Ghetto Racism

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The presidency of Barack Obama was supposed to bring about racial progress and reconciliation. From San Francisco to New York, the rough and tumble of America’s urban centers have steadfastly refused to succumb to his message of hope and change. Instead, they have showed, through numerous recent examples, that hatred and cowardice – as delivered from African-Americans to Asians – is not only alive and kicking, but heinous and potentially lethal.

In April, two black teenagers punched 59-year-old Tian Sheng Yu in the mouth in downtown Oakland, California. He fell on his head, spent the next few days in critical care and subsequently died. Between late March and early April, five black teenagers assailed five different older Asian women, including one who was 71, on separate occasions in or near a public housing project on the Lower East Side of New York City. In late March, five black teenagers surrounded a 57-year-old Asian woman at a light rail bus stop in San Francisco; one of them grabbed her and threw her from the platform onto the rails before he proceeded to beat her. In January, black teenagers kicked and beat 83-year-old Huan Chen after he got off the same bus stop. He, too, died from his injuries. Last fall, two young black men grabbed 64-year-old Rongshi Chen on his way to a convenience store in San Francisco, threw him onto the concrete, kicked his ribs and broke his collarbone before they took his cash, credit cards and identification.

The criminals target not just the old and the weak but also the young and vibrant. In late March in San Francisco, a group of black teenagers beat a 29-year-old Asian man. Similarly, the two teenagers who attacked Tian Sheng Yu in Oakland assaulted his 27-year-old son before and after they assaulted the father.

Some of the perpetrators, like those who attacked the 83-year-old Huan Chen, wanted money before they ran off laughing. Many, however, acted for no apparent reason than just the satisfaction of perpetrating a beating itself.

After the attacks, the uncomfortable issue of race stared everyone in the face, but local officials and the media have bent over backwards to look away. San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Blackwell was eager to label the attackers as just thugs who targeted the “weak and vulnerable.” San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon insisted that the attacks against Asians were “crimes of opportunity,” not incidents of racial targeting. Oakland City Council member Jean Quan discounted the role of race as well, blaming the Chinese residents of Oakland for making  themselves “easier targets” through their frequent failure to report crimes committed against them. New York City’s mainstream local media sources, including WCBS and NBC New York, failed to even report the race of the teenagers who terrorized five different elderly Asian women on the Lower East Side, even though their race was there for the world to see, on surveillance video.

In the age of Obama, racial honesty, or even racial soul searching, is apparently too much to ask for. Those in charge of the law, politics and opinion have rendered their verdict (i.e., no racism) and everyone else is supposed to go home.

Yet Asian residents of America’s urban centers, normally apolitical and non-confrontational, have refused to play along. At least not this time. At a community meeting with Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, dozens of Chinese residents, many tearfully and through a translator, relayed their stories of having been mugged or beaten by black youths. At the same meeting, Young Kong, host of a Cantonese radio program in San Francisco, shouted, “People are afraid to talk about race!”

Si Chen, the daughter-in-law of Mr. Rongshi Chen, the man who was mugged and beaten in San Francisco last fall, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I don’t like to say this is race discrimination, but I have to say it!”

Do these shabbily dressed, English deficient Asian people know something that their much more polished and much better educated government and media representatives do not? Has facing the terror of America’s inner cities day after day skewed their objectivity, and rendered them blind to the reality that blacks, whites and other races fall victim to black violence just as Asians do? Or do their tears and outbursts result from having been at the receiving end of not just the rampant violence but also the endless racial slurs that blacks — and to a lesser extent – Hispanics, regularly dish out at Asians in dangerous and crowded urban settings?

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, they live in a society that prefers to believe that racial progress can only come from affirmative action programs doled out for “underrepresented” minorities and this same society just cannot bring itself to acknowledge disgraceful behavior from minorities? Could it be that when American society and its universities teach that minorities such as blacks and Hispanics can only be victims of racism, not racists themselves, such a society can only meet minority racism with excuses, and minority wrongdoing with an averted gaze?

Racist attitudes and racially motivated crimes in the inner city have existed for a long time, long before surveillance cameras captured them for distribution on the Internet. Now the images shock the consciences of all those who live in safer neighborhoods and prefer not to face the horrors that one human being could inflict one another. Everyone agrees, something must be done, but what?

It is crucial, as everyone now urges, that the criminals be brought to justice. It is just as important, as both law enforcement and civilians insist, to impose law and order on lawless streets.

