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Specific Racism Against Chinese Americans


Racism has got varying meanings depending on the opinion of a person. Allen de Benoist defines racism based on the UNESCO’s 1978 “Declaration on Race” as a theoretical observation in which a person sees himself or herself as belonging to a racial or cultural grouping that is intrinsically superior or inferior to others in such a way that it could give the person an advantage to dominate members of other groups or it could be a disadvantage that may cause the person unfairness (1993, pp.13-14). This means that racism is a thought in which people make beliefs about themselves. Racism has been a historical tool for discriminating people. This is despite various efforts by the UN to reduce it. In this paper, we shall discuss various elements of racism in the US. We shall see how racism affects the life of Chinese Americans, but we shall first see the origin of racism in the US.

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Historical Overview of Racism in the US

Racism was introduced in America by the European migrants who wanted to prove their motive behind slavery. By around 1650, the American Southern states depended on a free market economy in which many operated plantations such as those of tobacco. To maximize their profits, they had to use cheap labor which was sourced from imported slaves. Coupled with the economic ambitions as well as Christian teachings which showed that the white race was superior, these migrants saw no problem enslaving other races especially the blacks (Stanfield& John, 1999, pp.243-254). While southerners wanted free slaves to work for them, northerners wanted people to freely choose where to work because the industrial revolution was on course. As a result of this conflict, the Civil war began and consequently, Abraham Lincoln declared his ambition to save the Union, though he would accept to do it in any way including the continual holding of slaves. In this, Slaves noted that all the conflicts at the time were centered on them. They would be segregated in schools, beaches, public transport or they would even be killed and the murderers would be let go. More worrying was the fact that those who discriminated against slaves became popular. Southern states like Louisiana enacted laws that further discriminated against blacks or their relatives even after slaves had been freed by the constitutional amendments (World Socialism, pp.8-11). In this case, Stanfield and John add that a person’s status could vary depending on the place the person was. Certain states for instance chose to discriminate even people of white ancestry who appeared to possess black relations (1999, pp.255-260). As a result, racism manifested itself in voting where the ‘colored’ people were denied voting rights. This discrimination, however, declined in the 1950s when schools were amalgamated after the civil rights riots to allow all races to learn together. Voters were also listed in a single register.

Racism in America Today

Today, we can see southern states accepting other races in elections. However, racism is still in existence. The US has at least an immigrant from every country on earth. Most have migrated to the US in search of better living conditions but they have faced harsh treatments in their new country. Williams observes that injustices are meted against people of European-Polish origins, Asians such as Chinese, Arabs and Indians; Hispanics and worst of all Blacks (1999. P.355). The main cause of discrimination has been the natives’ fear of losing jobs to the newcomers and the chauvinistic view that it is a contaminant to mix with other races. This is likely to go on as long as the rivalry for work and the suspicion of take-over persists.

Features of Racism in America Today

According to Benoist (1993, p.8), racism manifests in features such as the belief to feel more important than others. That is, an individual classifies races based on his view of pomposity, that the person thinks the so-called primitive people can not be elevated by exposure to education and that this opinion is extended to people’s activities such that cultural identities are clearly observed. In addition, there is usually the conviction that races seen as prominent are justified to dominate over the poor races.

Today, having white skin in the US is not a guarantee that you won’t be discriminated against. Other groups like the Chinese have also been oppressed. Jean-Francois Ouellet argues that discrimination against the colored emanates from the fact that the whites feel threatened by their ambitions. Quite often, racist behavior is shown towards members of those colored groups who try to show leadership qualities as a way of suppressing them. Currently, racism manifests in features such as uneven allocation of power in formulating decisions, access to capital, and the capability to set values to what is proper conduct and identify reality on the ground (2005, p.422).

Impact of Racism on Chinese Americans

Racism, as we have seen, began a long time ago. In most cases, it meant more than just segregation. People have been killed in genocides and even laws were made to limit the competition posed by other races. The Chinese have been discriminated against in the US in many areas. Since racism has been there in America for a long time, Chinese Americans have faced attacks both in physical and psychological ways. According to Heriot, this kind of discrimination is called Internalized racism (2003, pp.30-42). Happenings like being beaten up for the reason that one is Chinese as well as being denied jobs because one poses a threat in possessing such a job.

Examples of specific racism against Chinese Americans have involved issues like denial of courtship to white families. For instance, Williams tells of a story of a young Chinese man in Mississippi who dated a white woman but was denied marriage to the woman. The family of the woman felt he came from an “impure background.” The reasoning was that the Chinese man would have contaminated the purity in the white family. As Williams observes, this kind of treatment was just one of the many that occurred undercover (p.356). The effect was the perpetual psychological detriment to the man. Apparently, the man might have felt deprived of his right to expression and assembly. Despite the American constitution allowing every citizen that freedom, it did not protect the Chinese man from such discrimination.

