A Threat to Justice Everywhere

Posted On April 20, 2021

Baye McNeil

Journalist | Author | Lecturer

For the past year, Asian-Americans have been living in a state of terror, the victims of hate crimes all over the US. Many will say the rise in these attacks is attributable to the racist and xenophobic rhetoric spewed by former president Trump and exacerbated by his persistence in racializing the Coronavirus—a virus responsible for hundreds of thousands of American deaths. He did this using phrases like “China Virus” and “Kung-Flu” in his statements and speeches. By assigning blame for the creation and spread of this deadly disease to China, what Trump did was effectively condemn anyone that can even be remotely associated with China. In America, that means virtually all people of Asian descent.

According to an Ipsos survey conducted in 2020, more than 30% of Americans have witnessed someone blaming people of Asian descent for the coronavirus.

Thus, guilty by racial resemblance, are people from nations as diverse as Korea, The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and even Japan. Trump’s allusions have led to people from these Asian countries, as well as Asian-Americans, being spat on, accosted, bullied and outright assaulted in the streets. According to an Ipsos survey conducted in 2020, more than 30% of Americans have witnessed someone blaming people of Asian descent for the coronavirus.

#StopAsianHate Community Rally in San Jose

#StopAsianHate Community Rally in San Jose

As an American, I’m accustomed to these types of crimes, particularly hate crimes, being committed almost exclusively by white Americans. Minorities, LBGTQIA, and women are usually the targets of these Caucasian culprits.

Then, sadly, on March 16th, the worst fear of Asians all over the US was realized when a man went on a shooting rampage at three spas in Atlanta Georgia. A killing spree that left 8 dead, 6 of whom were of Asian descent. The suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, told the police that he had a “sexual addiction” and had carried out the shootings at these massage parlors to eliminate his “temptation.” In other words, he was mentally ill, not a racist. However, all but one of the victims were women, and most were Asian, so regardless of his motive, his actions fed both misogynistic and racist narratives. An advocacy group determined to raise awareness of this increase in hate crimes—Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate—said in a statement: “This is an unspeakable tragedy. This latest attack will only exacerbate the fear and pain the Asian-American community continues to endure.”

Barely two weeks later, on March 30th, video footage of the latest violence against Asians in the US surfaced. An Asian woman is seen in the video being assaulted in broad daylight by a man for apparently no reason. 

He simply walks up to her and begins pummeling her, kicking and stomping the defenseless woman to the ground. And then he just walks away. The police captured the assailant, 38-year-old Brandon Elliot. Elliot, who had previously served 17 years in prison for the murder of his own mother 20 years ago, and was on lifetime parole at the time, was charged with felony assault as a hate crime. If convicted, Elliot will face up to 25 more years in prison.

Equally disturbing, or maybe more so if that’s possible, was the utter lack of concern for the beaten woman’s welfare by bystanders. In this video, building personnel, who witnessed this assault, simply closed the door and offered the battered woman no assistance whatsoever.

Shameful.

As an American, I’m accustomed to these types of crimes, particularly hate crimes, being committed almost exclusively by white Americans. Minorities, LBGTQIA, and women are usually the targets of these Caucasian culprits. As was the case in Atlanta. Robert Aaron Long was typical of the kind of man we’re accustomed to seeing perpetrate such crimes.

White.

But Brandon Elliot … he is no white man! He is a black man, and this caught me completely off-guard.

As someone often consulted on issues of race here in Japan, and an unofficial spokesperson for “blackness” here in Asia, I feel obligated to address this violence committed against an Asian by a “black” man, even though it took place in America. Because media is now global, and what happens over there can easily have ramifications over here, and vice-versa.

#StopAsianHate Community Rally in San Jose

Right now, this racist violence aimed at Asian-Americans has mostly harmed Americans of Korean and Chinese descent. But, one day, unfortunately, a Japanese tourist, or an elderly Japanese woman visiting family in the US, or a Japanese Salaryman conducting business in the US, will be attacked and killed for simply being Asian. If that happens, then the attention paid to these incidents by Japanese people here in Japan will intensify. And the fact that a black man was videotaped doling out hate to a helpless Asian woman may have a detrimental impact on how blacks living here in Japan are perceived.

This is very unfair, of course, but minorities all over the world go through this type of thing all the time. It’s par for the course. When stereotypes about people who look like you are heard more clearly than your own voice, that’s when you know you’re a minority. When what you do—particularly the bad things—are taken to be representative of anyone that shares your skin color or background, that’s an indication that members of the majority feel safe generalizing about your genetic makeup. This is sad but commonplace, and often done without a second thought.

Sooner or later, the minority group realizes the need to anticipate the behavior (particularly the misbehavior) of the majority. It’s instinctual. Not to overstate it, but being cognizant of the mood and proclivities of the majority can too often mean the difference between life and death.

Many Asian-Americans are learning this right now.

So, I feel some urgency in addressing this right now.

Before I do, though, I think it’s important to point this out, just in case it’s not painfully obvious: I don’t like to throw words like “crazy” around, but Elliot likely suffers from some type of mental illness. If beating a defenseless elderly woman senseless wasn’t clear enough an indication, fr’ Chrissakes, he killed his own mother and then spent 17 years in the American penitentiary system—a place from which very few emerge sane regardless of their mental state when they entered. I don’t even think the staff emerges sane from those places. I have friends and kin, who have spent time in these zoos we cage human beings in and emerged much worse off mentally and emotionally than they were when they entered, so I know this for a fact.

