Kenneth Eng has been crucified for writing in his "Why I Hate Blacks" column in Asian Week that Blacks are weak-willed, Asian hating and were complacent in subjection to slavery. But was he totally wrong? Did he have the right to say his hurtful words? Did Asian Week have the right to publish them? And was the passion and anger that Eng whipped up warranted when measured against the big-ticket problems that hammer Blacks daily?
A few days after Eng's inflammatory column sent Asian Week publishers back-peddling fast to utter mea culpas, drew denunciations from politicians and media activists, got his sci-fi book pulled from Amazon.com, and got him banned to writer's Siberia, a cross-section of Black activists, politicians and writers at a roundtable in Los Angeles weighed in on Eng, Asian Week and relations with Asian Americans. They answered the above questions far differently and surprisingly than those outraged at Eng's column and the author himself have. The views ranged from seeing it as much ado about nothing, to a near defense of him.
Blacks continue to have the highest rates of poverty, infant mortality, violence, victimization rates and health care disparities than any other group in America. They are still more likely to live in segregated neighborhoods; be refused business and home loans; their children attend failed public schools than any other group; and are more likely to be racially profiled on America's urban streets. These were the issues that the roundtable participants repeatedly said were the things Blacks should get enraged about and take action on. Those problems would exist and demand outrage and action even if Eng had never written a word. The racial lethargy on major social problems engenders deep frustration among many Blacks. And those at the roundtable reflected that frustration.
A couple of the participants called for a boycott of Asian-owned businesses in protest. That was rejected. What good would that do? Not only would it unfairly cast a wide net over all Asians for the sins of one man, but also it would let Blacks off the hook for their failure to boost their own businesses.
Blacks also have watched and listened with mounting fury as a legion of foul mouthed rappers, comedians and entertainers continue to use and defend the "N" word, as well as propagate and glory in the most vile and repulsive stereotypes about Black men and women in films and in TV sitcoms. They are and rightly should be appalled that there is relatively little outcry from other Blacks around them. But when a White politician, celebrity, or known public figure slips, deliberately uses the "N" word or Eng bashes them in his column, Blacks stampede to the barricades to denounce them.
More than one participant flatly said that Eng had the right to write his column, and that Blacks should defend it. This was not just a rote ACLU line to protect hate speech no matter what — though a compelling argument can always be made for that. It's more of a practical concern.
The worst thing that could happen is to censor even the most odious racial slanders, making it impossible for them to be publicly challenged, and blowing a chance to educate the public on the colossal harm they can do. Eng's column is the best example of that. If the editors at Asian Week had pulled it, the public would not have known how widespread the myths, misconceptions and negative stereotypes about African Americans are among some Asian Americans and Asian immigrants. That forced Blacks, Asians, and many others to acknowledge that the prejudices exist and then confront them. Asian Week did a valuable service by printing his views.
There were many things that the roundtable participants said they hated about the problems Blacks face and what Blacks often fail to do about them. Eng's column was not one of the problems that bothered them. They were right.
BlackNews.com columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator.