Imagine that a group of immigrants began attending a white high school and were soon subject to the ugliest forms of racism. Surely, this would be a great concern, and we would unite across ideological lines to condemn the racism in that high school.
South Philadelphia High School recently faced just such a crisis. Yet, we haven’t heard much about it because the victims and attackers don’t fit the comfortable narrative about racism in America, which we relish when whites are the villains. Instead, the crisis at South Philadelphia High featured intolerant blacks attacking Asian immigrants.
Asian students reported harassment and violence early on, when they first began attending school at SPHS a few years ago. The black students’ intolerance overflowed on Dec. 3, 2009, when a group of them roamed the hallways looking for Asian victims until one was found and beaten in a classroom. Also, 70 students raided the cafeteria, where more Asians were attacked. USA Today reported that “35 students pushed past a police officer” onto the second floor of the school where Asians congregated. Luckily, the attackers were turned back. The U.S. Department of Justice noted that 30 Asian students were attacked and 13 sent to the emergency room. Only 10 students were suspended.
Some reporting, amazingly, included the plain fact that the attacks occurred “primarily at the hands of blacks.” In response, Asian students embarked on a campaign to stop the racism and intolerance. The school’s former principal, LaGreta Brown, derided this as “the Asian agenda.” But the Asians evidently weren’t making things up: The Justice Department announced a settlement with the School District guaranteeing that it will take steps to prevent the “pervasive harassment” that took place.
Now, the Asian student activists have been given a major award for overcoming diversity. Wei Chen, Bach Tong, Duong Nghe Le and Xu Lin received this year’s Freedom From Fear Award, given by Public Interest Projects, which is a left-wing charity focusing on “social justice and human rights issues.” It is quite revealing that an essentially left-wing charity has recognized the plight faced by these Asians, who have endured racist attacks on a scale unseen in recent American history. If that sounds like an overstatement, consider the stories about white racism encountered in American schools today. When was the last time we’ve heard about eruptions of large-scale violence, where a dozen minorities were hospitalized at the hands of hate-filled whites?
Naturally, the media offered the chorus of excuses and mealy-mouthed explanations that we always hear when minorities behave badly. For instance: Asian immigrants, reports the New American Media, “often got special attention from school counselors and teachers and performed well academically, which contributed to more misunderstanding and tension.” When blacks attack Asians, we call that “misunderstanding and tension.” When whites attack minorities, it’s called hate.
So what are we to make of these hybrid excuses and explanations? Take the notion that Asians got “special attention”: Black students get special attention all the time. There is an ongoing effort to help black students under the rubric of closing the “achievement gap.” This entails massive spending and special attention to the poor performance of black students. But blacks at SPHS had to share the attention and preferences that they’ve become accustomed to, and they exploded. The fact that the Asians performed well academically must have upset the underperforming blacks. That is because the Asians – as a group – tried harder than they did, and everybody knows it. Berkeley anthropology professor John Ogbu (1939-2003), who was black, concluded exactly that in his incredibly important work on black student achievement. Ogbu noted that “black students did not generally work hard.” He went further: “In fact, most appeared to be characterized by low-effort syndrome. The amount of time and effort they invested in academic pursuit was neither adequate nor impressive.”
The Asians reflected the blacks’ failures back on them. Here were young Asians who had just learned English, who were impoverished, who had the same limited opportunities as the blacks – yet the Asians were thriving. That living, breathing comparison must have created a sense of resentment, a wholly unjustified and reprehensible sense of resentment, arising from the permanent victim mentality fostered by liberalism.
So what should we do when there is “tension” on the part of bitter minorities? The answer is to treat them the same way we’d treat bitter whites who resent merit-based minority success: Tell them to get over it. Too many of the black students expected rewards without effort. They saw a different culture succeed under the same conditions that supposedly “disadvantaged” blacks. The black students were given an object lesson in achievement and it drove them up the wall. Of course, the school could not have told the black children the truth, which is that the Asians succeed because they have better study habits, intact families and a culture that intensely values academic achievement. Few can bear to say that, and those who need to hear it rarely do.
On the ground, the Asian activists believe that the root cause of the problem was the institutional acceptance of violence as a norm, and they are right. If there were any minorities that could tell a similar story about a white school, it would have been national news. If whites had launched an attack like this, there would be a permanent cloud of suspicion over that school and over the culture that produced such sadistic and potentially deadly violence. The case of SPHS illustrates the extreme double standard in America with regard to racial violence. The same double standard can be seen in the weak coverage of the violent “flash mobs” that have spread throughout the country.
As part of the eventual legal settlement driven by the Department of Justice, the SPHS had to install 126 new security cameras, at considerable expense. The sound of taxpayer money clanging down the drain is lost on most people; in Philadelphia it is background noise beneath the din of ghetto violence.
John Bennett is a veteran, writer and law student at Emory University. He holds an MA from the University of Chicago and lives in Atlanta.