Ultimately, however, safer streets and more secure neighborhoods depend in no small part on the willingness of residents to demand personal responsibility from everyone and condemn racist behavior across the board.

Right now, even those reviled by the recent spate of black-on-Asian violence eagerly dismiss the role that race plays, just as mainstream society hurriedly discount black racism toward Asians as anecdotal.

Well, these accounts can only be anecdotal because no one is interested in conducting statistics, studies or polls – and few are willing to write articles — on the issue. Most Asians who have suffered from ghetto racism rarely, if ever, air their grievances to those outside of their own communities, either because they do not speak English well or they wish to avoid trouble. In the end, few people talk about this painful subject and even fewer are willing to believe it.

For now, the only solution appears to be more anecdotes. Below, I offer my own. It conveys my experience as a seventh grader growing up in Oakland, California in the late 1980s. It describes racism – largely from blacks and Hispanics — that Asians regularly experience in inner-city areas throughout America. I hope that my anecdote will allow others to see exactly what it is like to live in an environment that daily allows the ugliness of racism to occur unquestioned and unchallenged. Any reporter, researcher or policymaker who wishes to dig deeper will find an endless of supply of other stories like or worse than mine throughout this country.

I share my story not to obfuscate the racism that many blacks continue to face in this country. Nor am I trying to detract from the friendship, kindness and helping hands that blacks regularly offer to Asians immigrants in this country.

I share my story because racism is complicated and multifaceted, but it is ugly no matter where it originates. In modern America, racism consists of dimensions beyond white versus black and involves conflicts among racial minorities themselves. It could be countered with better parenting, better families and better communities. But racial equality, along with peace and harmony, also requires an American society that can confront this painful issue with more honesty, a society is that is willing demand from everyone something that the first black president of the United States has repeatedly urged the black community to grasp: some personal responsibility. It is worth more than a million affirmative action programs.


[Editor’s note: The names of the individuals who appear in the following personal account have been altered to protect their privacy].

My Story: The Fight in the Ghetto

The walk to school was less than fifteen minutes, but it always felt like an eternity. Each morning, I dreaded the walk and walked slowly. I was never late, but I always tried to delay my arrival, even if only by a few minutes.

I was in the seventh grade and attended a public school in the inner city Oakland, California. I hated my school and my fellow students. More than anything else, I hated the frequent threat of violence and the constant presence of racism.

I stood out academically. With the exception of physical education, I took “gifted” or advance classes for students my age. I also took math classes that normally admitted only eighth and ninth graders. The following year, I would skip the eighth grade and take advanced classes that my junior high school did not offer – a chemistry class at a high school in the morning and advanced algebra and trigonometry at a community college in the evening.

Most who knew me at school thought I was strange and looked at me funny. The eighth and ninth graders with whom I took math classes appeared to resent me most of all. I wore thick glasses and shabby clothing, and remained uninterested in their goofing off or their flirtations with the opposite sex. To my older classmates, no one should have been studying as hard as I did in seventh grade. I thought differently, believing that hard work and academic excellence could lead to great things.

No one told me that stellar grades in the seventh grade did not count toward college admissions or life in general. My parents did not speak English and could not advise me. Our family had arrived from China only three years ago. None of the adults at my school counseled me to enjoy my adolescence rather than bury my head in books and equations. My instructors and counselors had bigger problems to worry about: students who toted weapons, engaged in drug use or participated in gang activity.

There was little else that I wanted to do with my time anyway. I had few friends and did almost no socializing outside of school. Much of junior high consisted of students with whom I could not or did not wish to be friends anyway. My school was predominantly black, increasingly Asian and Hispanic and barely white.

Often, black students screamed racial epithets at the Asian ones. “Ching Chong,” “Chinamen” and “Chow Mein” became our names. Sometimes, our tormentors imitated how we spoke our native tongues. On other occasions, they threatened to or actually did physically assault us. No one ever doubted who would win in a fight.

Along with other Asian students, I did my best to avoid any risk of physical confrontation — those who openly and regularly uttered racial epithets always appeared ready to back up their threats with violence. When blacks made fun of the “Chinamen” among them, I said nothing. When black teenagers screamed at the middle aged Cantonese woman in the cafeteria and called her a “stupid Chinaman,” I, along with all the other Asian students present, did nothing. When black students routinely threatened to beat up their Asian classmates, who were generally smaller in size, I looked away. When black girls yelled after me, “Look at that ugly ass skirt that stupid Chinese girl is wearing,” I pretended that I did not hear them.

