Interminority racism in the United States
There has been long-running racial tension between African Americans and Mexican Americans. In several significant riots in California prisons, Mexican American and African American inmates targeted each other specifically, over racial issues. There have been reports of racially motivated attacks against African Americans who have moved into neighborhoods occupied mostly by Mexican Americans, and vice versa.
Current US policy advocates a multiculturalist discourse to acknowledge multiracial difference. Multiculturalist theorists like Claire Jean Kim criticizes that this contemporary policy because it still refuses to acknowledge the interminority inequalities and antagonisms generated by this new diversity.
Tensions Between African Americans and Asian Americans
This section will explore the historical racial tension between African Americans and Asian Americans in the United States. Despite both ethnic groups suffering from racial prejudice, there still exists tension between each other. Often during discussions of racial tension in the United States, the focus has been on black-white relations, while failing to include the perspective of Asians in the racial discourse. This has left Asian Americans stuck in limbo, as both ethnic groups avoid identifying with them. Yet among minority groups in the United States, Asian Americans are extolled as the “model minority”, given their statistically high reported educational scores and incomes, leaving other groups left as the “others”. Despite a shared history of facing discrimination between African Americans and Asian Americans, there is a modern underlying tone of tension between the two groups.
Due to the United States’ Naturalization Act of 1790, only “free white person(s)” were eligible to be naturalized as American citizens with the full rights that accompany them. While the intention at the time was to avoid granting African slaves the same privileges as European American colonists, this left all future immigrants and ethnic minorities, including those from Asia and Africa, without full naturalization.
The 19th century divided and then tied the fates of African Americans and Asian Americans together. Before the 1870 Census, Asian Americans marked themselves as “white” in the official census and began to first be called “model minorities” given a societal reputation for "hard work". Yet legally and politically, the judicial system found Asian Americans to be considered the same as African Americans. In the California court case, People v. Hall, the court found that people of Asian descent could not testify under existing legal acts that prohibited testimony from people of African descent. According to the California Supreme Court, the court ruled“[T]he words ‘Black person’...must be taken as contradistinguished from White, and necessarily excludes all races other than the Caucasian”. As the 19th century progressed, Acts of Congress such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Geary Act of 1892 effectively barred further immigration of Asian Americans till the 20th century.
The beginning of a mass movement of Asians immigrating and naturalizing into the United States came through the Immigration and Naturalization Law of 1952, which repealed previous barriers on Asian immigration. While this allowed for the de jure protection of the formation of Asian immigration into the United States, this did not protect them from the de facto prejudice and segregation faced by ethnic minorities.
As Asian Americans established their niches in society, they faced discrimination from white Americans who treated them like they did African Americans at the time. With members of organizations like the Ku Klux Klan intimidating and attacking Asian Americans, the arrival of the Civil Rights Movement and its successive laws helped codify the rights and protections of ethnic minorities. Despite facing similar nativist attacks on their culture and people, Asian Americans and African Americans found themselves divided and clashing within the 20th century.
Asian American’s Role as Explained by the Middleman Theory
This tension and divide can be best explained not as an analysis of two ethnic groups, but as an analysis of the role ethnic minorities have played as a whole within American society. As more ethnic groups began entering the civil discourse in the United States, main media and social figures began painting these groups as subdivisions of the white-black divide. Western American society views Asian Americans’ successes as lumped together with European Americans. This is often used as a comparison to the economic struggles of African Americans often negating their struggles. Comparatively, they are seen socially as part of the same minority culture as other ethnic groups compared to “white” culture. The divisions are even more pronounced through what has been identified as “middle man theory".
This idea has been used to describe the relationship that Asian Americans often play between European Americans and African Americans, and is centralized around the idea that one group acts as a linking partner to other groups, where these groups are typically divided by class or race. In terms of the Asian American-African American relationship, Asian Americans have played the role of middlemen between African Americans and European Americans, cultivating a niche as shopkeepers and merchants.
Within this relationship, Asian Americans are seen to be profiting from both ethnic groups, which can fuel the stereotype of the “model minority” from European Americans, as well as a distrust from and of African Americans. From this viewpoint, Asian Americans from their societal privileges can be viewed as being the same as European Americans by African Americans in terms of having a larger median income as well as receiving on average lighter punishments from the American judicial system. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of Asian Americans share a view with European Americans that African Americans “aren’t capable of getting ahead” according to a study conducted by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. This sentiment flared especially during the era of racial tension in Los Angeles surrounding the Rodney King case.
Rodney King Riots
Los Angeles leading up to 1992 had a large number of Korean Americans. As people migrated from Korea during and after the Korean War, many moved to settle in Los Angeles, but could not work in the same traditionally white collar jobs they held back home. Instead, many opened up businesses in areas where the rent was cheap in predominantly African American communities. Korean American and African American community leaders soon realized that tension existed predominantly due to differences in culture as well as a language barrier. This came to a head during the era of the riots as Korean grocer Soon Ja Du fired at a black teenager in her store, and received a milder sentence compared to other sentences given by judges at the time to African Americans in the judicial system.
Relations worsened during the Rodney King Riots, as riots and protests hit 2,200 Korean small businesses. African Americans felt cheated by the judicial system, as they had faced much more stringent punishments for charges involving an armed weapon, while Korean Americans felt targeted and attacked by the African American community for having their businesses destroyed. This led to Korean Americans being divided by those who felt abandoned by the police and those who felt threatened by African Americans in their community.
- African American–Jewish relations
- Gangs in the United States are often a vehicle for inter-ethnic conflict
- Homophobia in ethnic minority communities
- Racism in the United States
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