When the “Yellow Peril” is reversed

I’m not sure I should be writing this, because no one who subscribes to me is a racist.

At least I hope not.

(Center for Asian American Media)

This essay has to do with anti-Asian bigotry, which is wrong, like all bigotry based on something you were born with.

Due to what some — without evidence as yet — perceive as a hate crime in the attack on “Asian” massage parlors, the issue of crimes against Asians is in the spotlight. We have gone from believing in the “Yellow Peril” to putting the Yellow in Peril. (Sorry about the play on words, but I am trying to make a point.)

Without question, hate crimes are on the rise (as are hate crimes against Jews, some of which were blamed on Donald J. Trump, which I have written about. Trump also gets some blame for the Asian crimes.)

While crimes against Asians are rising, they still are very, very small, about 3,000 last year, many of them verbal. A key difference between attacks on Asians and attacks on Jews is that Asians are visible on the street, while Jews are not. That’s why anti-Semites attack synagogues —- they can be sure of harming Jews there. Like the 2018 attack in Pittsburgh.  

That caused a lot of fear in the Jewish community, but it was not the start of a pogrom. It was one attack by one hate-filled creep. I understand why Asian-Americans are fearful, but they should remember the attacks come from the small lunatic fringe and America stands beside Asians, as it stood behind Jews.

I don’t want to minimize the attacks, but I don’t want them exaggerated either. Spreading fear helps no one.

Here I want to pivot to Asians as immigrants, and, yes, I know the U.S. excluded Chinese by law, a long time ago.

I also remember Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II over fears about their loyalty. That was shameful, of course.

After South Vietnam collapsed, the U.S. got a surge of South Vietnamese, including many who had helped U.S. troops. 

Like most immigrants throughout U.S. history, they were not welcomed everywhere they settled. That has been true of every immigrant group, even white ones. Ask the Irish and Italians. 

Not to mention Slavs and Jews.

I remember the pride I felt in 1985 when two Vietnamese refugees were graduated from West Point — one male, one female — who chose military service to their adopted country.

I believe immigrants are the most fervent believers in the American Dream, and who hold America in the greatest affection. U.S. Rep Ilhan Omar is a notable exception. If she ever thanked America for getting her ass out of an African refugee camp, I haven’t heard it. An immigrant member of the U.S. Congress, she is filled with grievance rather than gratitude. A truly miserable person.

I also remember in 1985 and the surrounding years, on almost every other corner in Center City you would find South Korean vendors selling fruit. They’re gone.


Most immigrants are hard-working, even the illegals, but the Koreans seem to be among the hardest-working, most thrifty, and directed toward education. You can conjure up the Tiger Mom, if you want.

The Koreans cooperate, often through their Christian churches, and help one another. Their children are hitting the books, not the malls. 

What were fruit stands were turned into dry cleaning operations, the niche that Koreans claimed, as Greeks and Albanians had done with diners, Irish with pubs and police service, and Italians with hair cutting and restaurants.

Yes, yes, stereotypes and generalizations, but largely true. In my audience, I doubt I will hear PC groans. 

The Korean mom who operates my dry cleaner — I will not embarrass her by using her name — doesn’t speak English very well, and has an accent. Like my grandmothers.

She and her husband are involved in the business — they have more than one store — and before the pandemic, they were open from 7-7 six days a week. They currently close at 4. They work like dogs.


So their children won’t have to.

They have two children, a boy and a girl.

The boy is a doctor, the girl is a lawyer.

From immigrant status, to a fruit stand, to a dry cleaner, to kids who graduate from elite universities.

They say immigrants make America better. That’s true, and America makes immigrants better. The streets were not paved with gold when my grandparents got here, but they were paved with freedom and opportunity, which they could see even from their walk up, tenement window. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

That is the genius of immigrants, that is the glory of America.

I’m pretty sure my small audience here agrees, so I won’t insult you by urging you to avoid hate.

What I will urge you to do is oppose it, should you see it. 

