Choose a side.
Six days ago, in response to organizers who shouted “Black youth are not superpredators,” former president Bill Clinton said that Black youth that they were referring to were “the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children.”
This is incredibly reprehensible. A proper follow-up should have been “I am sorry.” Instead, like some case of insane Throwback Thursday, the next day, President Clinton issued a non-apology: “ So I did something yesterday in Philadelphia I almost want to apologize for but I want to use it as an example of the danger threatening our country.”
To me, this pathetic excuse string of words in lieu of an apology just means that he still sees Black youth as dangerous superpredators.
But let’s get back to me. Well, us. As Asian Americans, what does this mean?
Let’s rewind back to yesterday. The time is Tuesday morning. The place is Flushing, New York — the biggest Asian American community in the East Coast. At a crowded banquet hall on 39th Avenue, right off the Flushing — Main Street stop on the 7, a crowd is gathers. Out come the dignitaries, some of whom include:
- Ron Kim, the only Asian American in the New York State legislature
- Margaret Chin, the first Asian American to represent Chinatown in New York City
- Grace Meng, the first Asian American member of congress from New York
In a crowd filled with Asian Americans, it looks like our community is really drummed up for someone. And enter Bill Clinton, the same Hillary Clinton surrogate who had made those exact comments above. People are ecstatic. There are photo ops. The event goes off without a hitch. Local press hail it as success.
This is the problem. After an incredibly disastrous weekend that probably cost Hillary Clinton some Black voters in key states like Pennsylvania and California, Bill Clinton is rallying the Asian Americans. The message will resonate that the Asian Americans stand in full strength with Bill Clinton fresh off the disastrous remarks on Black youth. In summary, our communities are being placed as a wedge and a triangulating force between Black and White.
Perhaps even more disturbingly, by being bystanders, we are condoning the rhetoric that President Clinton used to refer to Black youth. By cheering for him and not holding him accountable, we are wedging ourselves into the oppression that our Black brethren face.
But our failure to condemn and even question are just the latest in the Asian American communities serving as the wedge oppressing the Black communities.
Just a few weeks ago, it was very evident that our communities were more sympathetic to an irresponsible and incompetent police officer than a family that had lost a beloved father. Those who were fighting to seek justice for Akai Gurley were called race-traitors. Those who rallied around Peter Liang called him a scapegoat and demanded that he receive no jail time for the murder of Akai Gurley.
Liang supporters were correct that Peter Liang was the sacrificial lamb that NYPD gave up in order to absolve themselves of allegations of police violence. Yet, the solution is egregiously wrong. To demand that the death of a Black man go unaccounted is brazen to a community that has endured so much. Did we not demand justice for Kang Chun Wong when he was brutalized by police officers for jaywalking? Are we not indignant when the officer who beat Sureshbhai Patel to pulp?
The time is June 2013. The place is the New York City Council. Peter Koo, the city council member representing Flushing, the aforementioned largest Asian American community on the East Coast, casts his vote on the bill that would severely curb the NYPD’s extensive use of Stop-and-Frisk which disproportionately affects the Black and Latino young men. He votes against the bill. With his vote, he states that he see that young Black and Latino men are predators who need to be stopped and frisked. There are no editorials on the influential Korean and Chinese dailies that litter Main Street condemning him. He is not held accountable for his actions. As the only Democrat on the ballot, he wins reelection with 79% of the vote.
Sixteen days from now marks the twenty-five year anniversary of the L.A. Riots. One of the sparks, aside from the beating of Rodney King, was the death of Latasha Harlins. Latasha Harlins was a teenager accused of stealing a bottle of orange juice from a South Central liquor store. After a scuffle with the cashier, Soon Ja Du, young Latasha’s life ended on the floor of a liquor store with a bullet lodged in her head, just as young Trayvon Martin’s life would end 21 years later on a Florida street with a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea in his hand.
At the time of Latasha’s death, South Central was home to more liquor stores than the entire state of Rhode Island. An easy business to go into for recent immigrants, many Korean Americans made inroads into these neighborhoods where White entrepreneurs would not dare. These liquor stores were a magnet for public drunkenness, drug deals, and theft. As people not committed nor invested to these neighborhoods, Korean Americans stood diametrically opposed to the communities that they profited off of.
We return to that crowded ballroom yesterday. Bill Clinton remarks this of the Asian American community: that we are a community that believes in “hard work and family values.” We are praised for our model minority values.
#ModelMinorityMutiny: When we passively stand by these words, we are not starting a mutiny. We are simply model minorities who are wedges against our Latino, Black, and indigenous communities.
#NotYourAsianSidekick: When we’re a wedge, we are nothing more than Asian sidekicks to Black oppression.
#MyAsianAmericanStory: When we embrace these narratives of our model minority past, what are we telling our future generations who we were? Would we even have our Asian American stories if the Civil Rights Movement did not challenge the pervasive systemic racism?
There are sides that we pick whether we choose to take action or not. If we stand by passively, we become accessories and accomplices. What would happen if we challenged and took active role in asking critical questions that pertained to our liberation?
One of my favorite songs I’ve learned from my time as an immigrants’ rights organizer has a chorus that goes like this:
Which side are you on, my people? Which side are you on?
I hope you can chant back “freedom side!” when the time comes for you to answer the question.