JUNE 16, 2018



The New Racism in the Age of Trump



"Go back home! This is my country!” an Asian American woman is told by a white stranger on a street. In a New York City subway, a Chinese man is verbally assaulted for no reason except because of his race. At a shopping mall in Virginia, a Hispanic man is seen thrash-talked by a 30s-something white female after he offered directions to a store. Instead of thanking him, she tells him to go back to Mexico, assuming he is not an American.

At a Walmart, an elderly white lady tells a Filipina: “You don’t belong here. You are not welcomed in this country!” In California, while waiting at a stoplight in his car, a Chinese American who also is a U.S. veteran, is told by a white lady with a heavy European accent, to go back to China.

These are only a few incidences caught on video and circulated on social media showing Asian and Hispanic Americans as targets of blatant racist rants by complete strangers amidst the current climate of xenophobia.

Whether racism is on the rise is debatable; it could be that it is just more visible through social media. But the pulse of racism seems to be beating at a faster pace, and changing.

Racism against Asians in recent decades, as an example, has usually been toned down relative to other major minority groups. What spared Asians from harsher treatment was this perception of them as being great assimilators to this country.

But the latest face of racism is so steeped in xenophobia. A resentment that foreigners are “stealing” American jobs are not sparing Asians, so-called “model” immigrants, from today’s racists. It’s no longer about being a good “assimilator;” but to racists, just the mere fact of foreigners coming into the U.S. is enough to hate on them.

Teresita Bernales, Ed.D, of Kailua, an Asian woman, said “Racism experienced by most Asians are subtle but just as offensive as any form of racism. We, Asians as a group, has been stereotyped as a ‘model minority;’ having traits as industrious, politically inactive, studious, intelligent, productive, and inoffensive people who rose to an elevated socioeconomic standing through merit, self-discipline and diligence. However, this is a misconception because, there are also other Asians who do not fit the ‘mold.’”

She explains, “We are sometimes in denial. We need to understand and realize that those behaviors are offensive and unacceptable. Stop and think when you are asked, ‘Where are you from?’ It’s a loaded racial question which could mean you do not belong in their space. There are other comments that are thrown around like: Tiger Mom, Dragon lady, Kung Fu fighter etc. It may be stated in jest but when taken in a serious light, it shows the insipid nature of this issue.”

The “New” Racism

What’s perhaps unique today is that anti-immigrant sentiments is so broad that anyone who doesn’t look white or black is lumped into one “foreigner” category; and all the negative stereotypes of immigrants in general are directed at them, no matter what their country of origin is. This holds truer in the mainland where homogenous pockets exist with fewer minorities.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a professor of sociology at Duke University, call today’s situation “new racism” in that the fallacy of a colorblind past has been lifted.

For a while, Americans tried to live colorblind. But the turn of events especially after the election of President Donald Trump, shows Americans once again lifting the blinders.

“After the 1960s and early 1970s, somehow we developed the mythology that systemic racism disappeared,” said Bonilla-Silva. But it remained, just more covert. And racism changed again, to being overt.

What’s unique in recent years is that more whites feel discriminated against.

According to a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a majority of whites (55 percent) say discrimination against them exists in America today. They cite job discrimination against whites. They believe government is there for minorities. But as whites, they feel left behind, especially marginal and poor whites.

So came to a head a post-Obama backlash, an uprising of whites with this belief of being left behind, coming together to elect President Trump who exploited their frustration of government and their own economic struggles.

The more extreme aspect -- aboard this train of disenfranchised whites also includes a rise in hate groups.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found hate groups rose to 954 in 2017, from 917 in 2016. Within the white supremacist movement, neo-Nazi groups increased by 22 percent, as did Anti-Muslim groups.

The deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Minnesota Islamic Center bombing, and Phoenix LGBTQ Center arson are just a few of the criminal activity launched by right-wing extremists.

The dream of the “alt-right” movement is to become mainstream. And disenfranchised whites – who really suffered setbacks due to technology and globalization like any other American ill-prepared for the new economy – found a savior in Trump.

Is Racism on the Rise? Racism in Hawaii vs U.S. Mainland

Is there a resurgence of racism? Is it hyped, blown out of proportion? Or is it the same as it always had been, but now more visible as Americans capture video on their cell phones and post them on social media sites.

Jonathan Okamura, professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UH Manoa and author of Imagining the Filipino American Diaspora and the forthcoming Raced to Death: Racial Injustice in 1920s Hawai’i, says “Nationally, racism has increased since the Trump presidency, evident in blatant expressions in the media by public figures and average citizens. However, in Hawai’i we need to remember that anti-Micronesian racism, perhaps the most extreme manifestation against any group here, emerged well before Trump was elected. Since the 1990s, Micronesians have replaced Filipinos as one of the primary targets of racism in Hawai’i, especially in terms of vile jokes being told about them. These jokes and other racist comments about Micronesians, such as being ‘cockroaches,’ represent them as subhuman, which is a very common element in racism.”

Okamura says, “Trump’s racism is a real throwback to the variety that flourished in America sixty years ago during the civil rights era, which was based on biological notions of race. Most Americans since the 1990s engage in colorblind racism, which does not view minorities as innately inferior, but seeks to deny the significance of race as a way to justify persisting racial inequality. Rather than being colorblind, Trump’s racism is extremely race conscious, as evident in his references to Mexicans as rapists and criminals and African countries as ‘shitholes.’”

UH Manoa Professor Emeritus Dr. Belinda Aquino, who taught in both the Political Science and Asian Studies Departments, talks about the many forms of racism. “Racism is a very broad term and it encompasses a lot of situations like nationalism, prejudice, bias, oppression, intolerance and outright hatred against a certain group of people based on the color of their skin, values, culture and way of life.” She says racism is deeply ingrained in society from the days of slavery and the Civil War to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and after, to the present.

"Something as deeply entrenched as that is hard to eliminate and it will always be there in subtle and more discreet forms,” said Professor Aquino.

In a way, racism is getting a technological update.

She says, “Today’s mass media, social media, and other forms of communication carry a lot of messages that are consciously or unconsciously motivated against victimizing minorities like blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, women and children who are unable to defend themselves.”

Roland Casamina, President and CEO of House of Finance, Inc., doesn’t believe racism is on the rise, but since President Trump’s election into office, it is showed more openly, he says.

He adds given the ethnic mix and Hawaii being a melting pot, there is less racism here. At the same time, he says “we tend to hang around the same people, so racism does not arise as often.”

“When we first got here, the locals discriminated against the new (immigrant) arrivals like myself, but that has changed over the years, especially now that Filipinos now constitute the largest ethnic group. But stereotypes remain. I’ve been mistaken as a ‘yard maintenance’ guy, due to my looks. Does it feel good, no, it will never. Do I blame them for thinking that way? No -- because if you see a guy who looks like me, more likely he would be a maintenance man at one of the hotels. Despite the Filipinos being the largest ethnic group, for the most part, we still hold the lower level positions, and not enough in the senior management level. But this has begun to change; and the future looks good.”

Casamina maintains that racism is all over, and more so on the U.S. mainland.

ts of racism on the mainland. “In New York, I’ve been asked while with my family if we spoke English by a white male. He showed no regrets when we gave him the eye. In Las Vegas on two occasions, a man coming out of the elevator immediately asked if I spoke English, to which he apologized when he saw my reaction. It hasn’t happened lately. It also has something to do with how I project myself to others.”

Bernales said of Hawaii’s race-relations: “There is a feeling of greater acceptance of all races and ethnicities in Hawaii than in other states. Diversity is respected, the pervasive spirit is one of general kindness and openness.”


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