On May 30th, Rick Chow, a South Carolina gas station owner, appeared in court for the murder of 14-year-old Cyrus Carmack-Belton. Chow allegedly shot Carmack-Belton in the back outside of the store for stealing four bottles of water.
Four bottles of water.
Evidence shows that not only was Carmack-Belton running away and posing no threat to Chow, but he also did not steal anything. New evidence shows that Chow has shot at two other shoplifters in the past, one of whom was driving away. Society owes Carmack-Belton’s family more than thoughts and prayers. This senseless murder reignites conversations about oppressive politics portraying Asians as the “model minority”.The model minority myth as it applies to Asian Americans, paints this group as a monolith complicating efforts to achieve educational, social, and financial equity. The myth also unfairly pits members of the Asian community against Black and Brown people on issues of education, immigration, and employment. As long as politicians intentionally create and leverage these feuds, racial tension will rise, and deaths will follow.
The sheriff’s office investigating the case was sure to tell the public that Carmack-Belton’s murder was “not a bias motivated incident”. Carmack-Belton is Black and Chow is Asian. State Representative Todd Rutherford, Carmack-Belton’s family’s attorney, begs to differ. He likens the incident to countless other episodes of racial profiling by police and everyday citizens that lead to the disproportionate murder of Black and Brown bodies. For instance, in Florida on June 2nd, Susan Louise Lorincz shot Ajike Owens to death after hurling racial slurs at Owens and her children. Much of the nation is still reeling from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who was never convicted in a court of law. There are many more shootings that will never make the news.
While a bullet was the direct cause of death for 14-year-old Carmack-Belton, ignoring the complicated history of Asian-owned businesses in predominantly Black neighborhoods would be naive. When the US removed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, many Asian immigrants opened businesses in low-income Black neighborhoods. Asian immigrants were sometimes met with xenophobia and Black residents with racism. Politicians are far too aware of the racial tensions that may exist between these two groups and are willing to leverage them for political gain. For example, Florida’s Ron DeSantis signed a bill in May mandating that Asian American and Pacific Islander history be taught in public schools. This is the very same governor who is effectively attempting to erase Black history and DEI efforts under the guise of it being divisive critical race theory. DeSantis is more than aware of the hypocrisy in his policies that overtly pit Asians against Blacks in an effort to divide communities who may otherwise oppose his views.
As Lyndon B. Johnson infamously noted in 1960, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Weaponizing divisive race-based policies is as American as apple pie. These policies persist in a post-Civil Rights America. They just become more and more discreet in their execution. For example, Black people are no longer told out-right that they cannot vote. Districts are just gerrymandered in ways making it difficult for their votes to count. These practices have real consequences for the oppressed groups whose minority status is used against them and other marginalized groups:
The model minority myth is dangerous for the Asian American community.
The myth that Asians are an aspirational monolithic group who immigrated to the US under the same circumstances with the same access to the social drivers of health does this diverse community a disservice. For instance, according to a 2018 Pew Research Study, Asian Americans are the most economically divided ethnic or racial group in the US. There are educational and wealth gaps in these communities that need to be addressed as well. To mitigate this, medical and political communities must work to disaggregate Asian communities when collecting data and developing services.
Anti-Blackness makes it difficult for allyship amongst other marginalized groups.
Black Americans, whether they be the descendants of enslaved Africans or the children of immigrants, are subject to anti-Black racism. What many fail to realize is that non-Black people of color may be manipulated into practicing Anti-Black racism as well. For instance, non-Black people of color are exposed to and internalize anti-Black rhetoric just like everyone else. This contributes to racial profiling in places of business and perceived competition for employment and positions in higher learning institutions. As a result, minorities are left having to reconcile celebrating the study of Asian American and Pacific Islander history in schools while fighting for AP African American Studies curriculum in the very same state. This is the very goal of these types of policies: divide and conquer.
Politics have been more polarizing than ever, exacerbated by the age-old ruse of pitting oppressed groups against each other for political gain. Rhetoric and policies will not undo Chow’s alleged shooting of Carmack-Belton. But, the optics of the tragedy sheds light on areas of potential policy interventions that will prevent more divisive legislation. This light will guide the way to more equitable health and social outcomes and enlightened interactions.