NYT Op-Eds don’t materialize out of thin air. Contributors are allowed publication only when the relevant NYT editors give a column the green light, and with the NYT this is usually done to further a narrative.
This past Saturday, thousands of Asian-Americans across the country gathered to support NYPD cop Peter Liang (yes, you read that right) after his manslaughter conviction for killing Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old black man living in the projects. (The shooting was declared an accidental discharge, the bullet having ricocheted off a wall.)
Enter Jay Caspian Kang (whom, I think it is safe to assume, is asian) writing a NYT op-ed titled “How Should Asian-Americans Feel About the Peter Liang Protests?“:
Every public thing that happens to Asian-Americans — whether the unexpected ascent of a Harvard-educated basketball star, the premiere of a network family sitcom or the conviction of a 28-year-old rookie cop who shot and killed an unarmed black man in the stairwell of a housing project — doubles as a referendum on the state of the people. This sounds unfair, but it happens because Asian-Americans are so rarely in the national conversation, especially within the sludgy arena of identity politics. As a rule, we seldom engage in the sort of political advocacy and discourse that might explain, or even defend, our odd, singular and tenuous status as Americans. This is how it has always been for immigrant populations who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are on a quick march toward whiteness.
Whoa-boy, is this convoluted.
On Feb. 11 this year, Liang became the first N.Y.P.D. officer convicted in a line-of-duty shooting in over a decade. Many Asian-Americans felt that Liang had been offered up as a sacrificial lamb to appease the ongoing protests against police violence that started two summers ago in Ferguson, Mo. The pro-Liang protests, in turn, sparked small counterprotests by black activists, who argued that justice had been served and that a killer cop was a killer cop, period. A discomforting paradox lay beneath the whole confrontation, one that cut straight across the accepted modern vision of Asians and their adjacency to whiteness: If Liang (and, by extension, all Asian-Americans) enjoyed the protections of whiteness, then how do you explain his conviction?
In the increasingly contorted and bizarre unfolding of identity-politics (where new terms like “cisgender” and “latinx” enter the vernacular), Kang appears to have entered a Rabbit Hole:
The Liang protests mark the most pivotal moment in the Asian-American community since the Rodney King riots, when dozens of Korean-American businesses were burned to the ground. The episode is often said to have been precipitated by the horrific killing of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl who was shot in the back of the head by Soon Ja Du, a Korean store owner, after a confrontation over a bottle of orange juice. In reality, the tensions between Asian store owners and the black neighborhoods they served had been simmering for years; they began well before Rodney King became a household name, and they continue today.
Here is the best line:
I cannot adequately describe the conflict in feeling like a race traitor for applauding Liang’s conviction while also feeling like a race traitor for questioning it. I know the lifeblood of my conditional whiteness as an educated, upwardly mobile Asian-American lies somewhere in those conflicts.
One could write a thesis (at Alt-Right University!) deconstructing this paragraph alone.