Asians, Blacks and Intolerance

Norman Matloff

San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed

May 20, 1997

It is no secret that many Asian immigrants harbor racist attitudes toward African Americans and Latinos. What is less noticed is that Asian American community activists are ignoring the problem, doing nothing proactive to deal with immigrant racial intolerance.

There is a plethora of missed opportunities. Asian-language community-affairs television programs regularly inform viewers how to avail themselves of social services, but how much time has been devoted to educating viewers about healthy racial attitudes? Many immigrant entrepreneurs are unwilling to hire black employees. Why aren't Asian community organizations developing campaigns to encourage Asian employers to hire blacks?

In too many cases, the activists themselves have unhealthy attitudes. In the newsletter of the Oakland chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, editor Peter Eng opined: ``Chinese-Americans will need to separate and distance ourselves from other ethnic immigrant groups" and suggested that Latino immigration was a burden to society. Even Henry Der, former head of Chinese for Affirmative Action, whose support of non-Asian minorities is heartfelt, recently expressed this notion: ``We could even take more Chinese immigrants...But that is not going to happen, because Chinese immigrants are broadstroked" with all other immigrant groups.

The Asian activists compound the problem by absolving the immigrants of blame for their racist attitudes. The immigrants, we are told, pick up racist views from the American media. Yet this is at odds with the fact that Asian immigrant prejudice toward African Americans and Latinos is more widespread and at a higher intensity than amoug U.S. natives. Quynh Tran, in her Stanford University study of Vietnamese immigrant high school students, found that students who grew up in the United States were less prejudiced toward blacks than were students who immigrated at a later age.

Given Asian prejudice against blacks, it is not surprising that many blacks resent Asian Americans. Many blacks targeted Korean American businesses during the 1992 L.A. riots. However, blacks' attitudes toward Koreans seem to be less negative than the attitudes of Koreans toward blacks, according to a University of Southern California study.

Asian activists are often exacerbating the situation, sometimes with Latino groups. Elaine Kim, a Korean-American UC Berkeley professor, has written that a major Latino organization suggested to her [actually to Korean community activist Bong Huan Kim--NM] that Asians and Latinos work together against blacks in an Oakland redistricting proposal. And an Asian/Latino coalition is suing Oakland, claiming it awards too many city contracts to black-owned firms.

Supervisor Mabel Teng, while on the Community College Board, boasted that due to her lobbying, no high-level Asian administrators were laid off during the 1994 fiscal crisis. But several black administrators were let go, and Teng was silent.

When welfare reform was enacted, great concern was expressed about its potentially heavy impact on the native-born poor, many of them blacks who are functionally illiterate and without job skills. But Asian activist groups succeeded in shifting the spotlight to the provisions regarding immigrants. The press has largely forgotten about how the native-born poor will cope.

Asian activists should devote some of their considerable energy to developing more sensitivity toward other minorities. The saying from the '60s is apt: ``If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."

Norman Matloff teaches at UC Davis and is former chairman of the affirmative action committee. A speaker of Chinese, he has been active in the Chinese immigrant community for 20 years.

Norm Matloff
Tue Jun 17 19:34:26 PDT 1997