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Vietnamese And Black Relationships


Some veterans who might have provided invaluable information have died, and others are unwilling to speak about their experiences. Aware of these limitations, I have done my best to ensure that any conclusions based on these interviews are supported by contemporary sources such as newspaper articles, other testimonies, and archival evidence.

The nature of the Vietnam War changed over time, and these changes could have influenced the experiences of African American soldiers. That is, someone who served in Vietnam in early would have had a different experience from someone who served in Similarly, soldiers serving in one part of the country may have had greater opportunities to interact with the Vietnamese civilian population than those located in other parts of the country.

Many of the veterans I interviewed were in different units during their service and in different regions of Vietnam. When relevant, I have noted differences in experiences among those serving in different periods and regions.

When asked about the Vietnamese, black Air Force staff sergeant Felton McFarland asserted that the Vietnamese were "most receptive, especially toward Negroes. Young Jr. Young reported that with few exceptions relations between African Americans and the Vietnamese were quite positive.

Furthermore, he noted that most African Americans believed that the Vietnamese "feel special sympathy toward the Negro soldiers. Howard Jackson, a black marine from San Diego, reported from Vietnam in April that "the Vietnamese have no overt racial prejudice. He befriended a young boy who spoke some English and asked Martin "a lot of questions about the United States and what's it like to be you know a black man in the United States.

In one of these letters he informed her that "the Vietnamese people treat 'brothers' like kings. In his estimation, "The Vietnamese knew who were genuine and who were full of crap to be honest with you, and that's why they could relate to us blacks a lot better than the whites.

In November journalist Simeon Booker reported from Vietnam that black soldiers were commonly welcomed into bars by women who "point to their skin as a sign of brotherhood in the worldwide order of darker people. James Lewis, who served in the Army Corps of Engineers in , also concluded that the Vietnamese generally viewed African American soldiers in a positive light because both were non-whites. He theorized, "Buddha was black. Take a good look at a Buddha.

You'll see that he has thick lips and has a very broad nose and very kinky hair. Nevertheless, his account demonstrates that black soldiers were often looking for some kind of confirmation of empathy. A number of African Americans claimed that the Vietnamese explicitly expressed their affinity for African Americans. James Daly recalled a number of incidents in which Vietnamese people told him "me and you same same," and others remembered the Vietnamese using similar terminology.

He claimed that it was not uncommon for a Vietnamese person to approach an African American soldier and state, "You and me, same-same.

They wanted to identify with African Americans. Belton also claimed that some Vietnamese even questioned as to why he had come to Vietnam in the first place considering that African Americans faced a far more important "war at home" against prejudice and discrimination.

Ron Bradley, who served in an aviation unit with the Ninth Infantry Division in , claimed that the Vietnamese "preferred being with the black soldiers and identifying with us and we got along better. They used to call the white soldiers devils with horns. However, he also perceived that the Vietnamese "identified with us because of what they heard about we were going through in America and how we were being treated as third class people. He recalled that some Vietnamese people "thought you had it worse off than they did because they're reading the paper 67, 68, Martin Luther King, the riots, and the police dogs and all that stuff.

The North Vietnamese are trying to run over you and the white people are trying to run over you. He remembered, "There were a lot of Vietnamese women and men too who related to the brothers more than white dudes because of some understanding of how white-black relationships were in the United States and relating more to the brothers as victims of oppression in America.

While it was not unusual for the Viet Cong to offer rewards, the Tribune noted that the "amount offered for the sergeant was exceptionally high. The article suggests that Smith, known as Trung Si Mel to the Vietnamese, was so well liked by the villagers that instead of killing or capturing him for the Viet Cong they protected him. While his gift giving was done primarily out of a sincere concern for their welfare, he also recognized that his actions gained him trust and respect in the community.

After he purchased some eucalyptus oil from a local woman, she provided him with information about Viet Cong troop movements. Stationed at Cam Ranh Bay in , Eddie Wright developed a friendship with a maid who worked on the base. One night, at around four in the morning, Wright heard a knock on the door, and the maid rushed in.

Wright stated that "she grabbed my arm and said 'Papa San Dee Dee' and she risked her life to tell me that the Viet Cong would hit Cam Ranh Bay in two days and she didn't want me to be there.

The maid had a close friendship with Wright, and she ran to tell him about the attack as soon as she heard about it. She had come to his door well past curfew, risking death as it was military policy to shoot any Vietnamese found on the base after curfew.

Lee Ewing reported a similar incident. Assisting in bridge construction over the Perfume River in , he befriended a young Vietnamese woman who sold soft drinks to the soldiers. The woman provided warnings to Ewing and his fellow soldiers: if the NLF was planning an attack, she would either not show up or leave early, signaling to them that they should prepare for an attack. Clyde Jackson, who served in Phu Bai in , claimed that it was fairly common for Vietnamese civilians to approach African American soldiers and say "soul-brother number one and you know white boy ten thousand.

Instead, he believed that some Vietnamese pretended to favor African Americans in hopes that they would buy whatever they were selling or help them in some way. Some Vietnamese civilians likely did have ulterior motives when they claimed "sameness" with African Americans.

