Racial undercurrent to attacks on Asian Americans

The death of Tian Sheng Yu after a senseless beating on an Oakland, CA, street has brought up the issue of racial tensions between Asian Americans and African Americans (the suspects in the attack are black).

Yu died Tuesday after he was knocked to the ground Friday and never regained consciousness.Police and community groups aren’t saying much about it, but it’s hard not to think about the racial element to this and recent attacks on Asian Americans in a San Francisco neighborhood that’s been historically African American but where a recent influx of Asians, mostly Chinese, have moved in. Huan Chen, 83, died after being kicked and punched in January in San Francisco’s Bayview district.

Yu was attacked after his son was punched in the street earlier in a seemingly unprovoked confrontation. And some of the San Francisco incidents, including Chen’s, seemed to be unprovoked as well.

That’s not to say only Asian Americans are the targets of racism. It goes the other way as well; there’s racism on the part of Asians and Asian Americans toward African Americans and others, such as the highly publicized 1991 killing of  Latasha Harlins, an African American teenager shot to death by Korean American storekeeper Soon Ja Du in Los Angeles.

The recent attacks are wrong no matter who the perpetrators or victims are, but is race or some cultural misunderstandings at play here? Or is it just some bad people, who happen to be black, doing bad things to people who  happen to be Asian? Or are Asian Americans stereotyped as inviting targets because they’re perceived to be carrying valuables, as this story  suggests, or that they won’t fight back?

This post is also on the Hyphen magazine blog.