And let those living in fear know that you are on their side. 

17 thoughts on “When the “Yellow Peril” is reversed”

    Good job and right as usual. You as an old time newspaper guy could show today’s elitists what investigative journalism is all about. Facts, my boy. Nothing but the facts.
    I have to wonder just how much this pandemic has incited the natives to riot – at everything ! There has always been prejudice against just about everyone. Tall, short. Fat, skinny, Black, white and everyone in the rainbow. The problem with prejudice is exactly that. You are prejudging some one without personal knowledge of that person. I’ve seen it before. I don’t need to see it anymore. And as you said, stand up and be counted. Discourage prejudice by being informative. We all know that. We just keep our opinions to our selves. Well, most of you do. Present company excluded.
    You made an excellent point about immigration. It has to be two sided for it to work. The hard working people come here, bringing their positive soul and further instill it into their children. It’s a win – win.

  2. I am a part of your small audience,
    who is surrounded by Progs who would scoff at this wisdom.
    Hate gives them a platform.

  3. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    I am not really sure how pervasive attacks against Asians or Asian American have been of late. For sure, we should stand by people under attack. But perhaps this could be aimed more generally and in less racial terms? Traditionally, at least, everyone has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and this obviously applies to people of Asian background as to anyone else. That’s part of the reason we have police to protect public safety and pursue criminals. America can’t be defined in racial or ethnic terms.

    My sense of the matter is that the focus or emphasis is out of proportion to the problem, though it is difficult to be sure about such things. In the background, perhaps, is the FBI campaign to investigate links between China and Chinese nationals –and sometimes also Chinese-Americans –chiefly in the universities and in high-end research. This has been going on for quite some time, and is designed to protect the results of U.S.-based research against foreign filching. Again, there was the recent blow-up in the Chinese-American diplomatic talks–filed with mutual denunciations. It seems that the Biden administration is not quite so happy with China as we once might have suspected.

    Contrast the scattered (?) attacks on Asians (how does this stand in relation to their proportion of the overall population? –I’ve not seen reports) with the epidemic of gun violence and murder on the streets of major cities. The rates of gun violence are up in all major cities as I understand the matter. Shouldn’t we be concerned with protecting people from attack quite generally? Shouldn’t the larger numbers attract greater attention?

    Historically, it is well known that very high levels of immigration and high levels of immigrants in the cities tends to turn toward communal conflicts –partly about who is to get which jobs. We can blame and prosecute the criminals involved in attacks, certainly; but we should also be aware that there is a potential down-side to recent high levels of mass immigration –especially given our present situation of pent-up frustrations connected with the (needed) Covid restrictions.

    Sometimes immigration is good for the country, and often the most ambitious and industrious people want to come here. But there is virtually no country in the world that does not regulate immigration with one eye on the unemployment rates.

    H.G. Callaway

    1. My gut tells me the hate crimes are more connected to COVID than to the real problem of Chinese spying. Insults frequently mention the virus, not spying, from what I have read.

  4. In a country as divided and polarized as the U.S. today, and where media across the political spectrum tend to irrationally amplify such divisions for profit, it’s not surprising that the politics of identity are similarly amplified. Regrettable, but not surprising.

  5. Martin Luther Kings’ comment on the skin color of a person versus the content of their character was his hope for assimilation and mutual respect. That has not happened because some of the bigots continue to be against all immigrants and minorities. If you could enter into the mental decision-making process of bigots I think there is a fear of anyone who either speaks a different language or participates with only members of their culture, business or a section of the city. For some, it is pigmentation or fear of being a victim of crime. Being stereotypical of any group is innate in some neighborhoods in our city and you hear the same phrase; “They all stick together” as if that was unamerican for a past immigrant to give a helping hand to someone who just arrived seeking the American dream. The answer to the problem is difficult to confront because it is silent and hateful and can become violent when there is a large population of immigrants pouring into the country without using the same legal process that our ancestors followed. Since our country began there has always been a gradual acceptance of immigrants who can assimilate with other members of their culture and religious beliefs. Schooling in the third and fourth grades is where we need to begin to show the content of the person behind a different pigmentation or speaking a different language. I remember the song “To know him is to love him” which I hope could someday express the mutual feelings of both immigrants and citizens as just human beings in the country where the American dream can become a reality to anyone.

