One would think that eight long years of the first black President in American history would finally closed the books on racial division in the country. In the post-Obama America, were we not promised an era of enlightenment free from racial strife? After all a black man was elected to the nation’s highest office, not once but twice. Instead, our cities are burning, businesses ransacked, citizens assaulted and communities terrorized across America. The truth is these grievances have been fueled by decades of propaganda that deliberately pits blacks against whites and Americans against each other with the media as the distribution mechanism plus our universities have for too long been a breeding ground for militant social-justice warriors. With the killing of George Floyd, these self-avowed revolutionaries seized on the opportunity to launch their orchestrated insurrection across America. Thanks to Rohm Emanuel, Obama’s ex-chief of staff, who once quipped, “never let a good crisis go to waste,” we now know those seeking political advantage routinely exploit tragedies to advance their agendas.
There is no doubt today’s American politics is utterly toxic, made so by the underhandedness of those with an insatiable appetite for power. Their willingness to accept collateral damage at any cost in their quest for political power is quite literally ripping the nation apart. Clearly, we must detox our politics, return to civility and heal the divisions in America not only for our peace and tranquility, but also to deny those who weaponize racial grievances to declare war on our institutions, our traditions and our very way of life. To permit anarchy to be unchecked as weak officials have done is an afront to the rule of law and an existential threat to our Constitutional Republic. That must change.
There exists an obsession about race that’s routinely forced upon us along with the unrelenting drumbeat of racial injustice. Much of these grievances however are politically motivated deliberately fanning the flames of rage. Black Lives Matters originated from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, but “hands up don’t shoot” never happened. The officer involved was cleared by Obama’s Attorney General for self-defense against Brown’s attempt to go after his weapon. Despite the truth an angry racially charged Social-Justice movement was born becoming yet another political tool aimed at achieving a specific partisan objective, in this case, to defund America’s Police.
Regardless of the motives or whether the movement is grass roots or Astro Turf, they’re driving real policy changes. Legitimate or not, the race baiters are achieving their objectives. It’s hard to know exactly where the latest racial crisis will take us. But one thing is certain, we’re still not having an honest conversation about race relations nor has any genuine solutions been forthcoming. Instead what we are witnessing is shameless pandering and political gamesmanship with no attempt to lower the temperature.
I am an American of Chinese descent. My parents were originally from Shanghai, China. Our family lived on four continents before permanently residing in America. My personal journey as an ethnic minority in most of the places where I lived may offer a unique perspective as to how one deals with racial bias. After immigrating here in 1968 and having gone through the naturalization process, I am now a proud American citizen.
According to government documentation, I am labeled “Asian.” Our system goes further, we categorize citizens as “Caucasian, African American, Latino, Hispanic, Pacific Islanders, or Native American.” This has always puzzled me. Why make these racial distinctions? Why the obsession with race categorization? Isn’t the artificial use of race as the category label itself creating differences and division? What is the relevance of racial identity particularly when our Declaration of Independence made it clear that “all men are created equal?” The Bible also taught that all men and women are created in the image of God and we are all equally God’s children. Further more, wasn’t it the late great Martin Luther King Jr. who said that we must not judge one by the color of their skin but rather by the content of their character? Yet when filling out a government form to apply for a passport or any official documentation, I must declare my race.
Sure, the argument for “bureaucratic segregation” comes down to the government’s need to monitor the percentage of each race within the overall population. Presumably this provides government social engineers the tools necessary to combat racial bias and ensure racial harmony. So, how’s that working out, America? If that indeed is the reason behind the need to identify every person racially, then we can declare with certainty that the government has failed America miserably. That is unless there’s a hidden agenda designed to divide us into separate groups, in which case it’s working. Of course, government documents alone don’t incite racism, that’s not the point, what is at issue, is the attitude our society has been conditioned to have about race. Instead of accentuating what we all share in common, those seemingly innocuous bureaucratic forms serve as constant reminders of our differences. I’m not suggesting a fix for this flaw in our bureaucracies. I merely use it as one example of problems in our system that in my view exacerbates what is already a divisive issue plaguing America.
What is racism and how does one deal with it? The dictionary defines racism as: “the belief that inherent differences among various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior.” This belief is racial prejudice or racism. Clearly it is ugly and grounded in ignorance, but tragically, history has taught us that racism has been the catalyst of monstrous and unspeakable acts by those claiming racial superiority such as the Holocaust and slavery. In modern America, however, how should we deal with racism? We do live in a nation of laws and the laws are clear. Our Constitution is unequivocal in the equal protection of rights regardless of race, creed, ethnic origin or religious affiliation. But what if you are confronted with racism, how should you deal with it? And as a nation, how should America deal with it?
