Bigotry and the Convenient Scapegoat

No More Chinese GraffitiAbout a week and a half ago, someone started spraying graffiti in the Portola neighborhood of San Francisco — in the southeast of the city. The graffiti said, “NO MORE CHINESE.” This was done at six locations. I was pleased to see that people had painted over and crossed out the “NO” so the signs read “MORE CHINESE.” That’s a great response.

Last Tuesday, the police arrested John Schenone for the crimes. He’s a 62-year-old man whose photo makes him look like a prototypical angry old white man. On Friday, he pleaded “not guilty,” but was refused released because the acts are being considered a hate crime, and four guns were found at Schenone’s home. The bail was set high enough that it is likely he will stay in jail until his trial.

To people who don’t know the history of the Bay Area, this may seem bizarre. But the truth of the matter is that people of Chinese descent have long been targets of the local community. The Chinese Exclusion Act was largely the result of goings on in California. And after the law was passed, the state passed a number of even more extreme laws that were ultimately found to be unconstitutional. The first drug law in the United States was passed in San Francisco, which outlawed opium dens. The main target was not the drug but the Chinese population.

“Welcome to America! Do our most backbreaking work. Then go home.”

It reminds me of those old bumper stickers that we used to see up in Oregon, “Welcome to Oregon! Now go home.” With regard to the Chinese, it would have been, “Welcome to America! Do our most backbreaking work. Then go home.” The Chinese of the late 19th century were very much like the Mexicans of today. And we here exactly the same arguments: both cultural and economic. None of them are valid. But it is always so easy to blame all your problems on the weak instead of the strong.

Among most people, it has become totally unacceptable to say racist things about African Americans. That’s a good thing. But I’ve noticed something recently that really bothers me: people seem much more open about saying bigoted things about other minority groups. And I think that’s what’s going on here. Let’s assume that Schenone did this. Without this trend, he still would have hated his Chinese neighbors — but he would have been quiet about it. Instead, he felt that it was acceptable to express that hatred in such a public way. I think that’s why norms against using things like the n-word are important. Not having them normalizes hatred and thus makes public and private racism more common.

Schenone could not afford an attorney, so he was given a public defender. It’s hard for me not to see him as a victim too. That’s not to excuse these crimes. It’s more along the lines of molesters becoming molesters. If we had a society in which people were helped to find meaningful lives, maybe they wouldn’t be so eager to find scapegoats.

6 replies on “Bigotry and the Convenient Scapegoat”

  1. Dono says:

    As usual, you’re spot on.

    Your mention of a “Welcome to Oregon. Now go home” bumper sticker reminds me of a similar mindset here in the Upper Peninsula when it comes to tourists. I suspect, however, that it has less to do with any minority to which visitors may belong to than it does with the fact they *are* visitors–not one of us, but merely an Other temporarily spending time and dollars in our backyard.

    • Frank Moraes says:

      That’s an interesting observation. It’s also a good reminder that liberals cannot sit back and assume that demographic change will fix everything. The “other” is a fluid concept. And the Republicans have been remarkably good at using that to their advantage.

    • James Fillmore says:

      Dono — hey, awesome, there’s a Yooper commenting! Keep it up!

      • Frank Moraes says:

        Well, I’ve learned a new word.

        • Dono says:

          “Yooper” just recently made it into Merriam-Webster, although it’s been around for decades. (As has the term “troll” to designate citizens of Michigan’s Lower peninsula–those “under the bridge,” so to speak.)

          • James Fillmore says:

            “Troll” I did not know — I’m merely a Midwestern neighbor in MN, not MI. We do know what “Yooper” means, as we vacation there. “Troll” is great!

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