Hate Crimes & Racial Conflation: From Vincent Chin to Sunando Sen

January 2nd, 2013



The recent hate crime murder of Sunando Sen in New York City serves as a reminder that prejudice and racial hatred is a malleable and amorphous cloud, easily distorted and warped to inflict harm on people pulled into it who were beyond the originally intended target group. On December 27th, Mr. Sen was pushed off a 7 train subway platform in Sunnyside, Queens, by Ms. Erika Menendez and subsequently killed by an oncoming train. Mr. Sen was an Indian immigrant who was raised Hindu, but became a victim of Ms. Menendez’s racially fueled hatred because she conflated Hindus with Muslims. Ms. Menendez was quoted as stating, “I pushed a Muslim on the tracks” and “I hate Hindus and Muslims – ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers, I’ve been beating them up.”

It is most likely that she was unaware that Mr. Sen was Hindu, but rather she conflated a brown-skinned person of South Asian descent with a brown-skinned person of Middle Eastern or Arabic descent. This type of distorted mental racial calculus has already been played out and manifested in violence many times since the September 11th attacks. A notable example of this is the discrimination and violence suffered by the Sikh community as a result of anti-Muslim sentiment post-9/11. According to a Fact Sheet on Post-9/11 Discrimination and Violence by The Sikh Coalition, Sikh Americans have increasingly been victims of hate crimes, racial profiling, and workplace discrimination since the 9/11 attacks.

An older example of racial conflation in hate crimes is the 1982 murder of Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit, Michigan. During this time in history, the automobile industry in Detroit was suffering economic losses and experienced many layoffs. This was an effect of Japanese automobile manufacturers abroad gaining market share. Mr. Chin was celebrating his bachelor party when he was confronted by two White male workers laid off from a Chrysler auto plant. The workers labeled Mr. Chin as a Japanese person and accused him of their troubles, stating, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” They followed Chin and beat him with a baseball bat, hitting him in the body and head. Chin lapsed into a coma at the hospital and died mere days before his wedding.

Hate crimes resulting from racial conflation stress the crucial importance of and need for racially-aligned groups and organizations to work together to form coalitions and alliances. Racial hysteria, fear, and paranoia affect more than the target group and race. Hatred of one group quickly and easily bleeds into hatred for another for superficial reasons and can also mutate into blanket anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiments. Only a concerted and collaborative effort between communities and organizations can begin to address and combat such a shape-shifting problem.

Racial Justice & The Law at the PIC Conference

September 25th, 2012


This past weekend, a consortium of New York law schools organized and held the Public Interest Collective Conference for Social Justice at Columbia Law School. The all-day event consisted of panels, discussions, and workshops about topics including Iraqi refugee assistance, mass incarceration, homelessness in New York City, and violence against women. A memorable part of the event was the keynote speech delivered by Professor Bill Quigley, law professor and director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans. Professor Quigley has a diverse background in social justice lawyering and has served as counsel for organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU.  His speech highlighted many pressing and current issues in racial inequality in the media, law enforcement, and the criminal justice and prison systems. He also spent some time discussing the role that lawyers and law students can play in the effort for social and racial justice. He ended his presentation and speech with an inspiring segment about social change in general, a relevant and powerful topic for those engaged in social justice work in any role and capacity. Professor Quigley was very kind to share the presentation that he used at the conference, and you can access it by clicking on the image below.

Racism and Resistance

Heroes of Hues: Hines Ward

May 25th, 2011


This post marks the first article of a series entitled “Heroes of Hues.” Inspired by the work Profiles in Courage produced by John F. Kennedy, this series will profile contemporary figures and leaders who are involved in efforts that combat racism and racial inequality. These individuals embody the courage and compassion that The Human Color stands for, and the series will serve to highlight their work and personal stories.

This month, a new dancer extraordinaire was crowned on the hit television series Dancing with the Stars, which pairs celebrities with professional dancers in a grand competition. Hines Ward, a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, emerged as the celebrity champion of the show’s twelfth season, scoring four “perfect 30” marks along the way. Among his stalwart supporters was his dedicated mother, who sat in the live audience to support her son. Ward’s Korean mother 김영희 (Kim Young-Hee) was witnessing not only the success of her son, but also the great distance that he had come with her in surmounting a history of discrimination and prejudice.

