My interview with Philadelphia City Councilmember David Oh last Thursday showed how important it is for different voices to be heard, despite the thousands of news media people in the Delaware Valley.
First, Oh told us well ahead of the news curve that the African American girls filmed attacking Asian students on a SEPTA train in Philadelphia actually had assaulted the same students on a SEPTA train the day before. This attack just happened to be filmed and be more intense.
More importantly, as I broadened the conversation, Oh brought up the narrative about Asian- Americans that he thinks pervades much of progressive thought in Philadelphia. He said, “It takes the form of the rewriting of American history.” It involves portraying Asian Americans as reaping the benefits of the civil rights movement without ever having suffered true discrimination. Oh, even launched the idea that those that want to justify their view of America as a racist country must allege that Asian-Americans are mostly recent arrivals to our country and benefit from special programs that give them an edge.
He also referenced the fact that a Philadelphia ordinance forcing businesses in certain areas to close at 11 p. m. was mainly aimed at Chinese takeout restaurants. There has been a lot of tension between Asian store owners and some African American leaders in Philadelphia around the issue of many Asian American-run businesses serving customers behind bulletproof glass. In fact, Councilmember Cindy Bass, who represents the area in which I live, debated me on this issue on my show and a few times inside some of the businesses.
There is also a good deal of tension around a Philadelphia School District initiative to remove grades and test scores to get into the district’s magnet schools and replace them with a lottery system. That was aimed not just at White students, but also Asian students who are extremely well represented in these schools.
Media outlets that have tried to make some sense of the vicious attacks we saw in the SEPTA film suggested it is part of ongoing attacks against Asian Americans due to people like former President Donald Trump and many conservative leaders calling COVID-19 the Wuhan virus and attributing its origination to a lab in Wuhan.
I see no evidence of that theory in this attack. I believe it stems from the resentment created on a daily basis from the issues that Oh and I discussed. Progressives have even labeled this minority group “White adjacent” as a way of explaining the stunning success of many Asian Americans.
Councilmember Helen Gym, who is also Asian American, the progressive darling in Philadelphia and one of the frontrunners to be the next mayor, rejects my commonsense theory around these attacks and told WHYY News, “It’s heart wrenching to see young people at such a young age harming one another. But I will underscore time and again that they are witnessing violence at an unprecedented level across our city, and we are not doing nearly enough for children right now in helping them deal with the trauma and harm that has been caused to them.”
So, this trauma theory explains this very specific targeting that we saw play out? No, it does not! I believe those students were targeted because of the resentment built up over the years against Asian Americans in Philadelphia fueled by conspiracy theories and stereotypes. As a practical matter, those girls also seemed to believe the targeted students wouldn’t fight back.
It’s time that we fight back by demanding that the accurate history of Asian Americans be included in the public school instruction in Philadelphia and by calling out any public leaders or elected officials who continue to articulate stereotypes against Asian Americans.