African-Americans and Asian-Americans

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In several ways, the histories of African Americans and Asian Americans in the United States are similar, but they still vary greatly. While the majority of African Americans were shipped to the United States as slaves, the majority of Asian Americans immigrated to the United States of their own free will. These two groups, on the other hand, would end up being divided and heavily involved in racial manipulations, acts that resulted in these groups being low-skilled, low-wage laborers. However, much has changed in American history over the past century or so. This essay compares these two racial groups in terms of how they were viewed in American history and how they have evolved over time. The forefathers of most African Americans were brought into the country as slaves in the 17th and 18th Century (Inikori). African Americans currently make about 13% of the American population, a figure that translates to about 40million people (Bennett 19). Most of the African Americans, about half of the population, lived in the southern states in the US, while the others were living in large capitals in the East, Midwest and the West. African Americans had to work on huge cotton and tobacco plantations without getting paid. As a result, their living conditions were extremely poor. Not all Africans were slaves, though. Some few ‘free blacks’ existed and operated in big American cities, but without enjoying many of the rights which were a privilege of the white Americans.

In the middle of the 19th Century, the United States witnessed significant numbers of Chinese immigrants into the country. These Chinese were motivated by problems at home as well opportunities in the United States and were mainly from the Guangdong province. At this time China was overwhelmed by a myriad of problems including armed conflicts such as the Red Turban uprising of 1854 to 1864 (Kim 22), the Taiping Rebellion between 1850 and 1864 (Michael) and the Opium wars against Great Britain(Beeching). The consequences of losing the war would include the loss of life by about 20 million Chinese as well as the requirement by the British government to pay reparations. The Qing government, which was the Chinese government of the time, would transfer these costs to the Chinese farmers by increasing tax. When the news of the discovery of gold in California reached these Chinese farmers, middle class merchant and entrepreneurs, they were determined to quit their unprofitable ventures and immigrate to the US in the pursuit of gold in what they referred to as the Gaam Saan, the Gold Mountain.

Due to the fact that the Chinese were ready to work for less pay than their white counterparts, there was increased pressure to minimise Chinese migration into the USA. By 1882 the immigration of Chinese into the US had been highly reduced, but farmers and large companies were still in great need for cheap labour. This is what catalysed the next great wave of Asian immigration, that of the Japanese. The government of Japan had put up laws which prohibited emigration from the country until 1894. When these laws were finally lifted, many Japanese would immigrate into Hawaii to work in sugar plantations. The reasons for the immigration of the Japanese into the US were similar to those of the Chinese.

Racial Discrimination

Perhaps one of the biggest victims of racism in American history is the African American. Racial discrimination against black Americans started long before the criminalization of slavery. For those African Americans who were ‘free blacks,' as they were termed, a lot of the privileges that were accorded to the Native Americans were denied to them. Just as an example, African Americans were not allowed to vote. Neither could they own property. Eventually, slavery would be abandoned, but the discrimination against African Americans would continue. It was not until the end of the Civil Rights Movement in 1964 that blacks were allowed to vote and laws put in place to ban discrimination in schools and public places (Hall 1240). Many scholars and civil rights organizations argue that racial prejudice against blacks still exists to this day. They argue that Americans use subtle forms of racism to discriminate against African Americans. Such methods include the discrimination in job interviews where it is reported that black job seekers are discriminated against in 1 in every 5 jobs that they are interviewed for. Some scholars also argue that some employers choose to hire their staff from predominantly white schools, as opposed to training management trainees from all institutions.

Similarly, Asian Americans were subjected to immense racial prejudice in the hands of Native Americans. During the migration into California in the quest for the ‘Gold Mountain,' most white settlers were just as new to the area as the Chinese. However, they labelled the Chinese as aliens due to their different appearance and unique culture. Though the Chinese were willing to work for less wages than their white counterparts, racial discrimination played a significant role in the type of jobs that they would get. Often, the Chinese workers would be given the tougher jobs in the mines and factories, often installing dynamite in underground mines and risking their lives in the process. The discrimination against the Chinese was so intense that the government passed laws to explicitly forbid them from immigrating into the country. The Foreign Miner’s License Tax of 1852 required that the Chinese workers pay a monthly tax of $3 dollars (Kanazawa 801). Even during the collection of this tax, often the Chinese were discriminated against by the corrupt tax officials and forced to pay more than they could afford, often way above the stipulated $3.

The Japanese were not spared of the racial prejudice that the Chinese went through. First of all, during their initial years of their immigration into the US, the Japanese were indistinguishable by most white settlers from the Chinese. For this reason, these Japanese were treated much in the same way as the Chinese. Eventually, even after the Japanese would be distinguishable from the Chinese, they would be bundled into one pack and the Asian race considered inferior. The Asian Americans were just viewed as ‘beasts of burden’, much like what the Africans had been viewed as during the slavery period. The Sino- Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars would serve to discredit the notion that the Japanese were an inferior race as they triumphed in both wars (Malozemoff). These victories, however, did little good to the Japanese in America. In fact, the situation worsened as most Americans thought of the Japanese immigrants as agents sent from their home countries to facilitate the taking over of the world. A term, the ‘Yellow Peril’, was coined to describe the perceived danger that the Japanese and other Asian cultures presented in the United States.

Poor Working Conditions

Both the Asian Americans and African Americans historically faced much the same problems at the workplace. Apart from working for extremely low wages or even for no wages at all, as was the case with the black slaves, these two groups worked under the worst conditions imaginable at the time.

African American slaves worked six days a week from dawn to dusk. In fact, in the fields and plantations of the white man, the slaves were treated no better than animals. It was not uncommon for slaves to be whipped in case they were slacking on the job or were causing even the slightest inconvenience to their white master. The masters believed that these slaves were their personal property since they had paid for them, and for this reason were free to do as they wished on them, as one would on any other property. The working conditions of the African American would not improve much even after the abolishment of the slave trade. It is ironical that during the slave trade period, the white masters would engage the African slave in all manner of jobs but upon the emancipation declaration, the African was barred from performing tasks which they would have otherwise performed were they still slaves, like operating machinery.

It was no different for the Asian Americans. Chinese labourers on mines and plantations worked six days a week from dawn to dusk, just like the African American slaves. These workers were under the supervision of white ‘lunas’, or foremen, who were very strict and abusive. These foremen would often verbally abuse Chinese workers or even strike them to ensure that they maintained discipline in their work. The working conditions of these Asian Americans were much like those of their African American counterparts who were slaves before them. Generally, talking during work time was not allowed, and one would not even be allowed to stand and stretch while working in the fields. In fact, the only clear difference between the African Americans and the Asian Americans is that the latter would receive payments for their work, albeit lower than what their white counterparts would have received if they were to be performing the same job.

Chinese labourers were highly mistreated on the job and would not be allowed to attain the higher positions which were reserved for the white. These Chinese workers would be assigned the most dangerous job available at the mines, often involving the unprotected handling of explosive. In the slopes of Sierra Nevada Mountains, Chinese workers would be lowered down the cliff to drill holes into granite rocks and stuff them with dynamite. In case this dynamite blew off before the worker was safely pulled up to safety, they often lost their lives.

Humble Living Conditions

In the current age, most employees are often amused by the fact that at day’s end they would leave their places of work and head to their homes to rest under humane conditions. For African Americans as well as Asian Americans, this was hardly the case.

African Americans both before and after the slavery went through very poor living conditions. During the slave trade, African slaves lived in shacks with seldom any furniture or proper flooring. Slaves belonged to the lowest ranks of American society, and they remained the same as free citizens. After the abolishment of the slave trade, most Africans would travel north in the pursuit of well-paying jobs in the city. Their lack of the required qualifications, and not necessarily skills, meant that they would not clench these jobs. The lack of proper jobs led to the cropping up of black ghettos and slums within these cities. The great depression would deal a great blow to these African Americans, further sinking them into desperation and immense poverty (Sundstrom 415). These ghettos and slums would become crime hubs and further complicate the living conditions of these African Americans.

Conditions for the Chinese and Japanese living environments were just as crude as those of the African Americans. Often, single men were put into bunkhouses. Families, on the hand, would be crammed into a single room. Additionally, in the early years, no cooking or recreational facilities were allowed at the Asian American premises. Water supply was not only unreliable, but it was also unsanitary. The Asian American workers would not even enjoy sufficient sleep, with whistles sounding at 5 A.M. every day, six days a week. Most Chinese men found this kind of controlled lifestyle hard to cope with since they had been used to making important decisions for their families. With the increased number of Chinese immigrants into the US and the need for the preservation of the Chinese culture, the Chinese people came together and formed Chinatowns. The American lawmakers ignored the affairs of the Chinese people in Chinatowns. For this reason, the Chinese formed their own governing bodies to maintain law and order among themselves.

The Recent Past and the Current Situation

A lot has changed since the abolishment of the slave trade and many events have impacted on the fate of the African American and the Asian American. The World Wars would particularly have a great impact on these two ethnic groups. For the African Americans, the World Wars presented an opportunity for most of them to prove their worth and honour for the country. During this wars, most African Americans enrolled in the army and went to war, often in all-black troops, to fight for the country. After serving their country and some of them even rising to the ranks of officers and pilots, the African Americans gained some honour and felt privileged for the same services as the white American citizen.

Even after the emancipation declaration, the World War I, and World War II, a lot of discrimination was still being witnessed against the blacks, and most of them lived in grim poverty. The Civil Rights movement, with Martin Luther King Jr. at the forefront, gained momentum and started fighting against the discrimination that was being witnessed against black people. Congress would later authorize the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that would ban all types of discrimination against black people (Mullen).

Black people currently have greatly advanced within the American society, although they are still yet to achieve their full potential. Outright racial discrimination has significantly reduced, but still exists and can be clearly spotted in many aspects of the American lifestyle. The standard of living of most African Americans still lags behind and around twenty-five per cent of all African Americans still thrive in poverty (Glasmeier). Nevertheless, the African American population has made tremendous strides since the end of slavery about one and a half centuries ago. The future looks bright for African Americans and this population which for a long period of time has been discriminated against and mistreated can only hope for the best.

The attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 by the Japanese would reinforce the ‘Yellow Peril’ fears by the American citizen (Best). This would have profound effects on the Asian continent, including the forging of ties between the US and China in a bid to corner the Japanese. The government set up detention camps for immigrants of Japanese origin, which led to great constitutional failures and human rights violations. Before the Japanese Americans would return to normal lives in the US, they had to prove their undying loyalty to the country. This included the signing of Japanese American soldiers to serve in Europe. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was the all Japanese American troop into which these immigrants served, would become the most decorated unit in the history of American military history (Hull 54).

Currently, Asian Americans form the loftiest-income, most-educated and most rapidly developing racial group in the USA. They have totally assimilated into the American society, unlike their African American counterparts, living freely in mixed neighbourhoods and freely intermarrying across racial lines. Immigration from Asia continues up to date, and in fact, an immigrant from Asia is thrice as likely to receive permanent residence status as an immigrant from any other part of the world, for employment reasons.


The common phrase that America is an immigration nation can be affirmed as true owing to the level of immigration that has been witnessed in the country. These waves of immigrations happened either of the immigrant’s self-will or forcefully. The African Americans and the Asian Americans are some examples of these immigrations respectively. The history of these two American groups is very rich, though, with each having undergone their unique path to arrive at where they are today. This article presented a comparison between the African American and the Asian American in terms of their navigation through history from the time they stepped on American soil to date. A presentation on the racial segregation that both of these groups went through as well as their working and living conditions has been presented. Finally, a recapitulation of the last couple of years in the lives of these two groups has been done, and their current situation stated.

Works Cited

Beeching, Jack. The Chinese Opium Wars. Hutchinson, 1975.

Bennett, Claudette. "African-origin population." in Chief, Encyclopedia of the US Census (2000): 18-22.

Best, Antony. Britain, Japan and Pearl Harbour: Avoiding War in East Asia, 1936-1941. Routledge, 2013.

Glasmeier, Amy. An atlas of poverty in America: One nation, pulling apart 1960–2003. Routledge, 2014.

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. "The long civil rights movement and the political uses of the past." The Journal of American History 91.4 (2005): 1233-1263.

Hull, Michael D. "The Japanese-American 442Nd Regimental Combat Team.." World War II, vol. 11, no. 2, July 1996, p. 54. EBSCOhost.

Inikori, Joseph E., ed. Forced migration: the impact of the export slave trade on African societies. London: Hutchinson, 1982.

Kanazawa, Mark. "Immigration, Exclusion, and Taxation: Anti-Chinese Legislation in Gold Rush California." The Journal of Economic History 65.03 (2005): 779-805.

Kim, Jaeyoon. "The Heaven and Earth Society and the Red Turban Rebellion in Late Qing China." Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences 3.1 (2009): 1-35.

Malozemoff, Andrew. Russian Far Eastern Policy: 1881-1904, With Special Emphasis On The Causes Of The Russo-Japanese War. University of California Press, 1958.

Michael, Franz H. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents. Vol. 14. No. 3. University of Washington Press, 1971.

Mullen, Ms Rosetta K. "Civil Rights Act of 1964." (1964).

Sundstrom, William A. "Last hired, first fired? Unemployment and urban black workers during the Great Depression." The Journal of Economic History 52.02 (1992): 415-429.

December 15, 2022

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