“Chin didn’t fit anyone’s stereotype of a passive, emasculated Asian male who was going to turn the other cheek,” says Tajima-Peña. “He was raised in Detroit, a guy who was comfortable inside and outside the Chinese community. He played football in high school. His friends told me that he wasn’t the type to take any shit. And here he was in a fight with two white guys who outnumbered and outweighed him….What was going on inside Ebens’s head while Chin, an Asian American guy, was kicking his butt?”
What Tajima-Peña points out is that Chin’s primary provocation was unapologetically defending his identity, that is to say, fighting for his right to be an Asian guy in a decidedly “non-Asian” context. And while I won’t try to guess what was going on inside Ebens’s head, as someone who’s encountered similar situations, I have a pretty good idea what was going on inside of Chin’s.
If he’d laughed off Ebens’s comments or ignored them, he might be alive today. But given the toxic atmosphere of Detroit in the ’80s, it was certainly not the first time he’d heard racial slurs—the environment he lived in was saturated with anti-Japanese rhetoric. So maybe he’d let such callouts slide before and chosen to shake his head, to turn away, to move on. Not that day. Not this time. Celebrating his impending marriage, in a rowdy environment, a little bit drunk, Chin decided he wouldn’t let things pass.
And for that, he paid with his life—a life that, to Judge Charles Kaufman, was worth less than the down payment on a new Chrysler.Pretending racism doesn’t exist won’t make it go away - Quartz