The recent shootings in Atlanta have revealed a dirty little not-so-secret thing: prejudice against Asians in America is alive and well.
The coronavirus pandemic began in China, and this has been blamed as the catalyst for much of the current violence and hatred. However, blaming Asians in America for a pandemic that began in China makes no sense and is just plain stupid. The fact is many Americans felt prejudice towards Asians long before this.
Prejudice takes many forms, of course, not just violence. It’s almost as old as prejudice against Black people or Native Americans. We just didn’t hear about it as much.
As an example, take the internment of people of Japanese descent in World War II. Many have attributed this to wartime hysteria after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and that did play a part. However, we now know white California business interests were jealous of the prosperity of the Japanese-Americans and wanted to get their hands on their property and businesses. They used the war as an opportunity to accomplish this.
The irony is many Japanese came to America to get away from the increasingly warlike culture that developed in Japan in the latter 19th Century and the first part of the 20th Century. They were willing to face discrimination and racism in America rather than deal with what was happening in Japan.
American history, especially in the West, is filled with depictions of evil and cunning Asians who were gangsters, cultists, or wanting to take over the country. Much of the portrayals of Asians in movies or entertainment had them as villains or as comical stereotypes, complete with mispronunciations of English words, thick glasses, buck teeth, and saying things like “Ah, so!” Asian women were depicted as “Dragon Lady” villains or meek and submissive.
In the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Mickey Rooney played Audrey Hepburn’s Japanese neighbor. The nicest thing I can say about this racist portrayal is it was embarrassing.
These racist portrayals are why positive portrayals, including the movie “Mulan” and Steven Yeung’s character of Glenn on “The Walking Dead” are so needed. They’re making up for Hollywood’s sins of the past.
Despite the prejudice, Asians have done very well economically in America. Much of this can be attributed to something Americans have always admired, a strong work ethic. In fact, that has been one of the reasons for prejudice and hatred: jealousy of success.
Asians have occasionally learned how to outsmart those who would discriminate against them. Following the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco’s leaders made it clear they wanted to rebuild the city, but wanted to exclude the Chinese who lived there. The leaders of the Chinese community had an idea.
They proposed rebuilding their community, but erecting structures that looked “Chinese” and turning it into a tourist attraction. Thus, “Chinatown” was born. The structures aren’t really Chinese, but they look like what Westerners think China looks like.
The Chinese leaders understood what color was most important to the city leaders: green!
During the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, some 33,000 young “Nisei,” the sons of immigrants who had American citizenship, enlisted or were drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces. One of their regiments, the 100th/442nd Infantry Regiment, became the most highly decorated unit in U.S. military history.
I can’t help but think this was their way to telling their fellow Americans, “We’re Americans too, and don’t you ever forget it!”
Prejudice towards any racial or ethnic group is wrong, pure and simple. Prejudice against Asians is as bad as prejudice towards any other group. It denies their humanity and their individuality. It needs to be banished from our minds and lives.
We’ll be a better nation and a better people when we leave racial prejudice behind.