Editor's Note: Jeff Yang writes the column Tao Jones for the Wall Street Journal Online. He is a regular contributor to WNYC radio, blogging for "The Brian Lehrer Show," and appears weekly on "The Takeaway." He previously wrote the Asian Pop column for the San Francisco Chronicle and was founder and publisher of A magazine. He tweets @originalspin.
by Jeff Yang, Special to CNN
He was an unlikely symbol in an uncertain time, a victim who found himself transformed into an accidental icon of institutionalized racism, a private and wary individual who was reluctantly dragged into the world's biggest spotlight. But Rodney King's untimely death Sunday at the age of 47 — 20 years after his case sparked a conflagration that enveloped Los Angeles and shook its institutions to the core — has prompted many to muse on his most famous quote, given at a news conference called three days after the announcement that the officers who beat him mercilessly on camera had been found not guilty: “People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?"
King’s statement was a desperate plea for an end to the unrest and destruction whose toll would include 55 deaths, as many as 2,000 injuries and nearly a billion dollars in property damage; it was a rhetorical question that no more required an answer than a muttered “What’s your problem?” requires an answer.
Timeline: Rodney King from 1991 to 2012
And yet, two decades later, it’s a question that deserves to be asked in truth: Can we all get along? Can we?
It’s the word “all” that made King’s question inadvertently profound and more relevant than ever today. The '90s were the era in which the dialogue on race went from bipolar to multipolar, from a predominantly black-white thing to a complicated snarl of relations between and among different communities. With this radicalization of the race conversation came a swing of the media spotlight toward nonwhite America’s “intramural” tensions, particularly those between Asian and black communities.
In the runup to the announcement of the King verdict, media made frequent parallels between King’s beating and a tragedy that had occurred just 13 days later: the shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by Korean store owner Soon Ja Du. Both events had been captured on video; the assault on King was documented by a camera-wielding George Holliday, who lived nearby, while the Harlins shooting was recorded on the store’s CCTV security system. Footage of the two incidents ran as wallpaper on local and national news, often virtually back to back — essentially conflating them in the minds of many viewers.
As a result, it isn’t surprising that during the six-day outpouring of rage after the acquittal of King’s assailants, Korean-Americans became the primary targets for looting and assault. Their stores and homes were conveniently close by, while the white police officers resided in suburban Simi Valley, an hour outside the city. That these establishments would bear the brunt of the violence was guaranteed by the actions of the Los Angeles Police Department, which pulled back and abandoned the low-income neighborhoods around South Central Los Angeles and established a firewall to protect the mostly white middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods beyond them instead.
Rodney King looks back without anger
Much of the billion dollars in property damage that occurred in the turmoil was committed against Korean-owned businesses. Meanwhile, as if to underscore the black-versus-Korean narrative, news media covering the riots frequently cut between footage of rifle-bearing Korean storeowners on the rooftops of their establishments and “wielding” black and Hispanic looters, symbolically framing the events of April 29 through May 4, 1992, as a war between savage nonwhite tribes.
If there was a silver lining to the events of Sa-I-Gu (Korean for “four-two-nine,” denoting the day the riots erupted), it’s that they forced black and Asian leaders to engage one another in constructive conversation, not just in Los Angeles but across the nation. The patent injustice of the behavior by media and law enforcement during the unrest spoke to the need for a fundamental rethinking of urban racial dynamics. By acting in concert, communities sharing geographic proximity and economic interests could exert maximum pressure on the political establishment for reform of municipal policies and fairer resource allocation. Disunited, these communities were vulnerable to divide-and-conquer strategies and “containment” tactics.
Since then, there has been enormous progress in bringing down walls between urban multicultural populations. As noted this month when the Center for the Study of Los Angeles released its quinquennial survey of the state of the municipality, 69% of Angelenos believe that "some or a lot of progress" has been made in race relations, up from 49% in 1997, the group’s first poll after the riots. Two-thirds of blacks and two-thirds of Asians now believe that ethnic divides have narrowed, with different racial groups now getting along "very or somewhat well." All this is despite the economic downturn that still overshadows the city and the nation at large, and despite active attempts by nativists to direct American anger toward immigrant-heavy communities.
There’s a real sense that this silo-breaking is being influenced from the top — the very top. In 2008, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column for the San Francisco Chronicle asking whether the first black president was also the first Asian-American president. And indeed, in Barack Obama, who received more than two-thirds of the nation’s Asian American vote, the nation has a sterling example of a man who has moved fluidly between black and Asian communities throughout his life.
Born and raised in Hawaii, the one state in the Union that is majority Asian-American, with a few childhood years spent living in Indonesia to boot, the president counted Asian-Americans as among his closest friends as a student attending Occidental College in Los Angeles and Columbia University in New York. Asian-Americans have also been part of his inner circle throughout his political career — and, as president, he’s appointed more Asian-Americans to senior judiciary and Cabinet-level executive positions than any other occupant of the Oval Office.
But the reach and influence of the presidency, though substantial, isn’t infinite. Right in the White House’s own backyard, we’ve seen the reemergence of rhetoric that sounds like it was sampled from the 1990s — from a persistent political survivor of that era.
In April, D.C. City Council Member (and former Mayor) Marion Barry was quoted as saying, “We've got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go.” Less than a month later, Barry attacked the hiring of Asian-American professionals by medical establishments in his district. “It’s so bad that if you go to the hospital now, you find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” he said. “Let's grow our own teachers. Let's grow our own nurses — so that we don't have to be scrounging around … having to hire people from somewhere else."
Though some Asian-Americans reacted to the comments with outrage, the most effective response was one that emulated the words of an earlier man named King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote.
Last month, Barry underwent emergency hospitalization after experiencing a potentially fatal blood clot while attending a retailers convention in Las Vegas. He was treated — with professionalism and care — by a medical team that included a number of Filipino-Americans. “They have been very wonderful and gave me the opportunity to clear things up,” Barry told Tom Sherwood of Washington’s NBC affiliate. Barry subsequently tweeted a general apology, reflecting his change of heart. “I also thank outstanding medical staff, incl. kind professional Filipino staff,” he wrote. “I stand corrected; I truly didn't mean 2 hurt or offend.”
It takes time, effort and patience. But if there’s anything that the Barry incidents show, it’s that given a commitment to respond to ignorance with education, suffering with sacrifice, hate with love, the answer to Rodney King’s 20-year-old question — Can we all get along? — is the slogan that our Asian-American president rode to victory in 2008: Yes, we can.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Yang.
His comment, regardless of what drug he was on, is..was..and will remain to be TRUE...he made his mark while he was here.
NO – we won't all get along! Not as long as a minority has all of the power and the money! Are you the Oppression or the Revolution?!
People just need to put color and that word race aside,my kids don't see color,all their friends come over all the time,they love being together,maybe most of you should take lessons from some of my kids and friends,if they can get along,why can't you,the answer,they're more mature racially than any of you and it definitly shows..We all bleed red don't we,have ten fingers,toes,heart,two lungs,two eyes,not all ,but ya get my drift,its just the color God sprayed us that's different that's all,I'm white and I'd wish that I could stay out all day like some other races but I can't,is that racist,I hope not,just my thinking,that's all!!God takes care of all,he's not petty that way,he sees everyone in one light,he'll never change that either!!!
Cindy more specifically, there are somethings out there that you won't understand, some situations that you won't experience, but when all else fails and someone attacks you, who will you call?.....i'm thinking the police and for what?.....protection. We as humans don't want to get along. Greed plagues us and emotions drive us. please think before you talk.
Bravo for you Ryan
No, we can't. But we can do it civily. As we continue to disagree, we need to leave violence out of the equation. Even cops should be taught to use common sense over violence.
at what point in human history have we had an all peaceful time where everybody got along......it cant happen.... ever.... in fact if you can bet on one thing ... its this....
I think we can but it wont be anytime soon. We humans are but infants in the grand scheme of things. We still have a lot to learn and we are only now starting to tap that potential. Sorry, I like to maintain some hope.
no we cant just all get along ...sry...its human nature....
To say we will all just get along completely is an unrealistic expectation if you ask me. Human regardless of race will never just all get along but as we have seen over the years race relations will get better! There will always be racist and ignorant people in all racial groups. Some will be taught and some will develop from one or two bad experiences with someone of a different race and other will form their opinion of a particular race based on unbalanced images they get from the different media outlets.
