With great interest and fond memories of 11 years in China, I read Washington State Magazine’s “How Chinese pioneers helped build the Pacific Northwest.” It’s well-researched and eminently readable. It’s also sad, poignant as it documents racial atrocities perpetrated against a people struggling to eke out a living for far-away families.
That was 19th century America. In the 20th century, we did similar things to American citizens of Japanese descent. I won’t go into our treatment of indigenous peoples or generations of slaves and their descendants.
Two decades into the 21st century we have Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, America First and similar arrogant movements seeking to divide what schoolchildren repeat daily in classrooms: “… one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
For me, the operative word is “justice.” With justice, it’s unnecessary to mention liberty; it’s built into the system. Elevating one portion of society over others in the name of “justice,” delayed or otherwise, is travesty. Our “second class” citizens of all cultures deserve better. They deserve ongoing, equal justice that allows them to choose their own paths.
Some of us may not agree with those paths, but if those choices don’t hurt us directly, individuals should be free to choose, to make mistakes as we all have done. Many mistakes are learning experiences; some end in death. But we should be free to choose — and to live with the consequences of our choices.
As a male, I can’t imagine the daily anxiety of women, particularly attractive ones. On small-town sidewalks, people often nod and greet passing strangers. I’m guessing many women have to wonder whether an innocent smile and greeting might be a leer with less-than-innocent intentions. It’s easier simply to avert one’s eyes. I’ve never had to do that, even before I was old and ugly. I won’t go into thoughts a lone woman might think on a dark, deserted street.
To some degree, I can imagine coming from outside the dominant culture because as a non-Asian in China, I was an outsider, yet never felt threatened. We walked unlit alleys late at night in Beijing with not a worry, alleys that in American cities we would have feared simply to cross.
In daylight, we occasionally experienced a snarled “laowai,” in Chinese literally “old outsider,” or “foreigner.” It can be an epithet, but more often it’s said with a smile and nod, or even with enthusiasm from a child.
When I pass a stranger here on the Palouse, I try to make eye contact and smile in passing. Responses vary. Asian students tend to be outgoing. Those from other cultures — Middle Eastern or those with darker skins — tend to regard me suspiciously, uncertain how to respond.
A truly just society wouldn’t have these suspicions, constraints or uncertainties. There will always be crime, but until crime is distributed proportionally, the downtrodden, the impoverished, the other-than-white, those who dress differently will be regarded suspiciously and suffer disproportionately. Justice will not be served.
A white granite monument, erected 125 years after the fact, stands in brush edging Chinese Massacre Cove on Oregon’s Snake River. It memorializes the 1887 massacre of more than 30 unarmed Chinese miners. Similar atrocities elsewhere are described in the magazine article, not to mention injustices of wage disparities between Chinese and white railroad workers.
Our nation was rooted in Enlightenment ideals before it was a nation. As they declared independence, our founders wrote “all men are created equal.” Until that ideal bears fruit, injustice will prevail.
No legal system can encompass every eventuality. Our system of law is a concretion of accumulated case law, court decisions made in different times and places, many interpretations no longer relevant. True justice transcends legislation and case law; it applies written laws equitably.
Our genome demonstrates we are one human family. Perhaps we should start living like one. Families have petty bickering, sometimes deep-seated animosity, but the notion of family is usually benign, positive, nurturing, even loving. We can embrace our rich human diversity, cooperate, and build a new global familial home — a peaceful, productive, safe, and clean civilization through interchange of creative ideas.
If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to hating.