Hines Ward was born in 1976 in Seoul, South Korea, to his aforementioned Korean mother and an African American father, Hines Ward Sr., who was stationed in Korea. Both North and South Korea have historically been among the most ethnically and culturally homogeneous countries in the world. Consequently, social attitudes toward mixed and multiracial Koreans and their parents have been predominantly negative and intolerant. Ward and his parents experienced this firsthand, and when Hines was only one year old, his mother pushed for them to move to the United States to avoid the prejudice and provide him with a life of greater opportunity and potential.

The hardship didn’t end in the States, though. Not only did Ward have to grow up without a father figure after his parents divorced, but he also endured the very racial intolerance from which his mother had sought to escape. Ward was treated as an outcast by his young peers because of his mixed background and found it hard to make friends. As Hines put it, his Black peers didn’t want to befriend him because he was Asian and his Asian peers ostracized him because he was Black. Meanwhile, his White classmates avoided him because he was Black and Asian. The outlet that would serve as Hines’s escape would be football, a dimension where he could thrive and prove his abilities regardless of color. As his classmates saw him excel on the field, the teasing went down and the respect went up.

Hines continued playing outstanding football through college with the University of Georgia Bulldogs. In 1998, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Ward to play as their wide receiver, and he has played for the Steelers ever since. Among Ward’s achievements are being a two-time Super Bowl champion and three-time AFC Champion as well as various statistical records. He has also been named MVP of the Steelers three times and was the first Korean American to win Super Bowl MVP for his performance during Super Bowl XL.

Hines’s success in the United States caught the attention of the South Korean public and media. The country that once shunned Ward had now come to embrace and respect him. In 2006, Hines made a trip with his mother to visit South Korea for the first time since he was a mere child. He met with the South Korean President 노무현 Roh Moo-Hyun and with multiracial Korean children. He also announced the founding of the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that fights discrimination against biracial and multiracial children. The visit was not only a tour to speak out against discrimination and share his story with Koreans, but also a deeply personal and emotional journey for Ward. As a young adult, Hines had grown resentful and ashamed of his Korean identity and heritage because of the intolerance his parents had endured in South Korea. Returning to visit South Korea and receiving respect and acceptance by its people and leaders marked a big milestone for Hines. He had finally come full circle to cherishing and appreciating the part of himself that had previously caused him so much pain and confusion.

It’s no surprise that Hines Ward has become such a popular and loved figure whether he’s running on the gridiron or dancing in the ballroom. His charismatic attitude, embodied in his ever-present smile, courage, and sheer determination has allowed him to overcome a difficult past and achieve success. Through his work with the Helping Hands Foundation and his own story of overcoming prejudice, Hines Ward serves as an important role model for multiracial youth across the globe.

The America Healing Initiative

April 30th, 2011


Earlier this month, the Hudson Institute organized a panel discussion titled “Race and Racism in America: Are We Now a Color Blind Society?” The panel included representatives of the W.K. Kellogg FoundationPresident and CEO Sterling Speirn and Vice President of Program Strategy Dr. Gail Christopher—Harvard Professor Stephan Thernstrom, and political strategist Ron Christie. Aside from a thoughtful monologue by Mr. Christie, the main thread of discussion centered on the Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing Initiative, a five-year, $75 million program that was recently launched last May, 2010. The initiative has provided grants to 119 organizations across 29 states and the District of Columbia that “are working to promote racial healing and eliminate structural racism.”

Sterling Speirn began the discussion by stating that, through the foundation’s outreach and connecting with community members nationwide, he had witnessed a “great appetite for people in this country to come together and talk about race” and for people to have “courageous conversations… in a way that helps people work toward solutions.” He made the case that the demand and need is there for initiatives such as America Healing, and that the American populace is increasingly eager and receptive to having open dialogue and organizing efforts concerning issues regarding racial inequity.

Dr. Gail Christopher provided further support for the initiative, stating “there is power in story,” and outlining the importance of community efforts to share experiences and discover the past’s connection to the present. She expressed bluntly that to believe that ingrained racial attitudes can disappear in less than a century and that they would do so without intentional action is “simplistic and misguided; naïve at best.” Highlighting the program’s focus on at-risk children in minority populations, she connected America Healing to the Kellogg Foundation’s core objective of serving children, stating “we are not yet a society that fully values our children” and “we have to hear the different perspectives and see if we can’t do better on [their] behalf.”