Black racism did not end at the school fence. Black teenagers regularly hurled racial insults at adult Asian immigrants who spoke limited English on the streets of Oakland. They also frequently crept up behind elderly Asians and frightened them with sing-song nonsense, such as “Yee-ya, ching-chong, ay-yahhhh!” Meanwhile, numerous black adults discriminated against Asian immigrants as well, at the grocery store, on the bus, at the hospital, the unemployment office and everywhere and anywhere. Each time, I gritted my teeth, felt a burning rage but watched the racism take place, in silence.

If ever, my rage burned so hot that I felt compelled to respond, my compulsion would quickly cool when confronted with the embarrassing fact that the other “Chinamen” nearby – Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Filipinos and anyone else who looked Asian – always pretended as if they were not witnesses to my anger or the incidents that caused it.

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  • ckm423

    very good story, I totally feel your pain as I have gone through a similar experience in a Oakland High School, keep up your good work and it will get paid off someday. :)

  • Jazon

    Ms. Ma's story is an American tale, and she is the personification of Horatio Alger.

  • Tommy

    Racism in any form is not acceptable in a civilized society. It is a shameful fact of life, however, that racism exists and actually thrives in American society as much as, if not more than, it does in the most openly bigoted societies, whether in Europe, The Middle East, or South America.

    Ying Ma's account of her own experience in her particular city, neighborhood, and school is just one of the many that go unpublished and apparently unnoticed by those who have the potential to bring about a profound change for the better. But, where are the mainstream media weighing in on this? Where are the politicians? Where, in the mainstream, is there a discussion of the real, everyday oppression of and cruelty to the members of a minority group that endures persecution daily, as the writing of Ying Ma makes clear. Where is the discussion of the multiple standards by which hardworking young students are judged for acceptance to some of the best universities, the scholarships, graduate schools, and advanced degrees, then on to career opportunities in the private and public arenas?

    Where is the discussion? Where are the arguments, both pro and con, on given laws and policies related to race and ethnicity? It seems as if it is a forbidden topic, much like questioning the Vatican would have been in the 17th century.

  • Cipollina

    People need to speak up against this breed of reversed discrimination. I find it appauling that the majority of the Blacks in this country voted for this Socialist simply because he is Black. Very few of them were actually concerned with the direction that he was planning to take our country. As a naturalized white American, I was shocked to observe such a large number of Blacks spewing hatred to other nationalities. Somebody ought to clue them in: it's 2010, and the American society has done a monumental amount of work to repair the damage caused by slavery – a lot more than some regimes on this planet that victimized different ethnic groups. In less than fifty years Blacks have become Supreme Court judges, decision-makers, world recognized entertainers and media moguls. Someone should also remind them that in most cases it was their fellow African Blacks who sold them into slavery, as documented in countless historical accounts. Be a little more grateful, people. This is a good country for millions of newcomers. And if it isn't good enough for you – leave. Somehow there aren't any Blacks knocking down walls to get back to Africa. Just keep that in mind.

  • Edgar

    Ying Ma, your story rings all so true in depicting what asians as well as whites face everyday. I am a white male, but all throughout school have witnessed whites and asians become racial targets. But the Zionist controlled media is ultimately responsible for this barrage of racism. In the Jews' holy book the Talmud, it states that Jews are superior to the gentile in every way, and any crime committed against them by a Jew, must be excused. So the Zionist (not all Jews btw) Jews who control what messages we receive daily, excuse and condone black and hispanic racism, just as long as it's committed against whites or anyone else that isn't black or hispanic. Due to the media promoting race-mixing, they are committing genocide with the intent to kill off the only races that have the mental acuity and physical capacity to stop them- the whites and asians.
    As a white male, I am glad of the fact that I voted for Barack Obama. #1. It'll clearly show Americans just how racist blacks can be when they have authority. (Don't think for 1 second they they would'nt re-institute white slavery IF whites wouldn't have political clout. #2. It has mobilized and galvanized whites across America like never before, if McCain would've got in, whites would remain complacent and accept black racism. We'd fall into the psychological trap, "Hey, one of us is calling the shots, so blacks have no true power!" Seeing how blacks seem to think they are ruling now, and the fact that they are backed up by a vehemently racist US President, remains a slap in the face to white Americans.

