The exponential increase of violence against Asian Americans in the past year that was punctuated by shootings at the three Oriental-style massage parlors in and around Atlanta is another thing that can be put in the “thanks to Donald Trump, who didn’t see this coming” box.”
In late 2019, as it began to dawn on then-President Trump, the self-proclaimed great deal-maker, that the Chinese had gotten the best of him in the trade deals that were supposed to reset and address the trade imbalance between the United States and China, his word choice towards his “friend” Xi Jinping became a tad harsher and more critical.
Then came 2020 and a global COVID-19 pandemic that not only shut down the world, but also wrecked the thriving U.S. economy that Trump alone was taking credit for and became a major stumbling block to his re-election campaign.
From early March on, any mention of or question about the coronavirus resulted in him blaming China for it and referring to it in typical racist, bigoted, Trumpian fashion, using phrases like the China virus, the kung flu or the Wahun virus.
No sooner than the words how come out of his lips, the right-wing minions who hang on his every move began using the same vile language at press conferences, on talk shows and media outlets.
At a press conference in late March or early April, an Asian American reporter asked why he was using such racist tropes. Trump replied that he was only calling it what it was, and wasn’t being racist.
For all intents and purposes the repeated use of these words and phrases by Trump and his servile sycophants enflamed the rampant racism that oozes from the depths of a portion of the Trump base, and more than a few of them have acted upon these feelings.
Despite a knee-jerk desire to blame the current climate of racism towards Asian Americans on Trump, I can’t.
Racism toward Asians in this country didn’t start with him. But like he did with birthierism and the idea that Barack Obama wasn’t qualified to be president, he latched onto it and took it to another level of disgust.
However, it predates him by a good century and a half. Chinese and other Asian immigrants began coming to the United States in significant numbers in the 1850s, settling in California and other Western states to work in mining and railroad construction.
Like most other ethnic minorities, once they got here, they had no choice but to take the jobs available to them, which were often the dangerous, low-paying ones that no one else wanted to do.
No sooner than they arrived and took those jobs, the cries that these foreigners were taking our “white” jobs started and the racism was socially and legally sanctioned.
In 1854, George Hall, a white man, shot and killed Ling Sing, a Chinese immigrant. The matter went all the way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that people of Asian descent could not testify against a white person in court — giving white people the go-ahead to treat Asians however they wanted without any repercussions.
Less than 20 years later, in October of 1871 in Los Angeles, following the killing of a white man who stumbled into the middle of a fight between rival Chinese groups, a mob of white and Hispanic rioters surrounded and attacked a small Chinese community in a red-light district known as Negro Alley and lynched at least 17 Chinese men and boys along several downtown areas of the city.
Eight of the rioters were eventually convicted of manslaughter, but their convictions were overturned. No one else was ever punished.
Little more than a decade later, the anti-Chinese and -Asian furor reached a fever pitch, leading to Congress passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
The act banned Chinese immigration to the United States for 20 years, but President Chester A. Arthur vetoed it.
Proponents of the bill reworked it a bit, limiting the ban to 10 years and the president signed it into law.
It was the first law that placed restrictions on immigration to the United States in our history. It would be extended several more times before being repealed in 1943.
Another prominent attack on Asian Americans occurred in the Rock Springs, Wyo. Territory, against Chinese miners in September of 1885.
A mob surrounded and attacked Chinese mine workers, killing 28 men and burning 79 homes.
Some of the miners got away and fled to a nearby town, where they were tricked into getting on a train they were told would take them to San Francisco.
But instead, it took them back to Rock Springs, where they were forced back into the mine. Federal troops were called in and had to stay there for 13 years to prevent the incident from being repeated.
Something eerily similar to today happened in 1900 during an outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco that probably came from a from a ship from Australia, but since the first victim was a Chinese immigrant, the whole community was blamed for it.
Immediately, the city’s Chinatown was surrounded by police, preventing anyone but white residents from going in or out. Chinese residents were subjected to home searches and property destruction by force.
Anyone who had a good U.S. history teacher knows a little something about what happened to Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast during World War II, when more than 120,000 of them were placed in concentration camps.
In the 1980s after the fall of Vietnam, many Vietnamese migrated to the United States and got into the shrimping business, causing cries of these foreigners who are taking our “white” jobs to return home.
But this time, instead of the government taking the racist lead to do something about it, it was the local Klan. They patrolled the waters in the areas where Vietnamese shrimpers fished, intimidating and attacking them with impunity.
About that same time period, Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American from Detroit, was attacked and killed when two white men who blamed Asians for taking their auto industry jobs beat him senseless with a baseball bat.
The men pleaded guilty to manslaughter charge, which carried a possible sentence of 15 years, but the judge gave them probation and a fine of $3,000.
The lenient sentence outraged and galvanized the Asian American community and others to a the problem of racism against Asian Americans.
For the sake of full disclosure, while many in the black community are rallying alongside our Asian brothers and sisters, there has been a great deal of tension between blacks and Asians in recent times.
Some of it came to a head during the L.A. riots following the beating of fleeing-from-the-police motorist Rodney King.
Many of the businesses that were burned and looted belonged to Korean Americans, who had taken up shop in predominantly black neighborhoods and, according to some residents, were treating them as bad as white people did.
Adding to the tension at the time were some comments by the Japanese prime minister during a visit to the United States, who blamed the overall poor showing by U.S. students on standardized tests on the lack of intelligence of black and brown students.
But today is a different day; bygones may not all be bygones, but if you understand the problem, you’ve got to do something about.
From the Bottom where I see things, racism is racism and wrong. You are either with or against.
Hi, Momma Lois.
TONY KENDALL of Hazel is a writer, teacher, actor, playwright and sports fanatic. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.