Professor Stephan Thernstrom served as the voice of criticism on the panel, questioning the need and efficacy of such programs such as America Healing. Following the Kellogg Foundation’s launch of the initiative last year, Thernstrom published an article in the Wall Street Journal that asks whether racism is truly the culprit of the social inequities that the foundation seeks to tackle and whether an approach that overtly addresses racial dimensions is necessary or misguided. To be sure, Mr. Thernstrom does not deny the stark racial nature of the achievement gap– it is nearly impossible to– and advocates for improved schools and teaching for disadvantaged children.

Is Professor Thernstrom right about the frustratingly “protean” quality of institutional and structural racism? Yes. Even the Kellogg Foundation acknowledges its effects as often being “subtle but hardly inconsequential.” But, just as we do not deny the existence of wind for its invisible nature, the oft-nebulous quality of institutional racism does not prove that it is nonexistent, is without tangible effects, or that it is not felt. Indeed, just as the wind blows and moves objects as an invisible force, so too do persisting effects of past racism and segregation act to shape and mold socioeconomic circumstances and life experiences in unseen, but tangible ways.

Mr. Thernstrom is right that some of the foundation’s language about the initiative is vague; but he should also remember that the initiative is on a five-year timescale and that one of its main objectives is precisely to instate a system by which to measure and publicize its impact and outcome. Let us be patient and eager in seeing what the foundation and its grantee organizations can come up with and hope that it is something powerful, effective, and replicable. I would bet that we will be pleasantly surprised.

Being Multiracial in Today’s America

March 31st, 2011


With the continuously increasing number of mixed-race marriages, relationships, and children in America and the current administration of the nation’s first multiracial president, it is more appropriate than ever to highlight, study, and discuss topics of multiracialism in America.

Indeed, while mixed-race relationships and people have always had a presence in America, the progress in both legal and social recognition is very recent and the current degree of clarity and openness unprecedented. Anti-miscegenation laws– laws that prohibited marriage between citizens of different races– were not universally repealed and deemed unconstitutional until 1967, in the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (I’d always found the name of the plaintiffs especially appropriate). The United States Census form, in confining citizens to “mark one box,” did not permit the selection of multiple race categories until its 2000 iteration. While this makes data on race from the 2000 and 2010 Census incompatible with data from earlier censuses, it ushered in a new era of racial awareness and illumination on the true diversity of the United States citizenry.

At the end of January of this year, The New York Times began an ongoing article series titled “Race Remixed”, which covers the topic of multiracial and mixed-race Americans and their experiences. The thoughtful series brings to light the implications and significance of the rising multiracial population as well as the attempts to track it. Government bodies, such as the Department of Education, are struggling to keep up with the multiracial population and the way they count members of it ultimately affect important efforts such as ensuring civil rights protections, closing the achievement gap, and monitoring disparities in everything from housing to health care access. Mixed-race individuals who used to identify as a single race or ethnicity could be counted in a completely different category under certain changes, effectively “erasing” members of the single race group, and decreasing its numbers, while adding to another group. This is but one of the challenges that the government faces in grappling with our modern, multiracial reality.

What emerge as most compelling in the series, however, are the personal stories and experiences of mixed-race individuals in America today. For many mixed-race individuals, coming to understand their multiracial background and heritage is an integral and important process to appreciating who they are; for others, it is a non-issue. Even within the community of multiracial people, there are differing desires among individuals for increased recognition or for the details of their background to not matter at all. Regardless, many multiracial people have found empowerment and community through connecting and meeting fellow mixed people through student groups and associations.

When it comes down to it, the mixed-race college students quoted in the series put it best. Ms. Michelle López-Mullins states, “race will not automatically tell you  my story,” while Mr. Ian Winchester candidly expresses, “I just want to be a person.” Truly, these sentiments can extend beyond a multiracial context to apply to questions of race at large. The increasing population of mixed Americans and awareness about multiracialism will certainly shape a new discussion on race in America as well as allow for a renewed and more open dialogue about older topics of race from a time of starker divides.