Coming Together: Understanding the history of tension between the Black and Asian communities

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- During these highly divisive times when Asian Americans are already feeling targeted because of coronavirus-related discrimination and when the Black Lives Matter movement has been reignited, as Black people continue to die at the hands of police officers at disproportionate rates; the anger and frustration between the Black and Asian communities can't be ignored.

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In order to understand how both communities can be better allies to one another you first have to understand the long and complicated history between the two.

"While there is sometimes anti-Asian sentiment and otherness we feel in interpersonal relationships or encounters on the street for example. That is very different from the anti-black, multigenerational, systemic violence that's happening," said Bianca Mabute-Louie.

Mabute-Louie is an Asian American studies educator and says historical context is key.

"I really try to frame these conversations against the oppression Olympics because again it's not helpful and try to frame for them that's how these systems and these white supremacist leaders want us to think," said Mabute-Louie.

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As you move further up America's historical timeline Black history is different from other minorities because of slavery. Howeverm Mabute-Louie says Black and Asian communities often found themselves in interconnected struggles.

"Yellow Peril is the stereotype from when Asians first started immigrating to this country for labor and for the Gold Rush. That Asians are dangerous, that they're dirty, they carry diseases with them," said Mabute-Louie.

Mabute-Louie says Black communities wrote letters and sent food to Japanese people in internment camps and Filipino and Chinese organizers in the Bay Area were inspired by the Black Panther Party.

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But around the late 1960s and into the 1980s the "model minority" stereotype emerged and was even used by President Ronald Reagan.

"He wanted to defund social welfare programs, he wanted to dismantle affirmative action, and so what was really convenient for him to use at that time was the model minority stereotype," said Mabute-Louie. "Which is the stereotype that because Asians have a strong work ethic, or good family values,."

Some would say Pres. Reagan's rhetoric helped fuel divisiveness today and did so in the following cases.

In 1991, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was shot in the back and died. Soon Ja Du, a Korean convenience store owner shot her. Du accused Harlins of trying to steal orange juice though Harlins had money in her hand. Du was sentenced to time served, community service, probation and a fine. Harlin's murder contributed to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

In 2014, NYPD officer Peter Liang shoot and killed Akai Gurley. Liang said his gun went off on accident, but he did not perform CPR or radio for help. Gurley was unarmed. Liang's sentence was reduced to probation and community service. Many Asian communities protested in support of Liang, but not Gurley.

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In 2017, an 81-year-old Asian woman was pushed off a MUNI platform. The elderly victim survived the attack. 51-year-old San Francisco resident Jacqueline Miller was arrested for the crime. Miller told investigators she assaulted the victim because of her ethnicity.

In 2019 and into 2020, Asian American elder abuse spiked in San Francisco. 89-year-old Yik Oi Huang was found beaten and left to die in a Visitation Valley playground. A woman was seen assaulted and dragged through the Stockton Tunnel for her purse. Then a can collector was attacked and humiliated in San Francisco's Bayview. These are just some of the multitude of crimes in a short amount of time.

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In 2020, Boba Guys faced intense backlash amid reports of racist comments. It took two and a half years for a manager who made racist comments toward Black employees on social media to be fired. Founders acknowledge systemic and "rampant" racism in their organization and vowed to improve company culture.

So where do we go from here?

Already, we're seeing shows of solidarity across the country and right here in the Bay Area.

In Chicago, more than a thousand marched from a Chinese church to a historically Black one. A show of unity between communities that have both suffered in different ways.

"This is an end of the silence. This is us pledging to stop that and use our voice on behalf of those that are hurting, even if they don't look like us." says a deacon.

In Oakland, the Fortune Cookie Factory is making Black Lives Matter cookies with quotes from prominent members of the African-American community. Proceeds from sales go toward the NAACP.

Mabute-Louie has created Instagram slides about how to talk to Asian family members and friends about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Whatever the method, the systems designed to hold back both the Black and Asian communities, is still the same system.
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