  • spbenny

    from 1980 to 1985 i taught ESL to classes of cambodian, laotian, and hmong kids in a "large, northern city". They were brutalized everyday by neighborhood black punks. I complained and complained to administrators who did nothing. i had to teach these kids that they had to fight, which puzzled them. they came from peasant, Buddhist, non-confrontational backgrounds. I came from s. philly and went through slum schools but we italo-american kids took no crp. we didn't look for trouble but if it came "they" paid a price

  • Telly


    If you want to turn this story into an anti-Semitic racist diatribe, nothing personal, you need help.

    It is people like you that perpetuate racism which causes the violence that is the subject of this article. For your information, in the recent past, Jews were the main targets of these attacks. AND it continues today AND it still results in deaths of Jews. However, we fight back.

    So, I am hoping you get the help you need before it's too late. The life you save may be (probably will be) your own.

    • Edgar

      Telly, in no way, shape or form do I associate whatsoever with the term, “anti-Semetic”. I have no problems at all with the average Jewish person, I actually had a Jewish lawyer a few years ago. I just take issue with the Zionists, or Jewish supremacists whose allegiance lies to Israel, not the USA. Even Stevie Wonder can see that the Jews control the media, Israel dictates America’s policies. Whoever controls the media, wields more power then any President or army ever did. They have the ability to reach into any home at any time and mold anyone’s mind. That’s why there are “leftists” who oppose anything American, not because they are evil, but because they are severely misguided; they accept everything the media spoonfeeds them with an open-mouth.

      I am not “racist” or perpetrate any nonsensical idea; I just appreciate the need to preserve my heritage. I want to see the exact same rights for white people as any other ethnicity already wallows in. I believe there are inherent differences in races, but that is NOT anyone’s fault. Is a cat evil because it kills a mouse? Traits are bred into an organism. Everyone would be happier and much more at ease if among their own kind. Simple logic only dictates this. When you let a domesticated dog loose, does it join a wolf pack? No, the wolves will probably kill it in order to establish dominance; the dog isn’t one of them. Does a parakeet fly with flocks of red birds? If you let your pet tropical fish loose in the ocean, will it join a flock of hammerhead sharks? Lefties all say that we are the same, yet dogs are of the same species, and would they still say they are the same if they could choose which dog to be bitten by, a Pit Bull or a Poodle?

  • disgusted in NJ

    I live in what used to be a predominantly black neighborhood, in which the residents took pride in our community. In the few instances of litter or graffiti, we worked together to clean up, even though we were denied basic municipal services that our tax dollars paid for. In the last decade, many of the older black homeowners have died and been replaced by low-class whites that can accurately be called hill-billies. They terrorize any and every black family in the neighborhood that cares about how they live and wants to exist in peace and pleasant conditions. When I read posts from white people about how they prefer segregation, I have to say as a black woman that I could not agree more! My neighborhood has been ruined by an influx of angry, low-class white people, only the blacks in my area are too decent to burn a cross on a white family's lawn or terrorize them until they move. Integration is a tool of the racist whites in power to destroy black businesses and create the crippling poverty that infects black communities and maintains our American caste system.

  • Ying Ma

    Thanks to everyone who responded to my article. My book, Chinese Girl in the Ghetto, is out and available on Amazon ( More information about the book is also available at….

  • Juan

    Why some of you establish this situation as a whole reflect of the black community? racial hostility is a common disgusting problem in America, the animosity between different gropus is always present, so why blacks should be an exception to this? all this racial animosity is just simply the prove of a nation that has limp one aspect that have decades or even centuries, America has had a long history of racial differences, how do you expect that a place like a ghetto make a difference? these places are even more vulnerable to the problem of racism, because they between the ignorance, selfishness, opportunism and the strong sectarianism among different human groups

  • Wally

    I had similar problems with Blacks and Mexican-American. They don’t accept East Asians as “People of Color”. The racist Blacks considered Asians as “Honorary Whites”.

    • Myra Esoteric

      To whites, we are black or some analogue of Mexicans, to blacks who don’t know history, we are white. But the US media seeks to blur the history of common struggle among all people of color regardless of Asian, Middle Eastern, South Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native.

      When in fact, the historic record recognizes the Asian movement as part of the Civil Rights movement, and many Asians were part of the Black Panthers. And many black people were part of the Asian movement as well.

  • Singingbaboon

    Mainstream American media, especially Hollywood took a big role in promoting bias opinions towards Asians in general. Uneducated minorities were easily brainwashed by popular media. The portrayal of Asia and Asians were very negative in American media in general.