Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ying Ma, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. She is the author of the new book, Chinese Girl in the Ghetto , which has been endorsed by Ward Connerly, Founder and President of the American Civil Rights Institute and the man who has led the fight to end state-sponsored racial quotas and preferences across the country; and by Xiao Qiang, Adjunct Professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a prominent Chinese human rights activist.
FP: Ying Ma, welcome to Frontpage Magazine.
Tell us about your new book.
Ying Ma: Thank you Jamie.
The book, at its most basic level, is a story about a little girl’s journey from the insidiousness of Chinese authoritarianism to the horrors of inner-city America. The story begins in China in the late 1970s, where economic reforms are rapidly transforming the country into a more hopeful, more colorful place, and where our protagonist immerses herself in a world of fantasy and foreign influences while grappling with the mundane vagaries of Communist rule. In the mid-1980s, she happily immigrates to Oakland, California, expecting her new life to be far better in all ways than life in China. Instead, she discovers crumbling schools, unsafe streets, and racist people. In the land of the free, she comes of age amid the dysfunction of a city’s brokenness and learns to hate in the shadows of urban decay. The book is a story about her journey and how she prevailed.
FP: And that little girl is you, you’re the Chinese girl in the ghetto.
YM: Yes, the book is autobiographical. It is about my family’s journey from Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, to inner-city Oakland, California.
FP: On your website, you refer to the book as “a politically incorrect memoir.” What makes it politically incorrect?
YM: The book is politically incorrect mainly in a couple of ways. For one, it makes clear, through my experiences, that racial minorities are capable of profound racism. As you know, this is a politically incorrect thing to say because our political culture often views minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics, as victims of racism who are incapable of being racists. When individuals from these groups commit racist acts, people have a tendency to look away. This is outrageous not only for the targets of racism, but it is also unfortunate for those behaving in a racist manner because they’re never held to the same standards of personal responsibility and decency as others. In my book, I don’t look away, and my hope is that the book will help shatter the hypocrisy and the soft bigotry of low expectations commonly found in this country’s racial discourse.
FP: Tell us some other ways in which your book is politically incorrect.
YM: The political correctness that prevents people from acknowledging ghetto racism has a flip side: it advocates special treatment for racial minorities. Both are premised on the assumption that certain racial minorities are perpetual victims who can never stand on their own two feet.
My book delivers a very different message. It tells a story about an immigrant family that arrives in America without English skills or financial resources. The parents work in menial jobs, at first earning less than minimum wage. Their two children wear clothing purchased from Goodwill or handed down from their relatives. The family uses second-hand furniture and at first, each of the children sleeps on half of a bed—one on the mattress and the other on the box springs. But five years after arriving in America, the family achieves home ownership, albeit in a bad neighborhood. A few years after that, one of the children makes her way into an Ivy League university.
There is nothing inevitable about this story. At each stage, someone exercises a personal choice. The mother who was once a school teacher in China chooses to become a seamstress in a sweatshop in America instead of letting her children go hungry. The daughter chooses to study day and night instead of skipping school or otherwise spending time “on the streets.” The family chooses to save for home ownership rather than splurging on fancier clothing or better snacks. Because of their choices, this family makes its way out of an impoverished and crime-filled ghetto.
I hope that after reading this story, people will recognize that no matter how underprivileged a child is in America, this country is a land of abundant opportunities and one can succeed without racial preferences, pandering from politicians, an endless slew of government handouts or all the supposed benefits sought by the racial grievance industry.
A story like this should not be politically incorrect, but if you think about the policy implications of the story, then many of our public policies based on the ideology of victimhood look a lot like hogwash. In many ways, these implications are perhaps even more politically incorrect than an honest discussion of ghetto racism.
FP: On ghetto racism, can you tell us more about how Asians come in contact with it and how you yourself have experienced it?
YM: It is quite common for Asians who are in America’s major urban centers to be at the receiving end of racism. For me growing up in Oakland, encountering racism from blacks, and to a lesser extent, Hispanics, was a regular phenomenon, and a daily occurrence in junior high and high school. Asian people—Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean or Filipino—are frequently berated as “Chinamen” and threatened or attacked physically. While Asians certainly are not immune to racist attitudes themselves—one would be hard pressed to find an older Asian immigrant who would be thrilled if his daughter brought home a black man, Asians usually keep their attitudes private. This does not make the racist attitudes any less unfortunate (and these attitudes do improve over time, especially with younger Asians who grow up in this country), but they are clearly distinguishable from the very public and often physical humiliations that other racial minorities regularly inflict on Asians. For instance, rarely would you see Asians screaming racial epithets at black people in public places, or threatening to inflict, or actually inflicting, bodily harm against someone because he is black.
FP: Share with us the bodily harm you are talking about.
YM: There are countless examples of troubling black-on-Asian violence, but let me just offer a short list from the year 2010. In April, two black teenagers punched a Chinese immigrant, 59-year-old Tian Sheng Yu, in the mouth in downtown Oakland. He fell on his head, spent the next few days in critical care, and subsequently died. The same two teenagers assaulted the victim’s 27-year-old son before and after they assaulted the father. Between late March and early April of the same year, five black teenagers assailed five older Asian women, including one who was 71 years old, 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 beating her. The criminals in each of these cases acted for no apparent reason aside from the satisfaction of perpetrating a beating.
My book does not focus on these crimes, but the crimes I mention here took place when I was working on my book, and I note in the book’s introduction that my writing was very much animated by the grotesqueness of the attacks and the eagerness with which elected politicians, community leaders and members of the media dismissed or denied the racial element of the crimes.
FP: Expand a bit on black-on Asian racist crimes and crime that is racially motivated.
Ma: I hope that my book will bring attention to the plight of everyone, not just Asian people, who suffer from the ugliness of the ghetto. And of course not every incident of black-on-Asian crime is racist.
This issue of black-on-Asian violence is complicated, but we shouldn’t be afraid to tackle it. First, let’s break it down. There is crime, there is crime plus racism, and then there’s just racism. Sometimes, the crime has nothing to do with racism. For example, a criminal simply wants to rob somebody and he doesn’t care who it is, so he robs the first black, white or yellow person whose wallet is potentially full.
But is it really that simple? On a lot of occasions, Asians feel that they’re the target of crimes because they’re Asian or because of the characteristics commonly associated with being Asian (e.g., smaller in size, more likely to carry cash in their pockets, less likely to fight back, don’t speak English and are less able to seek help from law enforcement officials, etc.). So when criminals target them, they’re doing racial profiling, criminal-style. Are the crimes that result racist? Well, race is definitely an intrinsic part of it, even if it’s an unarticulated or subconscious part. At a minimum, such crimes are racially motivated, and there’s something really disingenuous about dismissing any racial element whatsoever when crimes like these are perpetrated.
Now when you throw in crimes that do not have a profit motive or does not create an tangible benefit for the criminal, then it becomes a much more serious race matter. If the criminals are not after money or sex, why are they just beating up yellow people? In the aftermath of the black-on-Asian crimes that I’ve listed for 2010, quite a few public figures argued that some of the attacks could not have been racially motivated because the assailants had previously attacked black people too. But one can be a thug and a racist; the two are not mutually exclusive; and we should stop pretending that they are.
This leads us back to my book. As I describe in my book, ghetto racism encompasses both the criminal and non-criminal. When non-criminal, racist behavior takes place in the ghetto frequently, without anyone batting an eye, one must ask: at what point does this non-criminal racism motivate a racist crime? In my book, I talk about getting into a fight with a Mexican girl in junior high school. I’m sure she wasn’t planning to get into a fight with a nerdy Asian girl like me; she was just being a racist and expected me to put up with it like every other Asian girl at our school. When I did not, violence ensued. So the question is: if you’re a teenager and you grow up in an environment where it’s okay to discriminate against Asian people, are you really going to think twice about punching a “Chinaman” for no reason? Probably not.
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