What we can confidently say is this: nuance would not have saved Vincent Chin. The violence Ebens inflicted on Chin was a fatal performance of how racialization always works. Indeed, the tragedy of Chin’s death is not that Ebens was mistaken. On the contrary, Ebens and Nitz made Chin Japanese. The lesson of racialization that Chin’s murder makes so utterly clear is that race doesn’t exist outside the dynamics of power and violence.
This brings me to something that has always bothered me about narrations of Chin’s murder that has to do with this point about race and power. Nearly every account of the events of June 19 mentions Ebens’ misidentification of Chin’s ethnicity. This perplexes me not only because it is so dramatically beside the point, but also because it suggests that had Ebens known the truth of Chin’s race (whatever that would mean), things might have turned out differently. Chin might still be with us. He might have married his fiancée Vicki Wong, and he might have lived into ripe old age, as Ebens has. (Nitz was killed in a motorcycle accident.) The very premise of such a claim undermines the theories of racialization and power undergirding the Asian American movement.
And yet something about this narrative convention does make sense. The necessity of calling Ebens' attribution a mistake betrays a specific ideological desire. Lurking behind the coalitional power of the Asian American label is the promise that its efficacy will one day obsolesce, and on the heels of that glorious moment, the content of the ethnicities it strategically held together would be redeemed in a kind of multicultural Utopia.
It’s a beautiful idea. An inspirational one. But the fundamental question it poses is extremely difficult to contend with: Can we construct our own racial identity?
Because race never belongs exclusively to the oppressed or the oppressor, the answer can only be a brutish "no." I'd argue, however, that one of the central legacies of Chin’s murder is that sometimes impossibility must be forced into the realm of possibility. If Chin's death and Kaufman's decision gave birth to the impossible community of Asian America, then our task now is to use all the tools at our disposal -- cultural, legal, social -- to brutishly wrench that "no" into a determined "yes." If we owe Chin anything, we owe him that.
- See more at: http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/06/vincent-chin-some-lessons-and-legacies#sthash.NOao4dKu.dpuf
Vincent Chin: Some Lessons and Legacies | Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics