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Daily Journal
     May 19, 2021      #91-139 KDJ

Race relations too often viewed in

By Scott Reeder

I was chatting with a friend the other day and I mentioned that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was married to someone of a different race.

His response: “She’s Asian American, that doesn’t count.”

It was a strange thing for an educated man, a retired lawyer to say. Stranger still it was uttered just a few days before six Asian Americans were murdered in Atlanta.

Too often we view race relations in monochrome.

But it’s not just black and white. It’s a complex interaction of various ethnicities, nationalities and races.

Asians are labeled as the “model minority.” Assertions of discrimination are dismissed by this false narrative.

Two Asian Americans have married into my extended family and been welcomed with love and acceptance. And that’s a story told by many families across this country.

In fact, a 2015 Pew Foundation study found that half (46%) of U.S.-born Asian newlyweds have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. At first blush, this would seem to be a story of assimilation and acceptance.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Our nation has long discriminated against Asians. Former President Donald Trump exploited this heritage of hate a year ago, by labeling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus.” In the wake of such remarks Asian Americans have been the victims of violence.

For me, it’s not a new story.

When I was a reporter in Galveston, Texas, it was native-born shrimpers angry with having to compete with Vietnamese immigrants.

In the Quad-Cities, it was hostility toward Southeast Asians working in the area’s meat-packing plants.

Later, while working as a journalist in Las Vegas, acquaintances would presume Asians living there were “sex workers” and dismiss them with a wave of a hand.

“The Asian-American community is shaped like a barbell. There is large upper middle class and large portion who are working-class or poor. But not many are in between,” said Ji-Yeon Yuh, an associate professor of Asian American studies and history at Northwestern University.

She wrote “Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America.” It’s a superb tome, which I read several years ago. Yuh is also an expert on migration of Asians to the U.S.

Since I’ve known Yuh for a while, I asked her a tough question, “Why does it seem so many Asian American women end up working in massage parlors, spas and other sex-oriented businesses?

Her response surprised me. The U.S. military has fostered a culture accepting of prostitution particularly near its major bases in Korea and other nations of the Far East. She noted this is not the case at U.S. installations in the Middle East or Europe.

Young women and girls are trapped into prostitution near these bases. Often, they are trafficked to the U.S. through “paper marriages,” she said.

“A soldier may be paid $10,000 to ‘marry’ someone and bring them here. The bride then ends up in the sex trade,” she said. Yuh noted that four of the six Asian American women killed in Atlanta were of Korean heritage. She added other immigrants end up in the trade because they lack language fluency, education or the job skills necessary to otherwise support themselves.

No one aspires to be a prostitute. So, it’s wise to examine why individuals become trapped in such a demeaning, dangerous trade.

And this is where the issue of race comes in.

Police say the alleged shooter, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, said he was motivated by a sexual addiction that was at odds with his religious beliefs.

Fox News provocateur Sean Hannity pointed to this statement by Long as evidence that this was not a racially motivated crime.

I don’t know what thoughts were swimming around in the killer’s head and don’t much care.

The racial issue is: What put these women of color in a place where they were so vulnerable to violence?

And the answer to that is that it is not just bad men who traffic people across borders, but those who support their exploitation here.

Scott Reeder is a veteran Statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. His email address is ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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