  6. Robert Parker, the author, in one of his books had the protagonist say (and I paraphrase) in reference to a gun-toting militiaman hiding in the hills following a murder he’d committed: “He hates Jews, Poles, homosexuals, blacks, Asians, Mexicans…in other words, he hates Americans.” That’s pretty profound for a simple declarative sentence. It is unfortunate that we have divided ourselves in the name of ‘celebrating’ diversity. I may be of
    Italian heritage, but I am American to my core. I just don’t understand broad-based hatred (i.e., hatred of a class). Yeah, one can be angry at SOME ONE PERSON for what that person may have done. But to conclude that everyone in that person’s classification is worthy of distrust or dislike is plain stupid. Unfortunately, there is a lot of plain stupidity in the air these days.

  7. “May you live in interesting times”-the ancient Chinese blessing/curse is horrifyingly relevant
    to current events.
    Like all Laurel Hill Cemetery guides, I do a lot of research. A tour that I’m currently working on includes David Bispham, America’s first native-born opera star. Yesterday, while reading his autobiography
    (“A Quaker Singer’s Recollections”, 1920), I came upon a passage that reads as though it was
    written yesterday.
    Bispham writes about a visit to San Francisco, sometime between 1898-1900 (he’s not specific about the exact year), but very specifically about a visit to “The Chinese Theatre”, where Chinese actors would present traditional dramas. Bispham writes; “They act every night in plays which it sometimes takes weeks to finish”.
    He is, furthermore astonished when he learns that the actors live literally under the theatre, and go out only at night. When he asks why, he is told “They dare not go abroad in the daytime, for they would be insulted by the populace, maltreated, beaten, stoned, and driven back to the burrows of their theatre, where the audience thought they belonged, and nowhere else”.
    The more things change……

    1. It is by NO means like that any more.
      From what I have read, the assaults are high in the Bay Area, which has a large Chinese community. This is distressing.

  8. It is distressing at any time and any place.
    I’ve been to Chinatown in San Francisco, and I know it’s not like that anymore.
    But no one, then or now, should be afraid to venture outside.

  9. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    I’m afraid that the presumption of identity politics is that we can abolish racism and group prejudices if we only come down hard enough against it in the public media. But I do not believe this is possible. Its a kind of leftward, puritanical perfectionism; and I don’t believe that perfection is possible employing “the crooked timber of humanity” –to borrow a phrase once used to good effect by the British social philosopher Isiah Berlin. People tend to persist in their own habits and expectations until and unless they see some immediate reason to change them –as in actually coming to know a person, working with someone, or coming to like someone.

    Integration of immigrants is a long, slow process depending on interaction on a one-to-one basis, and it also depends on people reacting to their different habits, customs and expectations. Its a good idea to be welcoming to newcomers, but people and peoples carry values with them. Some of these values are good for the republic, others not. Identity politics, like multiculturalism, is a kind of organized political opposition to fuller integration. I don’t believe people should be forced to integrate more fully, if that is not what they want at the time (consider the Amish in PA or the ultra-orthodox Jews in NY); but on the other hand, encouraging people to persist in their differences as a political policy and for the sake of difference itself, is something else again. I don’t believe for a moment that this will be good for the country. We need to place the policy incentives on integration. E pluribus unum.

    People should be protected from attacks generally, not this group or that because of some distinctive identity. Frankly, I’m more distressed by the general phenomenon of murder and violence on the streets in virtually every city in the country. But it seems clear that some would like to add one more “identity group” to a coalition.

    H.G. Callaway

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