I’m black and I once thought that all white people were racist rednecks which I now know is one of the most ignorant and misinformed thoughts I’ve ever had. The moment I took the time to actually get to know a person for who they where and not for who I thought they were is when I realized that most people are good decent people who are just trying to make a life for themselves…..just like me!
You can find good and bad in every race of people in every country around the world but only an ignorant mind will lose faith and trust in an entire race and assume that every single person with-in that race is the same.
That doesn’t even pass the common sense test but since common sense is not sold at Wal-mart I guess we can’t expect everyone to have it!
So will we ever get along with in reason? I think those of us who want to already do! Those who don’t will always find the worse example, scenario, person or situation to justify their own hateful and ignorance reason for not getting along!
Hope everyone in this world can think like you~~
The fallacy that a generalization is all inclusive is just a talking point for naïve minds. Race has little to nothing to do with most behavior; culture on the other hand plays a massive role. You need only review criminal, education and financial statistics to see this. That said I approve of your comment and one day I hope we achieve this Star Trek like future. Unfortunately that type of human utopia was entirely dependent on individuals taking reasonability and the desire to improve oneself. That is not something you see much today.
why can't cnn just ask the question everyday....when is congress gonna start working TOGETHER .........
frankly I would fire most all of them and hire unemployed workers instead.
Then vote that way. If everyone voted to out every politician that refuses bipartisan agreement, we could truly change things.
No we will never just get along......Its sad but it will never happen. Blacks and Whites will always have a void between them. Whites hold onto there hate with a passion. Whites have this superiority thing that is ingrown and will never change. They actually think they are better and time wont change that. There are over 1000 White hate groups on the web today, i dont see any Black ones looking to kill the White man....so whos the insecure race..Nuff said.
Black Panthers... didnt they put a bounty on George Zimmerman's head? And I'm sorry to say, blacks are just as racists as whites are. But hey, its not racist, it's just giving back to the white man what they gave us over a century ago. Its just hate perpetuating more hate. Both sides, no, ALL sides need to let go of the hate and start being decent HUMAN beings and treat each other with dignity and respect.
Too bad I'm just speaking to a wall, and nothing but trolls will respond with more hate.
"There are over 1000 White hate groups on the web today, i dont see any Black ones looking to kill the White man....so whos the insecure race"
"Black Panthers... didnt they put a bounty on George Zimmerman's head?"
Oh so he's white now?! Funny you say that considering when the story blew up, white people wanted to make it clear he was NOT white, this was not another "white on black" crime but......"Hispanic". Hmm. Like a mood ring, I guess he can change colors.
Humanity's evilness is like roaches. Just when you think you've killed them all off, it's next generation that were hiding in the crevices, emerges and creates a new generation that will wait in hiding until its their turn to emerge. Humans in this Earthly life will NEVER get along. King's quote only grows in theory. If there is an afterlife in Heaven, that will be the only time others will get along but right now........
KPJ, great comment and so true! But while we're on the subject of getting along I would like to appeal to my sisters and brothers and ask that we please stop the black on black crimes! Let's start respecting one another!
I think that one day everyone will get along. I dont think it will be in this century but one day it will happen. Many decades ago racism was at an all time high but as time goes by it's starting to diminish. I'm not saying that it is completely gone, but I will say that as more generations come they will be more mature in the matter and understand that we all bleed the same color and we are all human. Sometimes time can heal all wounds. Also I will not point fingers at one particular race because no race is perfect and if you really look at the ridiculous jail population throughout american every single race is in there.
It's so sad reading some of these rather negative, and often-times, hateful comments.It just echoes the almost impossible prospect of "getting along."
Twinkle, I hate to break it to you, but that is life! It is unfortunate! I can sometimes see how people can make assumptions of others based on their life experiences with those who are differenet than them whether it deals with a person's race, religion, gender, economic situation, etc.....
Just be the best you can be and treat others with respect we ALL deserve!
if we would stop teaching our children to hate or be worried about someone just because their race we could achieve this none race hating people. We need to learn from our children and see how they can care less about color they see the person as a person. When a child can get it right at 2 but an adult wants to pass on anger and hate and lies to "protect" their child from harm. than we will not likely change. It starts with you making the change to keep the hatred away. Different doesn't mean wrong. and White isn't Right.
most of the midwest was found before the 1800s and almost all were of German, Irish or other parts of lower Europe. by the 1900s immigration had stopped for most of the White Europeans because they had no reason to come here. Even if they were not here until 1900s do you honestly not know that most of their ancestors supported or contributed to TransAtlantic slavery? Yes slavery became illegal in 1865 but Jim Crow was still alive and kicking until the 60s. even then it would take until the 80s to for business to not discriminate and hire someone of color if they were qualified instead of always passing them up for an inexperienced white person. Even today black people still make 25% less than White in the same job with the same qualifications.
Black people will have to grow past their racism and realize they aren't owed anything and by doing so will finally put themselves in a position of growing as a race.
you sound like an idiot. why don't you study somethings about race relations and see what is out there to learn instead of thinking that black people are out to take your rights away. you sure didn't mind supporting taking theirs away so isn't it the white's turn to be turned into slaves? well, no you wouldn't ever go for that! you expect for minorities including blacks to just deal with the society and just go to work, but never think twice about the percentage of minorities who are over looked for a good job just because they are not white. Read some non white history. Hell get a degree in in like I have, it might just surprise you.
'isn't it whites turn to be slaves'
No I think the point is all slavery is wrong. And all racism is wrong. Saying all whites today are racists responsible for the enslavery of blacks is extremely offensive. sounds like you could do some growing up too.
@tammi,don't blame all whites for the ignorence of some,if you also go back historicly you'll see that tribes were glad to give slave traders some of their people,some tribes were starving,some sickly,some old ,some had more than to care for,tribal leaders were as guilty as slavers for giving away their young strong men,women,children to greedy slavers just for food and some shiny trinkets.So don't be holding a grudge for things that historicly weren't made just by so called white slavers,they're also others nationalities,ethnicities and races,even black slavers weren't above enslaving their own,read up,I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings just being informative that's all and I don't have a degree,just a union welder,that's retired,that's all,thanks again!!
It is not that they are owed it is the fact that this Christian nation hasn't honestly without self motive tried to do right by "EVERYONE" not including pink people.
Tammi, I've worked places that have turned down well qualified workers for less qualified workers because they had to fill there affirmative action quota, and the people they hire have without exception been awful
they really can!
“it will harm the cause for action on both clmatie change anddisasters because it is so deeply flawed.” The report ignores the fact that more people may be killed simplybecause populations have grown in regions prone to extreme weather.In reality, since 1920 the number of people killed by extreme weatherevents such as storms or heat waves has been steadily falling. TheNOAA measurement of hurricane intensity shows clearly there is notrend that corresponds with clmatie change and indeed the trend hasbeen falling during the last decade. In short, as Pielke has pointed out, there is no credible evidence thatclmatie change has killed a single person. The truth may be the exactopposite. I believe we have been incredibly lucky to have lived duringa period of modest warming, but it may be coming to an end.Mankind has always prospered when the world was warmer, perfectexamples being the Roman and Medieval periods. It's when the worldgets colder that people starve and civilisations fail.
Racism is created by the media which cultivates it to increase its sales for example the Trayvon's case
No, Trayvon was pretty much killed for being black and "being" out of place. Racism exists and it was around long before the media ever existed. Sorry but racism is around us all day. You may not see it but it is there in some form or another.
So you know for 100% sure you know what GZ's intentions were during that time frame and you were there to witness it all as it carried out? If that is the case as you state, it is a damn shame! If it is not and everything went down as GZ states as being the truth, then how are you going to feel about your biased opinion of what you think is the case when it may not be that at all?
There is something distinctly racist in someone calling me a racist for absolutely nothing.
Each race and ethnicity needs to play ambassador to their own race when in difficult situations with other races. Think about the image to your own race before you act or speak.
Most white people hate talking about racism. They just hate it. Why? Because this will not enable them to be covert about racism. They hate being exposed for what they are.
When racism is out in the open they have to deal with that "white Guilt". You know, the kind of guilt that makes them 3 times more likely to commit suicide than other races.
