Ying Ma moved from Guangzhou, China to the United States with her family when she was ten years of age. She has a Bachelors of Arts in Government, magna cum laude, from Cornell University, and a Juris Doctorate from Standard Law School. As stated on her website, “Ying Ma (馬穎) is a senior vice president of SDB Partners, a team of senior professionals and leaders providing strategic advice for clients focused on homeland security, law enforcement and defense. She is also a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free-market think tank, and the author of Chinese Girl in the Ghetto, a memoir about getting to know freedom from post-Mao China to inner-city Oakland, California.”
PC: Welcome to PolitiChicks.tv, Ying. Please tell us a little about yourself and your new book.
Ying Ma: The book is a story about my journey from living under Chinese authoritarianism and moving to the ghetto in Oakland, California. The story begins in China in the late 1970s, when China was first beginning to undertake economic reforms and open up to the world. In the mid-1980s, I immigrated to Oakland, California, with my family, expecting life to be much better than it was in China. Instead, I discovered in the inner-city that the educational system was crumbling, streets were safe, and people were racist. I dealt with anger and hate as I endured the brokenness of my new hometown. The book is a story about my journey getting out of the ghetto.
PC: You were ten years old when you legally immigrated to the United States. How did that came about? Did you move here with your parents or other family members?
Ying Ma: My parents moved my brother and me to America when I was ten years old. We had family who had immigrated years earlier to Oakland, and we moved there to be reunited with them. I shared the story of our family moving to California with Fox News (found here).
PC: Was there a particular reason your family chose to move to Oakland, California, over other cities and states in America?
Ying Ma: We didn’t know anything about Oakland and very little about America in general. We were desperate to leave China because it was poor and backwards. We had family in Oakland and wanted to be close to them, primarily because we didn’t want to be alone in a new country where we did not speak the language or understand the culture.
PC: You share on your website that you experienced ghetto racism while growing up in Oakland, California. What was it like growing up in the ghetto?
Ying Ma: The city was very run down. Throughout the ghetto, you saw broken windows, graffiti, panhandling, lawlessness, and homeless people. When my parents purchased a house about five years after we arrived in America, they bought one in a pretty bad neighborhood. It was quite common for me to look outside my window and see kids get beat up right outside on the street. From time to time, the sound of gunshots interrupted my TV-watching. One day my father found a bullet lodged in the exterior of our house—it was probably from a shoot out. In general, I did not walk around my street at night because it would have been unsafe.
Additionally, the ghetto was very racist. It was common for minority kids, whether they were Black or Hispanic to regularly hurl racial epithets at Asians. The adults often did the same, but the racism coming from the kids was a lot worse because kids are kids and they usually don’t know any better. Racial violence was common too. It was not always specifically targeted at Asians because they were Asian—for instance, a criminal would rob a Chinese person because he thinks the target has cash or sees her wearing jewelry, but the criminals had their own system of racial profiling, and they frequently profiled Asians.
PC: How was living in the ghetto different than living in China?
Ying Ma: It was completely different. In China, when I was a kid, everybody was more or less the same economically, because the country had only begun to open up to the world not too long before that, and everybody was poor. So, everybody lived in places that didn’t have modern toilet facilities, and everybody did not having running hot water. Back then, there was not a whole lot of economic disparity in China. We all knew our country was backwards, and we all craved Western material goods. We were always excited when we saw a “Westerner,” and we were all very curious about the outside world. What was great about living in China during my childhood was that the family unit was tight. My teachers were very kind and responsible. I had great friends, loyal friends.
The ghetto was very different, in part because there were very few people I could trust. One of the first things that happened to me after arriving in Oakland was that two Black kids stole from me at school, and what they stole was a farewell gift from my friends in China. This type of theft would’ve never happened to me at school in China–my instructors would have made sure of it. Additionally, there was a lot of jealousy and competition, even among my Chinese friends. Certainly, many of them helped me a great deal by serving as my translators when I did not speak English, but over time, it became clear that some of them resented offering the assistance.
PC: About a year ago my “typical White American” family and I moved away from an area with a heavy population of Hispanics and Italians. It was a city where white people were the minority. We experienced a great deal of “reverse racism” for over six years. Explain what the difference is between ghetto racism and the type of racism my family experienced.
Ying Ma: In the ghetto, everything was backed by violence. What you experienced sounds like the people were very territorial and some of them probably did not like White people. By contrast, racism in the ghetto is driven by its screwed up pathologies. Number one, even though everybody knows it is wrong for a White person to discriminate against a Black person, in the ghetto it often didn’t matter what Black people did. If a Black person were to racially discriminate against someone, rarely would anyone condemn the behavior. Number two, the racism in the ghetto was often backed by the threat of violence. For instance, it was quite common for black teenagers to creep up behind elderly Asian immigrants and scream at the top of their lungs to scare the crap out of them. Then they would run away laughing and screaming out an imitation of the Chinese language.
