Margo Okazawa-Rey and Marshall Wong



Organizing in Communities of Color: Addressing Inter-Ethnic Conflicts

Marge Okazawa-Rey and Marshall Wong examine the underlying structural factors causing the inter-ethnic conflicts immortalized in images of armed Korean merchants defending their stores against angry African-American looters in South-Central Los Angeles in 1992. The rapid growth of immigrant Asian, primarily Korean businesses in predominantly Black neighborhoods, has created an explosive situation fraught with misconceptions and prejudices. The authors distinguish “inter-ethnic conflict”–racial and cultural tensions and conflicts between communities of color–from “racism” in the form of institutionalized white racism. The article examines the history of exclusionary U.S. immigration laws and various factors such as capital and class formation, levels of education, and entry points into U.S. society that affect the roles and perceptions of the groups in these communities. A case study of the Afro-Asian Relations Council of Washington, D.C., provides the experiential base for discussing new approaches. Too often well-meaning efforts to break down walls between peoples of color fail to address underlying structural factors or to encompass the complex issues of community control, economic development, and assimilation of new immigrants. If communities of color are able to resolve conflicts and galvanize their forces, the prospect arises of establishing a formidable power block with which oppressive structures may be transformed into structures that promote and support the development of healthy, whole individuals and communities, of all races and cultures.

African Americans and politics; Asian Americans; culture and politics; ethnic group relations; immigrants; organizing; racial discrimination

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 24: 1 (1997): 24-39