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Apart from this, cases of attacks on Chinese businessmen have been observed. Bivens (1995, p.2) asserts that there are regions in which other races avoid the Chinese. You can find a specific area in which the Chinese are sorely dreaded. In the Southern states, Chinese immigrants are still not allowed to walk freely and at times social recreations like football matches do not involve the Chinese. No wonder, the Chinese athletes in American national teams are just countable! Other examples involve blatant eviction from rented apartments and injustices like lack of correct hearing procedures. The fact that most Chinese immigrants came from communist states serves to deny them economic choices, argues Heriot (2003, pp. 32-34). Communal existence is openly frowned at and every Chinese must strive to live the capitalist way.

The impact is hence three-fold: Socially, the Chinese are isolated in recreational activities. Politically, the Chinese appearance may be unpopular in the south and in economical terms, the Chinese have to struggle to adapt to capitalism.

Internalized racism

Internalized racism is a situation in which people of a particular race feel inferior to others. According to Bivens (1995, p.1), this is seen in hatred for oneself, labeling and low self-worth (p.1).In this case, the discriminated group supports the dominant group by accepting that they are inferior. In this case, a group may feel overwhelmed and so depends on the decisions made by the discriminating group.

The effects of internalized racism involve withdrawal from competitive forms of life. For example, the Chinese may pull out of sporting games because they feel dominated by the whites and so feel defeated before they try. In this case, internalized racism discourages innovation. It increases the fear of defeat among a group. At the same time, it gives the dominant group the power to keep dominating. Here, Bivens adds that the dominated group is limited in decisions for resource allocation, choice of leaders, cultural life and failure to accept the fact that all are equal (1999, p.2)

Terminologies that perpetuate Racism in the US

In the US, not every person is equally referred to. As a continuation of discrimination Blacks are called Niggers, even after it was outlawed and replaced with ‘African-American.’ As a show of disgust, people refer to blacks as niggers (a probable corruption from Negroes) to show how low they feel about them. Similarly, the Chinese are referred to as ‘dirty’, ‘mean’ or even ‘ugly.’ Williams quotes the story told by Grisham in ‘a Time to Kill’ in which a black man shot the entire suspects of murder to his daughter because he felt the court would not give him justice. Instead of outrightly giving his characters open names and descriptions, Grisham has used words like ‘Nigger’ ‘Hispanic’ or Chinese’ in his fiction (Williams, 1999, P. 362). In this case, such demeaning descriptions belittle the Chinese and other races in acquiring rights injustice and power. That people may decide to make their own revenge is a mistrust that no good can come from the justice systems. Again, the use of these labels puts races in their classes. For instance, the Chinese are seen as socialists, a danger to American capitalism. It is not easy for a Chinese person to seek an elective seat in the US. Overall, these terminologies impart attitudes in people: people associate the description with the character of a person regardless of whether the person is reformed or not. For instance, most movies show Chinese, Hispanics and Blacks as thugs, drug traffickers, Sexual deviants, or people without a culture. As a result, they are forced to live on the standards set by whites on how to be human (Chan& Wong, 1998, pp.132-137). Traditional religions are seen as devilish or rudimentary and they may be frowned upon and only Christianity is seen as modern. This becomes a discouragement for the Chinese to express their religious beliefs.

Lessons from these observations

We can deduce from these observations that racism is man-made. People who belong to a society of a free economy have the fear of competition. As a result, they try to mitigate this antagonism through discrimination. For example, the fear that Chinese immigrants could turn the country into socialism drives American capitalists to derail their efforts. We would think that racism is perpetuated by capitalistic views: It can be reduced if the society adopts a socialist stand, where classes are abolished. In this case, no one would fear that the influx of newcomers would drive him out of a livelihood. However, this may fail to explain why racism exists in communist countries today.

We can also learn that groupings exist in societies because individuals want to rate each other. The lowly classes are made to think that they are incapable and hence must be dominated. As a result, they yield to the upper classes’ pressure and hence domination continues. In this case, racism thrives in two ways: That there has to be a dominating group that grades other cultures by setting its standards to be followed in defining the society, and that there is inequality.

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In conclusion, we have seen that despite efforts to reduce it, racism still thrives in the US after a long history. Cases of Chinese killings and denial of human rights still exist people from other races are described in demeaning words to render them powerless and discourage their ambitions. Overall, this is driven by the fear that other races may take over the ‘white’ occupations because this is a free market economy. We can reduce this by involving socialism to eliminate classicism but we must admit that it is not easy to finish racism as it even occurs in communist states of the world. We need to make everyone aware of human rights.


Benoist, A.D. (1993). What is Racism? [PDF document] 2009. Web.

Chan, S., Wong, S. K. (1998) Claiming America: constructing Chinese American identities during the exclusion era.Philadephia: Temple university press.

Bivens, D. (1995). Internalized Racism: a Definition. The Women’s Theological Center. 2009. Web.

Heriot, A. N. (2003). Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848-82. Illinois: University of Illinois press.

Ouillet, J. (2005). Consumer Racism and its Effects on Attitudes. Advances in Consumer Research, 32, 422-427. Web.

Stanfield, John, H. (1999). Racism in America and in other race centered nation states: synchronic considerations. International journal of comparative sociology, 32, pp. 243-260

Williams, R. (1999). Racism: A case of individual observation. Philadelphia: Zap Books. World Socialism. (2007). Racism. [PDF document] Web.

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