The unfortunate conflict between Kenan Moos, a young Black man, and Lynette Lee Eng, the Asian-American Los Altos City Council member, laid bare the need to broaden our discourse around race as being more than just between the “white” or the “system” against racial minorities. In an increasingly diverse, multi-racial, multi-ethnic state like California, where no race or ethnicity is a majority of the population, conflicts do and will arise between or among historically marginalized groups, and we need to find ways to address them civilly and fairly.
The Moos/Lee Eng incident happened between two people who come from backgrounds that carry historically hurtful racial and gender stereotypes. To Moos, Lee Eng’s reaction to his texts amounted to the false accusations leveled against other Black men all too often in this country’s painful history. Lee Eng, on the other hand, is an Asian-American woman, a group that struggles to overcome its own racial and gender stereotypes of being docile, submissive and accommodating. The truth is that a surprising number of Americans, and especially men, do not respond well to Asian-American women who assert their views and will use intimidation tactics to make them back down. Lee Eng had reasons to stand her ground.
Similar issues involving competing interests of marginalized communities are manifesting in numerous ways.
The San Francisco Unified School District’s recent decision to end merit-based admission criteria at the selective Lowell High School is an example. The Lowell decision was made to “correct” the disproportionately low representation of Black and Latino students at the school. However, such “corrective action” is certain to reduce the admission of Asian-American students from immigrant and working-class families who have historically relied on merit-based admission to selective schools such as Lowell as a stepping stone to social mobility. The situation begs the question: Instead of ending the merit-based admission at Lowell, could the decision-makers have looked at replicating the successful Lowell model in other schools?
In the recent attacks against Asian Americans, one of the most blatant acts of violence was committed by a Black teen who is caught on video (that most of us have seen by now) crossing the street to slam an 84-year-old Thai man onto the pavement and killing him. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin referred to the teen as having a “temper tantrum.”
How will we ensure that justice is served for the innocent Asian man, his family and all Asian Americans?
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently committed to select a Black woman to fill Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat if she retires before her term is up.
While the incredible sacrifice and contributions of the African Americans in this country are much appreciated, such an announcement is devoid of even the appearance of objectivity or desire to find the best candidate. In 2019, California’s population consisted of Latinos (39%), whites (36%), Asians (15%) and Blacks (6%). If proportionate representation should be a priority, as shown by the promotion of Alex Padilla, a Latino, to fill Vice President Kamala Harris’ former U.S. Senate seat, shouldn’t a white or an Asian candidate at least have a shot at filling Senator Feinstein’s seat?
Bringing awareness to such competing interests is not intended to pit one people of color against another. The sole intent is to show that such conflicts involve complex, nuanced considerations, as the Moos/Lee Eng incident illustrates. Administering to the competing interests between marginalized groups civilly and fairly will be our ultimate challenge in fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a nation where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Rosemarie Nahm is a Los Altos Hills resident, first-generation Asian immigrant and retired lawyer.