As a byproduct of the recent presidential campaign, a troubling and explicit depiction of China as the primary source of America’s recessionary loss of jobs and economic woes reached a new level. A video presented by in stark black and white tones by the Citizens against Government Waste (CAGW), a fiscally conservative non-profit organization, creates a sense of impending doom by portraying America’s future failure to China’s economic insurgency. Set in Beijing in 2030 A.D., this politically-based video is in Chinese with English subtitles and shows a meeting of Chinese citizens held in Beijing led by a Machiavellian-like Chinese leader. The sinister-looking leader attributes America’s failure to spending and taxing itself out of a great recession through enormous “stimulus” spending, massive changes to healthcare and crushing debt. He derisively declares, “Now they work for us,” while the Chinese audience laughs appreciatively and gleefully.
This explicit calling out of China as the principal reason for America’s economic woes occurred on several fronts during the campaign and was bipartisan in nature. As Zachary Karabell, president of River Twice Research, points out in his article, “Don’t blame China for America’s decline”, the Obama administration has intensified pressure on Chinese trade and investments that have made it difficult for some American companies such as solar panel installers to compete. And in the town hall debates, Mitt Romney declared emphatically,
On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator which will allow me as President to be able to put in place if necessary tariffs where I believe they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers. So we are going to make sure the people that we trade with around the rules are playing by the rules.
Karabell points out also that this trend has occurred in other presidential campaigns: in 1992, Bill Clinton accused President George H.W. Bush of coddling Chinese dictators, while in 2004 John Kerry called corporate leaders “Benedict Arnold CEOs” for shipping jobs to China.
What is worrisome about this anti-Asian virulence is the possible return to historical animosity toward Americans of Asian descent that expressed itself in Anti-Asian legislation and actions over more than a century. Recall the so-called “yellow peril” ascribed to the influx of Asian immigrant labor to the West coast in the 19th century and the resulting Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that that sprang up in response and was not repealed until 1943. Or the wholesale internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps during World War II.
Note also in the present-day example the lack of accountability ascribed to American corporations who have chosen to outsource work overseas, in search of cheap labor and greater profitability. While clearly the Chinese Communist government represents the antithesis of American democratic practices toward its people, the “rise of the rest” as Fareed Zakaria puts it in The Post-American World means that globalization is creating a new and highly competitive economic playing field. Tom Friedman in his famous book, The World is Flat notes that the current phase of globalization will be driven by a diverse group of individuals likely to be non-Western and nonwhite. In Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education, Alvin Evans and I describe globalization as a catalyst and mandate for remedying underrepresentation and achieving greater inclusion in our American institutions.
In Karabell’s view, American prosperity “will not be determined by decisions made in Beijing” but by “how American approaches the global economy of the 21st century.” He concludes:
If the U.S. focuses on nurturing the optimism, drive and skills that yield . . . results in the 20th century, it will thrive; if Americans obsess about looming threats from the East, it may indeed enter the economic twilight. The choice is ours.
In this era of globalization, the strength of our demographically diverse nation lies in our ability to rise above the distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability to achieve success. When mischaracterizations and exaggerations occupy our mindsets and airwaves, then we are less able to draw upon the strength of our representative democracy, the capabilities of our diverse citizenry, and our capacity for innovation.
During the approximate time of, and during the presidential debates, I also heard Chinese terrorism being hinted at as well as something along the lines of “Chinese spies” stealing U.S. “top secrets”, patents, etc. and turning them over to the Chinese government. There were hints of fears of Chinese Americans having more loyalty to the Chinese government than the U.S. government. Hints such as these along with the short video in the article above represent ultimately racist propaganda that’s designed to both generate and instill large scale fear among Americans. Societies are more easily prone to being vulnerable to large-scale manipulation when they are operating out of fear and paranoia.
Problematic further is that racism against Asian Americans and Asians has never really ever left. The Model Minority Stereotype serves to further make invisible the other types of older racism alive and well that is still directed at Asian Americans living in U.S. society very well demonstrated with the more recent death of Danny Chen for example: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/1/9/death_of_private_danny_chen_military , who was treated as a foreigner while serving in the U.S. military!!
The type of anti-Chinese propaganda that is being generated in current times is also similar to that of just a couple of decades ago within the U.S. auto industry that was blaming the Japanese auto industry for “killing out the U.S. auto industry”, etc. Consaquently U.S. auto workers engaged in “anti-Japanese” scapegoating and two had brutally murdered Vincent Chin who was not Japanese, but Chinese…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Vincent_Chin
Given U.S. society is already on edge with relation to fears of terrorism largely associated with Muslim and Arabic groups often not knowing the differences between these very diverse groups (too often assuming all are potential terrorists) and mistaking some Asians who are not Arabic or Muslim for being terrorists, it would not take much for those fears to extend further to include “Chinese”…where upon the lack of understanding of the vast diversity within Asian American populations could generate racist policies as noted above in the article against all Asians coupled with increased hate followed with hate crimes increasing against people of different ancestries who are believed to be Chinese. (And we could certainly add in the anti-immigration anti-Mexican/Latino sentiments that are incredible problematic in current times to all this as well)
It’s not a good situation and this society has done a poor job at educating society at large about this very diverse population we live in. Too often, at least with the available resources to do so, as with the media for example, it has done quite the opposite. And too often it makes invisible the good and when the more invisible groups are presented, they are presented in either negative or stereotypical lights that reinforce racism and stereotypes rather than building bridges between all Americans and increasing national support and unity between all groups….
Thank you, Seattle, for your great comments and examples. Very well put and certainly capturing the dangers of rising fears directed toward diverse populations.
You are welcome and thank you for the important post–these issues need much more attention in my own humble opinion….