We have a term, you don’t hear it much anymore but it’s around, called “A Chinaman’s Chance.”

It’s used when the odds of something being successful are very poor. It dates back to, give or take, the late 1800s, about the time Van Buren County was being founded. The term came from, is the generally accepted story, that blasting rock out of the way for the transcontinental railroad was done using bottles of nitroglycerin. Back in those days, nitroglycerin was pretty unstable stuff. Do something wrong it would blow up while it was in your hands. But they had to blast rock. A network was being built which would connect Americans, and mountains and cliffs had to be moved.

Chinese laborers were used, especially for the menial tasks, and one of those tasks was being lowered over the side of a bluff in a wicker basket with nitroglycerin to pack into a rock wall in order to set it up for blasting. Lower ‘em in the basket, set the charge, pull them up, the charge went off, rock was moved, done and done.

But it was nitroglycerin, so sometimes that trip down in the basked ended up with the blast taking place before it was time. The Chinese laborers would be blown up. They had, as the basket was lowered over the bluff, a Chinaman’s chance.

But then of course, this was the “Yellow Peril” era. Western nations trying to control trade in lucrative resources from Asia and had led to Chinese emigration to this country trying to find better jobs. China was not a great place unless you had control of desired resources, and America needed cheap labor. (You may of heard of something like this elsewhere.)

Chinese would come here, work for less than their white counterparts, and friction developed. The Yellow Peril was Chinese, devious and especially sexually enticing, (listless, crime-prone, again, you’ve heard it before) touted in the editorial pages of newspapers. Laws to stop or slow Chinese immigration were passed and the Yellow Peril was slowed. The same sort of laws were designed to punish Chinese in this country to an exceptional degree. If you were Chinese and in court, you would likely get a severe punishment, a Chinaman’s Chance when appearing before a judge.

It’s estimated the bones of roughly 1,200 Chinese workers killed during railroad construction were returned to China for internment.

Then came the civil rights era of 1964. Things changed. Chinese/Asians were seen as the “good minority,” as compared to the “bad minority” of African Americans. Asian men, the talk went, were loyal hard workers, humble, good at math and music, terrified of disappointing their parents. Their women were still sexually enticing, but not quite as witch-like as the previous century and ever docile. The immigration laws were rolled back.

Now the worst of America makes “Asian flu” posts on social media and clicks over and reviews adult-only themes about Asian women.

Racism is awful. I hate it, but oh man, I hate it with a passion, an utter intolerance. Despite that, I never realized “racism” and “Asian” were two things which traveled together, just never thought about it, but here we are: Some guys assassinated Asian women last week because … does it matter why? If we here a really great excuse will we say “Oh, well, that’s okay then?” Of course not. It’s a vicious crime and we’re good people.

I feel bad I wasn’t that aware of Asian-hate as recent news has led to my understanding. I am happy, however, that it’s not too late for us to develop an understanding and do something about it.

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