Before addressing these questions, let me share my personal experiences growing up as an ethnic minority on three of the four continents where we lived. My father was a career naval officer in the Nationalist Chinese Navy prior to the Communist occupation. He studied in Great Britain before WWII returning to China as a young wartime navy officer. With the fall of China in 1949, the Nationalist Chinese government took refuge on Taiwan where it remains today. In part due to his English education my father was tapped as an envoy for Taiwan’s Nationalist Chinese government. His assignments brought our family from South East Asia to West Africa, Europe and the United States. An important foot note regarding life as a son of a diplomat: The Government of the Republic of China which took refuge on Taiwan in 1949 had a virtually empty national treasury. While a transient lifestyle on four different continents as diplomats may sound glamourous, this was entirely not the case with us in those days. Life even as ambassador was financially challenging as salaries were modest to the point of near poverty. My father may have been an ambassador, but we lived a modest existence.
As a young boy having to switch schools from Thailand in South East Asia to Sierra Leone West Africa was terribly traumatic. Besides the obvious difficulties of leaving behind friends there was the cultural shock of living on another continent. This was especially so in the early sixties when communication with friends were by snail mail, and the world was far less culturally connected unlike today. I had never met an African before moving to Sierra Leone West Africa. Although my father was away at the time, upon our arrival and as a courtesy, the government of Sierra Leone sent an army major to greet our plane. That was my very first encounter with a black person. As we deplaned the major greeted my mother and sister then held out his hand to me. He was an imposing man as I had to look up to the sky at him. He had a great smile and was very pleasant. I shook his hand but no sooner then I did that I pulled my hand back to see if any color had come off. The major knew exactly what was happening and let out a laugh. He was amused despite my mother being mortified! Without a hint of being bothered, he joked and put us all at ease. As a young boy who had not met an African before that day, my actions were completely innocent albeit terribly ignorant. I wasn’t frightened by the major nor was I in anyway thinking of him as inferior, I was genuinely curious. The major was a distinguished man and projected great confidence. He never thought for a second the actions of a young boy was insulting, to the contrary, he was amused by the innocent faux pa of a naïve young boy. To this day, I have many fond memories of our years in Sierra Leone. My sister and I went to the local school with friends of many nationalities and cultural backgrounds. Our circle of friends included Sierra Leonian, Lebanese, American, Chinese, German, Israeli, English, and French. I even invited the Russian Ambassador’s daughter to one of our teen socials. When you consider this was during the Cold War, that was a big deal! But none of us cared about skin color, race, ethnicity, politics, or religious affiliation. None of that mattered or even crossed our minds. We simply enjoyed each other’s company and shared a truly wonderful time as friends and school mates.
In the Fall of 1968, I left Africa for the United States. Thanks to my brother who graduated Magna Cum Laude four years earlier, I was able to go to the same boarding school on a full scholarship. Life in a Connecticut boarding school was yet another major cultural shift. I missed home, my folks and friends I left behind in Africa. As I settled into boarding school life, I began observing something that troubled me even at the age of 14. I noticed that black students socialized mostly with each other and rarely with white students unless they played sports together. I wondered why the blacks seemed to prefer self-imposed segregation. Had they been ostracized? I certainly saw no evidence of that. While I found it strange at first, eventually I was resigned to the fact that in America there appeared to be a level of tension surrounding race relations. What was curious to me was not that blacks were treated badly per se but that there seems to be an attitude by many whites to patronize rather than engage and embrace blacks as peers. That maybe based on a variety of factors but it comes down to an uneasiness to engage and to treat one another as equals. Sure, there were certainly exceptions and over the decades I was glad to see that the exceptions have become much more the rule. Being much more accepting of one another, however, took many years since my arrival in 1968. Conversely, I had always observed an air of resentment on the part of the black students that contributed to that tension. Much of it is in how black kids talked to each other in ways white kids would find difficult to be comfortable with. There was a deliberate effort to be different, to speak differently, behave differently in a way that screams their “blackness” or project their “black experience.” It was as if a barrier of attitudes and words were erected as a counter measure to the patronizing whites. That barrier made it more challenging for both sides to get to know one another, overcome preconceptions, build lasting trust, and become friends.