However, this doesn’t dismiss all of the foulness that has occurred during and even prior to the emergence of COVID-19 between people of Asian descent and people of African descent in the US.

Both minority groups have found themselves on the business end of white supremacy and have suffered the humiliations and deprivations of systemic racism in the US. And on occasion this has resulted in the establishment of strong bonds between our peoples. At those times we have joined forces and united against a common adversary.

But sometimes we forget we’re in the same boat.

For example, where I grew up, Asians did not reside in black communities, but their businesses were ubiquitous in our community. This created for many in the black community a sense that Asians are not part of the community but feed on the community from within, like parasites. Restaurants, liquor stores, fruit & vegetable markets, cleaners, nail salons, and, yes, spas and massage parlors (like where those murders took place in March), are businesses and services that are present in black communities across the nation. And these industries are generally run by people classified as “Asians;” mostly Chinese & Korean Americans, and sometimes immigrants.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. THIS type of scenario is exactly what King was referring to. He was trying to instruct us, to convey the idea that we are ALL in this together.

And while their livelihoods are dependent on black dollars, their attitudes toward their black customers have been known to be condescending and criminalizing. From the black community’s perspective, it seems like they’ve come to the so-called Land of Milk and Honey from their developing and underdeveloped countries determined to prosper like white people. Only to discover that white people have prospered in the US for the past 400 years at the expense of black people, through slavery and exploitation. But they are still the blueprint to success and so they continue to be emulated. Immigrants can’t help but notice how their white role models mistreat and disrespect black people and their communities, and too often wind up doing likewise.

So, it’s not surprising that periodically situations will flare up and the tension between “blacks” and “Asians” come to a head. There have even been deaths, both Asian business owners and black customers have been killed in the past. And this tension persists. I remember back in 1992 when I was in University, during the riots in Los Angeles, tension between Koreans and Blacks got so ugly that there were gun fights in the streets.

The irony in all this is that the dominant mindset in the US, in one way or another, tends to alienate, otherize, malign and criminalize ALL non-white people, not just blacks.

So, while some non-whites might be comfortable blaming crime and the need for police “over-aggressiveness” on “black” people and feel that police brutality and the occasional death is merely an unfortunate side effect of necessary precautions, they ought to be wary of cosigning any racialized stigmatizing. Doing so is ultimately just asking for trouble. Because, as a minority, accepting that kind of injustice aimed at another minority group will ALWAYS backfire, that karma wheel will eventually come around. Many Asian-Americans are learning that now, in the most horrendous way. The same hate group that stigmatizes blacks as criminals that need a militarized police force to keep them in check has stigmatized Asians as Corona creators and purveyors, and made them targets for corona vigilantes.

San Jose City Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Rally

Black Lives Matter London Protest, 6th June 2020.

Black Lives Matter Amsterdam Protest. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. THIS type of scenario is exactly what King was referring to. He was trying to instruct us, to convey the idea that we are ALL in this together. This was the idea that, I believe, got him assassinated. It’s not the kind of concept those in power want the masses subscribing to, for it can easily disrupt their game plan.

The unmitigated TRUTH is I and many other people of African descent are disgusted by this rise in hate crimes against our Asian brothers and sisters.

Disgusted, and angry AF!

I have lived in Asia for 17 years now, and have Asian family members, friends, associates, colleagues, and acquaintances. And If I were to visit my friends and family in the US with my Japanese wife at my side, or even my best friend, who happens to be Chinese, beside me, and they were accosted or attacked simply because they’re Asian, I would respond to the assailant with fierce reproach, regardless of their race.

And I mean fierce!

Because hating on Asian people based on some foolishness touted by Trump is tantamount to insanity itself. I won’t tolerate it, and I’m sure I speak for many who won’t tolerate fear or hate of any person or group based on skin color or “race”.

What Brandon Elliot did was sick and a dreadful aberration. It does not represent “black” thought at all. His beliefs, if he has any (and judging from that video it’s not clear that he does), are not aligned with mine or any other sane black person I know.

I suspect some of you reading this might be inclined at some point to associate me with some other black man due to our skin color—and it’ll likely be someone doing something reprehensible, which is unfortunate. All I can is that’s a very dangerous practice, not far removed from what’s being done to Asians with regards to Corona. It’s a threat to justice everywhere and I urge those of you inclined to think that way to reconsider.

However, if you absolutely MUST, I’ll tell you which black people it’s safe to associate me with: Look for the ones protesting alongside their Asian friends and family, shouting at the top of their lungs: #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate

Those are my kind of people.

Written by Baye McNeil

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Baye McNeil is a journalist, author, and lecturer. Upon arriving in Japan in 2004, McNeil began teaching and later began his blog, "Loco in Yokohama" which covered life in Japan from a Black New Yorker's perspective. In 2014, Baye was hired as a columnist for The Japan Times. His column, "Black Eye" raises awareness of black people and activities and the profile and perception of blackness in Japan.

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