A lot of reverse racism took place against Whites, too. So, I went to a high school that was up in the hills, and at the time it was considered the best public high school in Oakland. A lot of inner city kids, including myself, were bused there. Some days, the buses, traveling downhill after school, would pass by a private school, where most of the students were white. Quite often, when the bus was driving by, the kids on my bus would open up the emergency window exit, lean out and spit at the White kids just for fun. Some of the Black kids doing the spitting probably just really didn’t like White people. They probably also didn’t like other kids who went to a private school and had money. I think some of the Whites in Oakland felt a similar kind of anger that I felt, but many of them lived in the hills or other safer neighborhoods where they could go home to people who were better educated and not so poorly behaved. They had a sanctuary to go back to; I didn’t. The ghetto was there for me 24/7.
PC: Why do you think America turns a blind eye to minority-on-minority racism? Do you think they are unaware or just educated about the problem?
Ying Ma: There are plenty of people in mainstream America who don’t know how bad it gets in the ghetto. For instance, for people who grew up in suburban America, a lot of what I describe is very new to them. They understand that there are high crime rates, a lot of lawlessness and a lot of poverty. They understand that as a general concept, but I’m sure many Americans out there don’t know the details. If you were to tell a White liberal about the racism and violence I describe, or if you were to talk to a self-proclaimed minority leader, they would likely deny it, dismiss the racial component, and label any racially motivated crime as a crime of opportunity. The problem is that the left has made it too easy for Blacks in the ghetto not to take personal responsibility for their actions. Moreover, the left has taken on the task to perpetuate a mentality where Black people don’t have to be accountable in the same way as Whites or others. This mentality is very corrosive, and there is a whole racial grievance industry out there that makes its living by perpetuating this kind of narrative.
PC: Do you view the Obama Administration as being a “healer” or a “divider” regarding racial relations?
Ying Ma: I view Obama, himself, as a total phony. He makes a lot of White liberals feel good about themselves. Chris Matthews is one example. I do applaud Obama for some things. For example, he speaks to Black audiences and reminds them that it is very important for Black men to be there for their families and for their children. With that said, he has had many opportunities to lead on racial issues and has shown himself to be not up to the task. In fact, he has racialized a number of situations and made them worse. This includes the Zimmerman trial recently to the incident involving the Black professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested at his own home a couple of years ago. The President is simply unable to view things through a prism that is not a Leftist ideology of racial victimization.
PC: How did experiencing and seeing racism toward Asians on a daily basis influence your life?
Ying Ma: I hated being among those who made life miserable for me. I was very determined to make something of myself and get out of the environment I was in because I was convinced there was something better somewhere else. The only way I thought I could get there was by studying hard and doing everything possible to excel at school and make myself look good to college administrators. So I spent a lot of time studying rather than playing with my friends or watching cartoons—I viewed them as a distraction. I was also very nerdy, so I spent a lot of time reading and the books taught me that there definitely was a better life outside of the ghetto.
PC: What or who gave you the ability to rise above the racism and hate you experienced rather than you becoming or remaining a victim?
Ying Ma: Culture matters. Family matters. When I was growing up in the ghetto, I had my books, and I had my family. My family and my culture taught me that education was important. That framework mattered a lot, and I took it seriously. Obviously, it was tough for my family to be new immigrants in the United States. My parents worked long hours and sometimes worked multiple jobs. Nevertheless, they put food on the table, gave me a roof to sleep under, and provided a stable two-parent family. That gave me a solid foundation from which to strive to do better.
Later in life, I became active in conservative causes. For instance, I joined a conservative newspaper in college, and that helped give me the intellectual framework to see how the problems in the inner-city areas were related to a lot of failed policies of the welfare state. Being part of a conservative community probably gave me the courage to start speaking out about the morally bankrupt welfare state and the brokenness of the ghetto.
PC: What impact do you hope your book will have on others?
Ying Ma: I hope people will read it with an open mind. I have been quite heartened by praises from people who don’t agree with me politically. Many of them are very eager to do something to help minorities and the poor, but what they don’t understand is that a lot of the policies they advocate have been terrible for the poor, and have been terrible for minorities. It’s hard to get that argument through if all you are talking about is policy. People usually have their mind made up and don’t like to change it—because they are brainwashed by the media, brainwashed by ideology. They are also very eager not to be racist, not to be the bad guy, and they think that subscribing to or going along with leftist policies would help them do that. I hope my book will allow them to see things from a different perspective. I would be grateful for anyone who reads the books, even if they don’t agree with me.