No white guilt here, what bothers me most is the blatant racism of blacks. It's wide spread and not reported on one iota.
I have about as much white guilt as a KKK member back in the 50s. Zero. I do not feel sorry for your race one single bit.
Don't vote for Willard Romney, he's a man that makes bad decisions. He's a hump like Trump!
Yes, now that you are gone.
It's amazing how fletch can call me a racist and bigoted because i point out that the tea party is racist and bigoted, and this guy lays out a post like this and he stays quiet. They hypocrisy of the right is truly amazing......
I'm supposed to be "Hispanic" whatever that means, and it is awful to see Hispanic names in bad news every day. But nothing is being done to get out of that image. And it is not just publicity, they are real crimes. And then I wonder why some people cannot get their eyes off of me when I go to certain stores or places.
Hey fletch!!!!! make sure you call this guy racist too....lol
"Can't we all just get along?" I think it's a hell of a good idea. But I don't expect much.
Robert Wright Posted on Hi Tina,Just wondering how you can tell the dneifrefce between trying really hard not to let your mind play horrible tricks and when your coach has moved you on from the negative thought. What are you thinking and feeling when you have moved on? Where does the moving on occur first? What happens then and what happens after that? Where have you moved to specifically?How would you know if you were able to model this process to provide yourself with the support which your coach used to give you? What would you have to believe differently to do this Easier than you can presently imagine and how might you utilize safe/ trusted support to ensure your success? Good luck/ sincere regards.ps, have you ever tried waving at someone? didn't you wave when you wanted to? What happens to your hand when you wave at someone? Who is doing the waving, or should we say, what is doing the waving? pps, you already have all you need and the more you learn this the easier it gets
I am white and I have worked alongside blacks, asians, indian, bosnian, and so on. We worked in health care together in all sorts of stressful situations. We not only worked together, we ate lunch together and attended social activities outside of work together. Today, even though we no longer work in the same place anymore, we still get together for happy hours, etc. I tend to think that the majority of hard-working, decent people get along with each other more often than not. As long as attention-seeking, ego-maniacs Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson profit off of racial tension, we will always have it, perceived or real.
as long as you still have the racist bigoted tea party, then the answer is NO
...And of course, people that enjoy confrontation.
I guess it does hurt.
Any evidence of that or do you always assume any group of three or more white men are plotting to lynch minorities?
Of course not. Ethnic friction will always exist. Sociology 101. The multicultural fantasies were spitting in the face of human nature. I hope we can keep it relatively civil and nonviolent. That would be cool.
You can never force people to do certain things or to think a certain way... you can certainly influence them, but they must and will make their own decisions. With that said, some people will make the choice to be racist, hateful, or violent... for whatever reason. It's unfortunate, yes. But that's their decision... not mine or yours. And if you don't like it... become influential enough to change them.
I happen to be young and "black" and I am everyday bombarded with negative information about how bad "people like me" are. I don't get defensive or offended by this b/c I'm not who people think I am... I am who I make myself to be, and I've made myself pretty awesome!
So can we all get along? No, but I think we have the capacity to improve as individuals.
Nope. We can't. Even for those who want to...they won't be left alone by those who simply cannot be satisfied with a life without...strife.
If history is any indicator, then, no we cannot all get along. And by history, I mean human history. Starting with that million-year-old fossilized man with the blunt force trauma to his fossilized skull made by an axe created by another million-year-old human.
We can. There still many people who won't let it happen though.
I really don't think people can. Its sad to say. But who said this world is suppose to be perfect?
No, we can not all get along. Since the beginning of the human race and even before, people like to gather in small groups of like minded individuals. People do not like for you to come and tell them they are wrong. Yet that is exactly what other groups like to do. If you don't like the way they are doing what they are doing, leave em alone, it works that way for them. Your way is not my way.
But leaving others, that don't think like us, is _NOT_ the American way.
If you don't do what we do then we'll invade your country and make you conform. Just ask Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.
Yes, I know, that is why I said what I said. People wont leave others alone. That is the problem.
This is not just a problem with America, this is a problem with the whole of earth. Have you seen how many countries lately are coming close to collapse? Civil War? You think their problems are any different than ours?
