Vincent Chin: A Name You Should Know

I have a story to tell.

A young man was living in Detroit in 1982. He had a challenging but rewarding life. He worked hard and had a steady job. He was about to marry the love of his life. His father had passed away six months before the wedding was to take place, and his mother was having trouble coping with the loss. The plan was for his mother to live with him and his wife after the marriage. The young man’s name was Vincent Chin.

About a week before the wedding, Vincent, an American citizen of Chinese descent, had his bachelor party at a bar. Also at the bar that night were two white autoworkers named Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. At that time, many Detroit autoworkers, including Nitz, were losing their jobs, partially as a result of the competition posed by Japanese cars.

While at the bar that night, Ebens directed some insults at Chin, blaming him and “his people” for America’s struggling auto industry and the loss of his job. A fight ensued. All three were kicked out of the bar, and they parted ways.

But Ebens and Nitz were not satisfied. They spent 20-30 minutes looking for Chin, even paying another man $20 to help look. They eventually found him. Chin tried to flee, but Ebens prevented his escape by hitting him in the leg with a baseball bat. After Chin fell to the ground, Nitz held him down while Ebens struck him several more times in the head, taking full swings with the bat.

Chin died just five days before he was to be married, exactly 30 years ago today.

Neither Ebens nor Nitz served jail time for the crime.

Ever heard of Vincent Chin? Too few people have.

I created this blog because I believe in the importance of paradigms. Consider a person’s face. A face looks completely different in a dark room when lit from below by a flashlight than it does when lit from above by a flashlight. It is the same face, but it is different depending on the conditions under which a person views it.

This dichotomy affects social issues as well. Early this year, when Jeremy Lin was all the rage in the NBA, most of us heard of the controversy over the headline, “Chink in the Armor.” People viewed that incident differently depending on the paradigm they approached it from.

When viewed in the light of the Vincent Chin incident, the “Chink in the Armor” headline seems significantly more nefarious. Sometimes white Americans kill Asian Americans because of race. Nobody killed Jeremy Lin. But wasn’t it a thousand “Chink in the Armor” headlines that killed Vincent Chin? Doesn’t knowing the Vincent Chin story place the Jeremy Lin incident in a new light?

These incidents are not going away. Consider the discrimination faced by Latinos related to the immigration debate or that faced by Arab Americans after 9/11.

But unfortunately, our paradigms are narrowing, so we don’t hear all of the stories. Did you know that the internet learns our preferred paradigms and limits the content we see to that which fits into those paradigms? It’s true:

So, what matters is not which paradigm a person approaches the world from, but how wide the person’s paradigm is. I grew up in white America. So, I will never be able to approach the world from a completely different paradigm. But I can broaden my paradigm by understanding some of the stories and struggles of people from different backgrounds. Perhaps if we, as a society, were to broaden our paradigms, we could avoid the next Vincent Chin killing.

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2 Responses to Vincent Chin: A Name You Should Know

  1. villagebear says:

  2. villagebear says:

    Also, leave the social psychology to the professionals.

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