One of the beating victims, at Methodist Hospital. Photo credit: Philadelphia Daily News, Jason Melcher.
One of the beating victims, at Methodist Hospital. Photo credit: Philadelphia Daily News, Jason Melcher.

In the supposedly post-racial Obama era, most people would now find it unfathomable that a race-based attack in high school could happen, yet on Dec. 3 twenty-six Asian students, both international and US-born, were deliberately attacked by their peers at a South Philadelphia high school. Apparently, racial tension at this high school have been escalating. Violent incidents against APIs documented in recent months, but nothing of this magnitude. As an API student, I was enraged upon hearing the news. I wanted to shout from the hills that racism is alive and well today. It gave me evidential justification that this is still a prejudiced and white-dominated society. But then I found out the perpetrators were black.

For some reason my reaction shifted. I was still upset by the incident, but the reasons changed. To some people, the race of the attackers shouldn’t matter, but for me it does; it’s merely a matter of finding out why.

One of my friends, a Chinese American student who currently campaigns for workers’ rights, says he wouldn’t be as angry if the attackers were black students. Sure, it was still wrong, but according to him, it was a reflection of structural oppression from white society and another way to prevent people of color from working together. But another Cambodian friend who grew up in White Center and attended a multiracial high school, said for him it didn’t matter what color the perpetrators were; in fact, we would be racist in assuming that white people didn’t also have their own structural barriers that could spark this type of violent reaction.

My classmate Marsha, an exchange student from Indonesia, told me that for her the news isn’t too shocking because “the US portrays social class difference in high school, like the mean kids, the geeks and the popular kids,” but it was surprising that the offenders were other students of color. According to her, “black kids should understand their history and how it feels to be humiliated like that.” Many other API students felt surprised at that discovery as well.

“I just assume them to be white because of all the high school shootings,” says Linda Nguyen, a 19-year-old Seattle Central CC student. “I view it as minorities fighting against each other, as opposed to whites, who might think no minorities belong here because America is considered white.”

And that’s one of the biggest question marks on the whole issue. Why did these 10 black students suddenly attack 26 other students of color? In speaking with another friend, I realize that perhaps it’s also an issue of how Asians view and treat blacks. Some of my African American friends have expressed growing up in a “racial hierarchy”, where Asian students may act with attitude of arrogance around their black counterparts, and Marsha later told me that her initial impression of blacks upon entering the US were that they were “loud, obnoxious and rowdy”. When I asked her where she developed this opinion, she simply shrugged and said, “I get that impression from Hollywood I guess.”

So the issue goes far deeper than simply fighting in high school. It’s an issue of media, of what images get transmitted to our thinking, and how we act and think about race relations in this country. But the debate doesn’t stop here. This incident is merely a reminder that race still plays a vital factor in our everyday identity. In order to organize my own feelings, I ended up uncovering a much deeper underlying issue of US culture by speaking with APIs from different backgrounds, and with different opinions. What’s yours?

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