I hate most people of all types.
Yeah... what he said.
Eddie and Chris – it doesn't matter if you are just ignorant or truly evil. Sentiments like yours are destroying America...and destroying you. What would Jesus think?
Blacks and left wingers turn a blind eye to black on white crime which in some cases is so heinous and disgusting you would think it happened in the Sudan and then you want to ask us if we can get along. This has to be a joke right?
Where is all this black on white crime? Give me some examples, or is all of this coming out of you make beleive head.
All you have to do to find black on white crime is to read the local newspaper of any decent sized city, especially close to the inner city. Those include burglaries, car jackings, etc. etc. on and on. No surprise there. However, I am continually questioning why the black community doesn't step up and condemn the number of black on black crimes. Especially well-known black entertainers who could make an impression, be a role model. Why not some public service spots on TV asking for more accountability from black fathers to be involved in their kids' lives, or encouraging black youth not to get mixed up in gangs, stop killing each other. Where is the outrage from them?
90% of gang crimes, the dude that ate the white dudes face, tm attacking zimmerman, black panther s putting a hit out on zimmerman, need i go on
I don't know what you're talking about. I'm White and all the cases of black on white crime i've seen blacks have gone straight to jail. With the exception of the wealthy black athlettes who do whatever they want to. ( OJ Simpson. )
??? you are kidding are you not? maybe not..please get help Chris. You need it. You have NO idea what liberals or conservatives think for that matter...Get help, you will be healthier and happier once you do.
We could if EVERYONE genuinely met each other half way, followed the rules/laws/policies, and behave with integrity. When you have a problem with someone doen't blame race/gender/age/culture, deal with the individual as an individual. This won't happen in today's society, were too busy dividing ourselves and fighting.
Yes we could. But that does not benefit some politicians, their spokesmen nor religious leaders. They derive more power when we don't get along. Maybe if everyone realized they were getting "played" we would be better off. We definitely would get along better.
There can be no true peace in a male orientated, patriarchal society because of the human males need for status, power, dominance, control, fame, glory and importance.
Getting along is too difficult for some people. Way too much to ask for.
Especially when politicians and religious leaders play off of that.
With mass assault, theft, rape and murder by blacks against white people including their cowardly racist flash mobs in Philly, Chicago and other cities that target white people you CNN have the gall to ask "can we just get along?"
The answer is no, not while these black cowards are waging a race war against innocent white people while the left wing media downplays and IGNORES these hate crimes.
White people are waking up and there is going to be retaliation whether you want to accept it or not.
it appears to be an accurate statement. ;)
Sorry, he is just a troll....best to ignore :)
What? Judging an entire race due to the actions of a few? Ok sure.
You mean like you leftists judge the entire white race for actions of a few in the distant past?
These are real crimes that are happening and you leftists are in abject denial. Go look at the news outside of your left wing propaganda for once in your brainwashed lives.
Chris, I'm a member of the Right. A bloodthirsty kill em all let God sort them out later kinda guy (sarcasm)
and even I think you're nuts. Hopefully natural selection will step up and breed your kind out of existence.
Your kind of bigotry has no place in this world anymore.
We can. We can all get along. Without very little effort at all. Love one another, as you love yourself. We can all get along, because we need to. Because we should.
No, we can not all get along. Not until we learn that our way is not right for everyone else. Yet people always feel the need to tell others what they are doing is wrong. People get offended by that.
hmm someone speaks thoughtfully and that is a threat to you...he isn't telling you what to think, he is saying what we should be doing. is it so hard to respect others?...Laughs...drunkenmonkey stay off the booze please ;)). You are too easy to offend..lighten up:)..its better for your heart and health.
onceacpa, I am not offended at all. Who could not agree with what was said. I am just saying it wont happen because there is always someone somewhere who always thinks he knows better and you should do it his way. So he is going to invade your space and tell you all about it.
It is our nature to get a long. We hide from that though.
What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the accent in your words, the make up of your family, the gender you were born with, the intimate relationships you chose to have or your generation? As the American identity changes we will be there to report it. In America is a venue for creative and timely sharing of news that explores who we are. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send Feedback | Subscribe