Vulnerable Asians struggle in American concrete jungle
Published: Jan 20, 2022 04:42 PM
A vigil held in honour of Michelle Go, whose image is displayed on a near by building (top, rear),in Times Square, New York on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

A vigil held in honour of Michelle Go, whose image is displayed on a near by building (top, rear), in Times Square, New York on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Hundreds of people gathered in New York's Times Square on Tuesday night local time for a vigil in memory of another Asian American who lost her life in an unthinkable tragedy. Michelle Alyssa Go, a New York resident of Asian descent, was fatally shoved in front of a moving train by a homeless man in the Times Square subway station Saturday local time. The police said there is no indication that the brutal attack was a hate crime as the man was mentally ill.

It is heartbreaking enough whatever caused Go's death. But setting aside the mental health of the attacker, the number of people of Asian descent who are shot, robbed, killed, and pushed onto the subway tracks has been on a sharp rise. Yet they have merely caused a few ripples in US public opinion. The Asian American community has formed almost no thundering voices or formidable protests against these hate crimes. 

Are Asians in the US too submissive? If the victims in similar tragedies were African Americans, or Whites or Jews, how would the public opinion and US society react? 

Lower social status

"Another Asian woman killed and the discourse keeps repeating itself like a broken record that nobody listens to… We need to have an honest conversation about safety. As an Asian American woman, I don't feel safe," tweeted Julie Ae Kim, an Asian American living in New York City on Tuesday. 

Kim is right, as essentially, this is not about installing more security cameras or transit safety barriers like many Twitter users have been discussing. This is a sharp reminder that Asian Americans have been and will continue to fear for their personal security, and their status in US society. 

"Asian Americans are panicking. We tend to feel concerned and anxious when going outside, wondering if such horrible attacks will happen to one of us next time," Keith Cheng , chairman of New York-based Fukien American Association, told Global Times.

Reports show Go was an MBA graduate of NYU's prestigious Stern School of Business and worked for Deloitte. She was a kind-hearted person and a volunteer advocating for homeless people for over 10 years. Unfortunately, all those failed to prevent her senseless death in her 40s. Even a psychopath picked an Asian to attack, rather than people next to her who are from other ethnic minorities. Does that to some extent tell about Asian Americans' status in the US - easy targets for bullies? 

The number of anti-Asian incidents reported in the subway jumped last year, The City, a New York City media outlet reported earlier this month, adding that the NYPD reported in December that anti-Asian incidents rose by 361 percent from the previous year. "In the subway, police say victims have been beaten, pushed in front of oncoming trains, spit on and hit with racial slurs — and advocates say the numbers only begin to reflect the whole of the hatred aimed at Asian riders, estimating that only 10 to 30 percent of violent incidents are reported to law enforcement," the report continued. 

Yet Asian Americans have not yet staged a Black Lives Matter-scale campaign against hate crimes and discrimination. 

For centuries, Asian Americans have left the impression that they would grin and bear all injustices and unfairness they confront without fighting back. This has become a key stereotype, Xu Liang, an associate professor at the School of International Relations, Beijing International Studies University, told Global Times. 

They are labeled as "model minority," which sounds beautiful, like a kind of affirmation and compliment. But the hard truths are unveiling a fact: The status of a certain ethnic group cannot be earned by individuals' hard work or incomes. 

The truth is, "as an Asian American, I totally agree with the argument that Asians have a much lower social status than blacks," said a netizen. 

Struggling in a jungle world

Due to their culture, Asians tend to be modest, polite and thoughtful. However, such characteristic does not fit in the pirate-style environment of US society, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times. 

American society is a place where the strong prey on the weak and is filled with social Darwinism. Whoever has more wealth and power takes more advantage of the law, and their rights will be better protected. Those without, tend to be ignored with their rights and interests being constantly eroded. Sadly, the Asian group falls into the latter category, Li noted. 

If Go had lived in a real civilized and equal society, her death, and more violent encounters with Asians, would have been preventable. But American society believes in the law of the jungle, and people in it are struggling for interests more and more with fists and screams, rather than abiding by the law. 

The US claims to be a society of the rule of law, but it has been slapped too many times in the face by countless fights and protests by ethnic minority groups. The American legal system protects the wealthy, powerful, and white elites, not the general public, Li said. 

There was a time when the legal system in the US worked better with less violence. Yet things have been changing. Today, it is now full of bad tempers and ruthlessness. And the legal framework of the past can no longer protect Asian Americans. 

There are huge loopholes in US laws, leaving Asian Americans unprotected. Attackers very often escape after assaults. Even if people called the police, and the attackers caught, they're likely to be released the next day, according to Cheng.

In the past year, quite a few US politicians have been wielding their "toxic" political influence in society with discriminatory words against Asians and media outlets have been ramping up their propaganda machine to disparage China. As a result, Asian Americans had to fight two viruses - coronavirus and racism. Both are infectious and fatal. 

Some Chinese netizens even asked, why don't Asians pick up guns to protect themselves? If the day comes when everyone had to guard themselves like that, the US will truly become a jungle.

Asian Americans are needed in the US as they are diligent and seldom complain. But the US does not take Asians seriously, nor does it protect or cherish them. As a result, Asians are falling toward the bottom of the food chain. 

Lack of fighting spirit

The status of Asian individuals can be earned by the hard-working of individuals, but the status of their group requires more unity in the US. 

When Asians are accustomed to making a fortune in a low profile, they fail to realize the significance of forming a united power to influence the media, and they have not formed any interest group on the political stage to strive for more benefits.

If a similar tragedy happens to black people, a new wave of protests will emerge in the US. They will catch the eyeballs of the public opinion, as the latter always chases breaking news, rather than how peaceful Asian Americans are, according to Xu.

Take BML, a campaign that has come to the spotlight of American society and politics. Any unfair incident involving African Americans will trigger a frenzy of public opinion. Politicians will use it as a tool in political infighting, and various articles reflecting on the tragedies will follow one after another. This has become a cycle, something that is missing in Asian groups, Xu pointed out. 

There are almost no Asians behind the mainstream media outlets in the US. American opinion is dominated by George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Oprah Winfrey, Rupert Murdoch, and the Koch Brothers. Studies have shown that Oprah's endorsement of former president Barack Obama was worth one million votes in the primary election.

In most cases, when a hate crime is inflicted on an Asian American, there is no Asian power to influence US public opinion to take it as a big deal. Nor is there any force to challenge US mainstream political forces over the issue in the political arena.

Tragedy follows tragedy because change has not yet arrived. Michelle Go, Zhang Yingying, Zheng Shaoxiong… They should be more than names in news stories. They should have triggered more fighting spirit in Asians.