immigration law on family ties. These tend to be of low levels of education. In New York City, for instance, they work as, say, dishwashers or hotel maids and just barely scrape by financially. Yet their children tend to shine academically.
At New York’s elite Stuyvesant High School, Asians make up 74% of the student body, a figure that dwarfs their share of the population. And Asians represent over 90% of students who qualify for free or subsidized lunch; these are not children of PhDs, as implicitly claimed by the Asian activists. A study by the Center for New York City Affairs found that Asians kids are getting top math scores relative to other groups, across ALL income levels. Asians at the lowest incomes score at or above high-income Whites.
The “woke” activists also offer the explanation that Asian immigrants, by virtue of having the gumption to uproot themselves and move to the US, are not representative of Asian culture.This argument has been made by anti-racism author Ibram X. Kendi. But of course this argument fails, as the diligence of school kids in Asia is well known. In international test scores such as PISA, China is on top, closely followed by Korea. These tests are imperfect measures, but the extraordinary diligence of these children is clear; it is NOT just a trait of the immigrants to the US.
A Personal Example
Small world. It so happens that one of the most prominent pioneers of the Asian American Studies discipline, revered by the “woke” activists, is the late Don Nakanishi, my childhood friend. Don’s family lived next door to mine in the City Terrace neighborhood of East LA. He certainly did not come from the highly-educated socioeconomic class. His father worked in the LA morning produce markets, and his mom was a seamstress. He attended Roosevelt High School, predominantly working-class Latino. Yet Don took the classical Asian American upward mobility path. He was a star student academically in high school, was captain of the football team, and even was elected “Boy Mayor of LA.” He went on to Yale for his Bachelor’s degree and then Harvard for his PhD, followed by an outstanding career on the UCLA faculty.
In Don’s memory, UCLA bestows the Don Nakanishi Award, “for Outstanding Engaged Scholarship in Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies,” a highly prestigious honor in the Asian American Studies field. It is thus ironic that the Asian American activists, who regard Don as a giant in the field, are denying the success of Don and hundreds of thousands like him, people that through the Asian cultural value on education have gone from humble beginnings to great success in various professions. (Don’s brother Mike became a dentist.)
Denying the reality of MM will not solve the problems. On the contrary, Asians should be praised for MM, and we should look into possible ways that other groups, even Whites, might learn from them.
What then can and should be done? Start at the top, with people like Collins and Garcia, and the attitudes of the SF board as a whole. Incredibly, Garcia received just a “talking to” by Assembly Speaker Rendon.
The “woke” solution, education, is long on meeting the activists’ ideological goals but short on actual effectiveness. Simply talking about, say, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is not going to sway those who engage in violence, let alone people like Collins and Garcia. But statements by prominent Blacks would help. NBA star Steph Curry has spoken out in support of Asians; we need more Black athletes to do so. And though anathema to the “woke,” who call for “restorative justice rather than criminalization,” there is an urgent need for more police officers in Asian neighborhoods.
On the other hand, Collins was correct in saying many Asians look down on Black people. The Asians need to understand the deep effects that a history of slavery, Jim Crow and so on have on today’s Black underclass. It’s not so simple as “You should do as we Asians do.”
Finally, please don’t politicize the issue. Let’s put politics and ideology aside and protect the Chinese grandmas, OK?
(As always, views here are my own, not those of the University of California, Davis. I have added some material after the original posting.)