UNITED STATES: Hollywood's Pearl Harbor, Asian Americans and racism


SAN FRANCISCO — Consider the irony of two events that occurred a couple days apart last month. On May 23, the first Chinese American ever to be elected to the US Congress was denied entry to the Department of Energy offices in Washington, DC. The member of the House of Representatives, along with his Asian-American aide, was stopped by security guards for not being able to prove to their satisfaction that he is a citizen of the United States!

Two days later the giant movie conglomerate, Disney, opened its $140 million blockbuster, Pearl Harbor, across the US, in Japan (with some editing to meet local sensitivities) and other countries. Many US cities with Asian communities beefed up security at theatres in fear of a possible "backlash" (by whom was never said) against Asian Americans.

Does race matter in the US of A? According to President George W. Bush and the ultraconservatives who oppose affirmative action to meet centuries of discriminations based on colour and ethnic background, it is only coincidence when racist incidents take place.

In reality, race does matter.

It is a scientific, biological fact that there is no such thing as "race". Genetically speaking human beings are basically the same no matter their physical appearance. Yet, there is a social reality that race does exist in the ideology of the ruling elites, particularly in the United States.

Racism is based on this false ideology of race, which is used to rationalise discrimination and maintain the economic divisions and super-exploitation of all peoples of colour. This includes the so-called "model" minority — Asians.

Race matters because, as Representative David Wu of Oregon learned, the security guards didn't care that he is a member of Congress. He is Chinese, and therefore, in their eyes, couldn't be trusted to be telling the truth. Anyone can get a fake identification.

In a letter of protest to the Department of Energy, Wu wrote: "The conduct of the DOE guards is both ironic and disturbing." Ironic, because Wu came to the DOE to deliver a speech to Asian Americans in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Disturbing, because the DOE spokesperson, Jeanne Lopatto, said it was a "simple mistake" and that the guards were simply doing their job.

But think if Wu wasn't a member of Congress? Maybe he and his Asian-American aide would be sitting in jail today as possible "terrorist" threats.

Wu spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives the next day after considering it was a "simple mistake". "However", he told his colleagues, he changed his mind because "this is not about the treatment of any individual. I am disturbed that yesterday's incident is the tip of the iceberg, an indicator of a much larger problem at DOE which may be damaging our national security".

The fact is Wu did show his Congressional ID twice. It didn't matter. It took the intervention of a supervisor for Wu to get into the building to give his speech.

The DOE incident confirms the worst fears of many Asian Americans about what citizenship in this country is. There is one standard for "whites" and another (inferior) for people of colour. No wonder fewer Asian-American scholars are seeking or taking jobs in the government as Wu told Congress after his personal insult.

Pearl Harbor strikes fear

The movie Pearl Harbor provides another example of how race matters in the US. The media hoopla is very scary to many Asians because it glorifies the US military and presents Japan and the Japanese people in a very negative, one-sided way. (I haven't seen the movie yet.)

Most significantly, according to reviews, the film fails to point out that more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were thrown into concentration camps during the World War II for simply looking Japanese. The so-called "relocation camps" denied Japanese Americans their basic rights, property and jobs. No answers are offered (or apologies) why only Americans of Japanese ancestry were thrown into camps, not Americans of German and Italian heritage.

Anti-Asian sentiments (all Asians look "the same" to most whites) have been on the rise since the Wen Ho Lee case last year and the spy plane incident in China. Today the Bush government sees China as the new "evil empire" and seeks to "contain" it. Bush pushes for a missile defence system that is for all intents and purposes a step toward preparing a new war against the rising Asian power of China. This occurs as Americans businesses expand their economic penetration of the Peoples Republic of China.

Paul Dibb, an Australian defence analyst, said of the Bush strategy toward China, "It's a classical power game. China is emerging as the natural regional leader, and it knows it. And only one country is capable of stopping it. That's what this is all about." (Business Week, May 28)

War and racism go hand in hand. As Washington's anti-China campaign heats up, it will have repercussions on race relations in the US. America's working people, especially those of the white racial group, must choose between the racial chauvinism of the capitalist rulers or unity and solidarity with the "other Americans", with working people of colour.


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