Monday, April 14, 2008

Structural Racism

Like in Mississippi Masala, Sa-I-Gu’s main conflict is between Asians and blacks, and both movies reveal a pattern in race relations within the United States, one that is restrictive and detrimental to the concept of American identity, whether that is Asian American, African American, Caucasian, or any other American identity. This pattern which I am referring to is the persisting race dichotomy between black and white in the United States. The reasons why enmity still exists between the two groups are various; of course, there is preexisting tension from American history, but one reason mentioned in the movie is socioeconomic difference. Blacks, who are often poorer, are looked down upon by wealthier whites when they commit crimes, and blacks show disdain towards whites for their culture of oppression and their idea of superiority. The relationship between the white community and the black community has an extremely large influence on Asian American identity because often, Asian Americans are forced to “choose” a side.

In Sa-I-Gu for example, I felt that the actions of the African American rioters was them venting out their anger at Asians in proxy for the injustices that felt white society had inflicted on them in the Rodney King case, because they perceived the actions of Asians as similar to those of whites. In many ways, this is true; many Asians tend to look down on blacks as undisciplined and dangerous, but I personally feel that this is more a result of the ethnocentricity of Asian cultures sometimes. After all, China is called “Middle Country” in Chinese for a reason. Regardless of whatever reason, the actions on April the 29th only served to push Asian Americans closer to the “white” side of the racial divide. Many of the woman shopkeepers commented on the fact that they no longer trusted African Americans and that the government should have taken more action to keep African Americans under control.

I feel that this documentary framed Asian Americans justly in portraying them as victims of an entrenched system of racial stereotyping and discrimination, because the existing status of race in the United States is a great barrier to the ability of all groups to move forward. However, I also think that the documentary raised the issue of racial prejudices which Asians might have, but did not discuss it much in any way. While it can be generally accepted that the shopkeepers did not deserve what the rioters did to their properties and livelihoods, it can also be said that the air of disdain (not handing change directly into the hands or not smiling) with which the Korean shopkeepers used in dealing with black customers was also unwarranted. Ultimately, I think things have changed for the better today, as I would not expect a race riot to break out anywhere in the United States right now (though I could be totally mistaken). However, I do believe that prejudices still exist, for reasons that are often archaic and unwarranted, especially when speaking about the prejudices that some Asians have. For that reason, there is still a ways to go.

1 comment:

Mary said...

I didn't watch this documentary, but I do know about the incident you speak of, and I'm thinking about something you mentioned. About why there is tension b/t Blacks and Asians. I agree with you about the strange economic dynamics that go down in places like L.A. I also think it has something to do with the fact that we, minorities, do not try to connect and relate to one another. We are both crying and complaining about the injustices we individually face as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc...we may fear some sort of dissipation of our own issues if we come together. I think that there is inter-minority competition for acceptance into the mainstream of society. I feel it everyday, and I don't like it. It's not a game I want to play. Why can't we all get along? Because we continue to feed the existing power structure by following it...instead of blazing our own path. True Americans are pioneers...there's still plenty of undiscovered country.