Peter Liang & Race Relations

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ASSEMBLYMAN RON KIM CALLS FOR UNITY BETWEEN BLACK AND ASIAN COMMUNITIES 

NBC News | WNYC | EmpireStateNews

Flushing, New York - On Monday, March 28, 2016, Assemblyman Ron Kim joined community leaders at the NYC Bar Association to participate at a forum to bring the Asian and Black communities together. Instead of just watching the recent Peter Liang case pit communities of color against each other, Assemblyman Ron Kim helped organize Monday's forum to steer the Black and Asian communities toward collaboration based on shared values.

Here is Assemblyman Ron Kim's full speech:


"My job as a public servant allows me to interact with hundreds of constituents, sometimes thousands every week. The district I represent is predominantly Asian, and as a result I have a deep understanding of the hardships and obstacles that many Asian Americans face, whether they are recent immigrants or natural born citizens.

I’m participating today at this forum because I want to dispel a couple of Asian stereotypes that are a result of racism, but more importantly, further compound and promulgate institutional racism in the form of applying double standards to, and scapegoating of Asian Americans by our government and judicial systems.

First, there is no such thing as 'Asian privilege' in this country. Asians do not have it easier than other minority groups. We are denied access to opportunities, face obstacles for upward mobility, encounter blatant and covert prejudices, and often times denied justice due to the color of our skin, same as every other man and women of color in this country.

Second, Asian Americans are not foreigners. We are as American as every group of immigrants who have settled on this land seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But often we are overlooked in the context of American diversity. Despite how hard we pledge our allegiance to our country, we continue to be asked, 'where are you really from?'

As a legislator, I’ve seen the detrimental impact of these stereotypes on policies even today, in the 21st century, 135 years after the Chinese Exclusion Act, and 74 years after the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942.

Almost every day I experience explicit racism and microagression. From comments like, 'Go back to your country, you c—k' to 'Hey, you look like my dry cleaner', I deal with it all. If an elected member of the state legislature who grew up in New York can be treated as a foreigner and be subjected to racial taunting, imagine what a recent Asian American immigrant, with language barriers, goes through.

It is critically important that we dispel the stereotype that Asians have an advantage over other minorities in this country and that Asians are foreign. When our fellow citizens have these perceptions of us, they tend to look away and not see injustice to Asian Americans as an injustice to all Americans. 

Many have looked away when powerful politicians, like the Governor of New York, decided to pick on Asian small business owners and make examples out of them for quick political points. When Governor Cuomo wanted to prove that he can go after bad business owners, which group did he pick on? Asians.

Under the guise of protecting workers, the Governor ordered his agencies to target predominantly Asian American-owned nail salons even when absolutely no data exists to suggest these businesses commit a higher level of wage theft or worker mistreatment compared to other segments of the beauty enhancement industry, or for that matter, any other industry.

In response to my criticism of such targeted and selective enforcement of the law, internally, the Governor’s office said they had to start somewhere. And somehow, that response was acceptable, even to some advocates of immigrant rights. But this is the same response that past Governors and Mayors have given to the black and hispanic communities when defending the Rockefeller Drug Laws and Stop & Frisk policies: 'You have to start somewhere…' The blatant discrimination obviously lies in 'where.'

Just last week, Governor Cuomo announced a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council to promote the hiring of more minorities in this state. Even though Asian Americans are the least represented in the state workforce and obviously in the state legislature, he didn’t appoint one Asian to this council.

The targeting of Asian small businesses and exclusion of Asians on a diversity panel are just two of many examples where our government validates society’s prevailing sentiments that Asians are somehow more privileged than other minorities, and that we are perhaps less deserving of protection because after all, 'we’re not really Americans'.

When New York State’s top politician validates these stereotypes through his actions and policies, it results in more racism, microagressions, and even hate toward Asian Americans:

A local member of the City Council recently questioned why Asian Americans are applying for NYCHA housing at a public oversight hearing. That City Councilmember either couldn’t fathom why Asians could live below poverty or why foreigners could qualify for government assisted housing.

Asian cab drivers and food delivery workers are frequently abused verbally and violently. Asians tend to under report crimes, some have language barriers, and many are reluctant to believe that the justice system works for them. As a result, they are perceived to be easy targets. Yet crimes of opportunity against Asians are not considered hate crimes.

Now, today’s forum is about the Peter Liang case and there are many in the audience who may be wondering, 'How is all this related to Liang?'

Every Asian who participated in demonstrations across the country to support Peter Liang, signed a petition, or shared an article or a sentiment on social media understands the Peter Liang case is not just about Peter Liang. It’s about the prevalent mistreatment of Asian Americans that stem from the dangerous stereotypes held by our fellow citizens, and promulgated by the highest levels of this city’s, state’s and nation’s governing bodies.

They are not asking for Asian privilege. They are not asking for white privilege. They are standing up to finally say, 'We are not going to take it anymore. We are Americans. We refuse to remain silent, we refused to be scapegoated, we refused to be subjected to double standards.'

The sentencing and guilty conviction of Peter Liang symbolizes the ultimate double standard against Asian Americans. To us, this was about the system making an example out of an Asian for the system's injustices against young blacks and hispanics in this country. This was about the system pitting communities of color against each other instead of making sure justice is equally served for all communities.

I believe there are two main challenges for the Black and Asian communities to overcome in order to unite in the fight against unjust double standards that all minority communities bear the crushing burden of.

First, I believe the African American community must let go of any notion that Asians have it easy and that they are foreigners in this country.

Second, Asians must overcome our own mindset that sometimes contributes to the model minority myth. Instead of striving to gain better access or what society often refers to as 'white privilege', we must work toward ways to rewrite the rules to ensure fairness and equal opportunity for all. That means getting more involved with local community work and politics. That means empathizing with other minority communities and forging long-term partnerships based on shared values.

There are number of issues we can identity that both communities must work together to overcome: Better public schools, more affordable housing, long-term transportation investment for the outer-boroughs, more funding for senior centers, etc.

However, the first step, I believe, is to have open and honest conversations at forums like this to dispel theses stereotypes or misperceptions that lead to more hatred than collaborations.

I thank the main organizers, 100 Black Men Inc and Asian American Business Development Center, for bringing us all together. I also want to thank the NYC Bar Association for hosting this historic event to promote our shared values."
 

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Assemblyman Ron Kim is the Chair of the Task Force on New Americans in the New York Assembly and currently serves on the following committees: Education, Health, Housing, Social Services, Government Operations, and Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions.

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