BY ALEXANDER HU
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.