In some ways, I do empathize because no one wants to be patronized and treated like children or worse, like a second-class citizen who only deserves pandering. That is most offensive and is indeed prejudicial. I recall on one occasion when I was introduced to a family in waspy Fairfield County Connecticut. A lady I had just met was offering me treats, looked me right in the eyes and spoke to me at half the normal speed but at twice the normal volume. She enunciated every syllable as though I was either hard of hearing or had a cognitive impairment. She must have known I understood English, because I was her nephew’s classmate. So why the grossly patronizing tone? She clearly had no idea that the way in which she was offering me tea and cupcakes was so offensive. I felt sorry for her, because she obviously had little to no exposure to non-white persons like me. Her behavior could only be described as ignorant. I had a choice, I could be angry and embarrass her nephew, my friend and classmate, or I could simply ignore it. I chose the latter.
The Royal Naval College in Greenwich England was an exclusive school dedicated to the best and brightest young officers from the British Royal Navy. It was historically unprecedented in 1937 when my father as a young Chinese navy officer was sent there to study. No doubt he dealt with issues relating to racial prejudice, so when I experienced a couple of upsetting incidents in school, I turned to my father for advice. What I learned was both enlightening and liberating. He said if someone insulted me because of my skin color or nationality, while my instincts may be one of anger, I should stop to think, “are you what they said, or is the insult baseless?” I would bristle, “but how dare they…” to which my father said, “if you’ve nothing to be ashamed of or have done nothing wrong, you’re not the problem, they are.” He continued, “When someone insults you and treats you as something you know you’re not, it’s a clear a reflection of their ignorance and character flaw, so you have two choices, you can either let it get under your skin or you can ignore what isn’t true. And instead of being angry, you should have pity on them. Their character flaw deserves not your anger but rather your empathy.” If only we taught everyone who have been racially victimized this very lesson.
In college I noticed that those racial tensions were even more intense. I remember my first day as a freshman, my roommate asked if we could go to see the Dean of Students together. I said yes since I too had a date with the Dean. But when we compared notes, turns out I was to see the Minority Dean and my roommate from Greenwich Connecticut was to meet with the regular Dean of Students of the college. I kept my appointment but what I was subjected to I found most disturbing even as an 18 year old freshman. I was told I needed to join the Minority Student Union where I would meet other minorities and participate in the special activities uniquely suited to African Americans, Asians and other minorities. I was told there were programs for minority students that were only available to us. Then I received a pep talk about solidarity with minorities on campus. That was my first and last meeting with the school’s Minority Dean. I was familiar with Affirmative Action but for the life of me I could not reconcile why a college would deliberately treat minority students differently from the rest of the student body. Why was I told to “belong” to a specific group? Why are there “special” programs designed for me and to which my roommate from Greenwich would not have access? Was it a special workaround that gave me an edge over white students or was it a perk just because I was a minority student? I didn’t want a crutch nor did I want any special treatment. Either way was wrong. I valued my dignity too much to accept a handout. As a freshman I was ready to take on the challenges of college and needed to succeed on my own merits. I was appalled.
Decades later I now see with clarity that what I was experiencing in my school years was in fact the systemic separation of minorities from whites. Regardless of the motivation for these policies, it is clear that our educational institutions have deleteriously contributed to the appalling race relations in America. This is particularly sad to me personally because almost a half century later I am witnessing a backwards march towards more racial division compared to those years as young teenagers when we enjoyed a much more enlightened and racially harmonious existence.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The problem is obvious, Institutions are talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand they honor and revere Dr. King and his teachings that we are to be judged by the content of our character, yet they implement policies that are completely antithetical to those very principles. As parents we know we must be consistent. You don’t tell your son not to do something then turn around and allow your daughter to do exactly that. What do you think that does to your children? Do that often enough and what do you think happens to your sons and daughters? Is there any wonder why there’s so much cynicism, resentment, distrust, disrespect and rage today?
So what’s the solution? The answer, we are! Each and every one of us! It’s a terrible cop out to wait for the right political leadership to come along to fix everything. That day may never come. Instead it is up to each and every one of us to do our part to heal the cancerous racial divisions in America. We must speak out against the heinous exploitation of the hatred created by those seeking political power at any cost. We have a duty to God and country to do what is right and to ensure our future generations may truly enjoy a society free of prejudice and hatred because we will have passed on to them the wisdom of judging one another only by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin.