Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Republican Racism Example #43: "Paying Uncle Chang" For Our Wars

U.S. House Rep.  Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, found a colorful way to express his concern over how the United States is borrowing money from China to pay for an imperial war in Afghanistan.

Questioning Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Jones asked, "What is the event that the administration and General Allen, you sir, are going to be candid with the United States Congress and more important than the Congress, the American people as we spend $10 billion a month that we can't pay for, the Chinese, Uncle Chang, is lending us the money we are spending in Afghanistan." (For the video, see http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entries/rep-walter-jones-america-borrowing-from-uncle-chang?ref=fpblg).

Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina doesn't like paying "Uncle Chang" for our wars. (Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_B._Jones,_Jr.).

“Uncle Chang.”  That’s the new Republican shorthand for “China.”  Sort of like using “Rastus” to refer to African Americans.

I anticipate that anti-Chinese hysteria and stereotyping of Asians will become a more strident theme in Republican politics in the coming months.  I call it “yellow-faced minstrelsy.”

In one example of this phenomenon, in a television advertisement for his U.S. Senate campaign in Michigan, Republican Pete Hoekstra used a Chinese American actress to play an Asian peasant in a rice field.  The character, in a thick accent and pidgin English, thanks Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow (who she calls “Debbie Spent-It-Now”) for supposedly contributing to the U.S. debt to China through support of reckless spending bills.  (See more at http://republicanracism.blogspot.com/2012/02/republican-racism-example-9.html).

Republicans, of course, didn’t care about the national debt or yearly budget deficits when one of their own, George W. Bush, was president.  They only became obsessed with balanced budgets when a Democrat, Barack Obama, was sworn in.  And since Obama started his term in January 2009, Republicans have relentlessly portrayed him as un-American – as a foreign-born illegal alien and a socialist secret agent of revolution.

 This barely concealed racism about Obama’s national identity, and loyalty to America, have overlapped in the racist Republican mind with the massive borrowing from creditors like China by the U.S. government.  Under the traitorous Obama, Republicans warn, America become the puppet of the sinister yellow menace in Beijing.  The “heathen Chinee” will control us through their control of our national purse strings. Republicans are kicking it old school here, dipping into late 19th and early 20th century imagery of the dangerous Chinese ravishing America.

An Anti-Chinese cartoon from the early 20th century.  (Image from http://www.pbs.org/becomingamerican/images/ce_witness_2_lg.jpg). 

Manipulated by their employers and cynical politicians, white workers burned down Chinese neighborhoods and lynched Chinese immigrants in the American West in the late 19th century. (For an excellent history of this, read George Takaki's book Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th Century America.)  Chinese-baiting is a dangerous game modern Republicans are playing.  They would do well to remind themselves of what happened the last time Americans were whipped into resentment and anger against Asians.  Because of unfair trade policies adopted by the United States and bad marketing decisions by the auto industry, tens of thousands of Americans lost good-paying auto manufacturing jobs in the United States as an ever-larger share of buyers in the 1970s and 1980s purchased cars made in Japan.  Resentments among American workers boiled over, culminating in the June 19, 1982 murder of Vincent Chin.  As the Asian Week website recalls

”A young draftsman named Vincent Chin was attending his bachelor party at a suburban Detroit strip club called Fancy Pants. With the party in full swing, Chin and Ronald Ebens, a white autoworker, began trading insults across the bar. "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work," witnesses later remembered Ebens yelling at Chin.

Chin struck Ebens, and an altercation ensued. Ebens' stepson, Michael Nitz - who had been recently laid off from his job at an autoplant - jumped in. But it was soon broken up by a parking attendant. Chin and his friends left the bar and went their separate ways. Twenty minutes later, Ebens and Nitz caught up with Chin in front of a fast-food restaurant. Ebens grabbed a baseball bat and delivered a blow to Chin's leg. Nitz held the wounded Chin, while Ebens struck his head with the bat, bashing his skull in.

Before he slipped into a coma, Chin murmured to a friend, "It's not fair." Four days later - and five days before his wedding - Chin died as a result of the injuries he sustained during the beating.

The incident on June 19, 1982, seemed an almost perfect metaphor for anti-Asian sentiment in America. It was ignorant; Ebens and Nitz presumed Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American, was Japanese. It was economically motivated; the two autoworkers blamed the Japanese - and, mistakenly, Chin - for the ailing U.S. auto industry and the consequential loss of jobs. And it was horribly violent; the use of a baseball bat as a murder weapon was a brutal act and an equally brutal reminder of Americana.

But if the beating itself was emblematic of the racial prob-lems in America, the subsequent trial challenged many Asian Pacific Americans' faith in the American way.

A poster for the documentary "Vincent Who?" about Vincent Chin's murder by unemployed white Michigan utoworkers.  (Photo from http://blog.sfgate.com/reyeschow/2012/02/07/remembering-vincent-chin-pete-hoekstra-and-being-asian-in-america/). 

Ebens and Nitz were charged with and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. For this, they each received a sentence of three years probation and a $3,000 fine - a sentence that many APA community leaders perceived as a slap on the wrist.

Later federal civil-rights cases brought against the two defendants were appealed, and the juries acquitted each of them. Neither served a jail sentence.”  (For more, see http://asianweek.com/061397/feature.html).

In the last two decades, Republicans have fed hatred towards a black, president, against immigrants, against Muslims and against gays.  According to the Southern Poverty law Center, Latinos, Muslims and gays are now the primary victims of hate crimes in this country.  Racism is a ravenous monster, ever in need of feeding.  The Chinese are the next victims on the list.  Let’s hope no one else gets killed as “yellow-faced minstrelsy” plays politically across the land.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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