A September Jet article discussed an anonymous black airman's experiences with Vietnamese civilians. The man stated, "You go into a bar and the girl sits down next to you and points at her skin and then she points at mine. That's supposed to mean we're all the same. He reasoned, "Hell, I know she's just trying to con me out of my money. I'm colored to her, same as I'm colored to anybody else.

Some African American soldiers also recognized that the Vietnamese were not free of prejudice. Lamont Steptoe had a positive impression of the Vietnamese, but he also thought that the Vietnamese were "racial purists" who did not believe it was acceptable to be anything but Vietnamese in Vietnam.

Others understood that even if some individual Vietnamese liked African Americans it wasn't necessarily an endorsement of their presence in Vietnam. Ron Bradley believed that while the Vietnamese liked African American soldiers better than whites, most wanted all American soldiers to leave the country as soon as possible.

The general attitude of the civilians he encountered was "we don't need you, we don't want you. Most Vietnamese just "wanted to be left alone There is considerable evidence that many Vietnamese did not hold particularly "progressive" views about race. In the spring of African American journalist Thomas A. Johnson interviewed a Vietnamese journalist named Nguyen Lao, who wrote a popular column in the English language Saigon Post.

Lao admitted that "Vietnamese normally prefer a light skin over a dark skin. This is why you will not see Vietnamese girls sunbathing. He stated, "You will also find that Vietnamese will frequently approach a darker person before approaching a white person, feeling more comfortable, less afraid and perhaps superior to the darker person.

When the article was reprinted in the Vietnamese language version of the same paper, many Vietnamese readers angrily responded. Tran argues that their responses underline "how the American presence generated acute anxiety among the South Vietnamese reading public concerning the maintenance of an authentic, autonomous identity.

A number even claimed that the Vietnamese were far superior. Kipp's original letter criticized Vietnamese women who, he alleged, were always ready to sleep with American servicemen.

A number of Vietnamese commentators focused on this allegation, some claiming that any Vietnamese woman who slept with a foreigner was no longer Vietnamese but a race traitor. A respectable Vietnamese woman was expected to be loyal to Vietnamese men and to ignore American men. This incident suggests that these Vietnamese not only opposed their women having sex with someone of another "race," but also believed that the Vietnamese should remain distinct and "pure.

France employed African soldiers throughout the First Indochina War In , thirty thousand African colonial troops, mostly from Senegal, Morocco, and Algeria were stationed in Vietnam. By , the number had risen to fifty thousand. This anxiety was intensified by an incident in which African troops allegedly participated in the killing of some six hundred civilians in the Mekong Delta.

However, the Viet Minh may have focused on Africans simply "because Africans and Moroccans were more alien and unfamiliar than Frenchmen," making them "more convenient targets of hatred. Either way, McHale's article demonstrates that at least some Vietnamese had prejudiced opinions about blacks before African Americans arrived. It included a Chinese minority, Cambodians, and a number of smaller ethnic groups, most notably Montagnards, a collective term used to refer to dozens of indigenous groups which resided in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

Armed Forces study of on relations between the Montagnards and the ethnic Vietnamese found that while the groups that made up the Montagnard subset had a variety of different languages and cultural characteristics they "have in common an ingrained hostility toward the Vietnamese.

In a May article in The Chicago Daily Defender Donald Mosby suggested that if a person really wanted to know how the average Vietnamese viewed people of color, they just needed to look at how Montagnards were treated in Vietnam. The article accused the Vietnamese of "trying to exterminate the mountain tribesmen" because their "skin colors range in many instances from brown to deep black.

They also questioned whether it was worth fighting for a group which had a history of discriminating against other "black" people. While the Vietnamese may not have been white, because they discriminated against Vietnamese "blacks" the Defender argued that African Americans should not be fighting on their behalf.

An August article in The Christian Science Monitor discussed the efforts of a black lieutenant to organize a group of Montagnards for an Army project.

His fellow officers warned him that the Montagnards would not be interested, but he was able to enlist the assistance of a large group. When questioned as to how he was able to organize a group which had previously been uninterested, the black soldier responded, "I told them I was the biggest Montagnard in the world and that they'd be hurting if they didn't help.

His account suggests that he not only used his skin color to appeal to the Montagnards, but also that the Montagnards responded to him because of his skin color. In the black lieutenant's view the Montagnards were willing to help because they viewed him as one of them and therefore deserving of their help.

The Montagnards had previously been unwilling to help with the Army project but did so when a black officer directed it. Speaking of his interactions with Montagnards, Arthur Barham, who served with the rd Airborne Division in , recalled, "When you would encounter them they would come up to us, black soldiers, and compare skin.

They would hold their skin up to yours They embraced us as black guys because our skin color was the same It made you smile because they could see the difference, they embraced the difference. He knew that Montagnards were looked down upon and often mistreated by the ethnic Vietnamese and especially ARVN soldiers. This mistreatment bothered him, and he developed feelings of antipathy towards the ethnic Vietnamese because of their treatment of the Montagnards.

To Gillam, Montagnards were not only good people, but they also resembled him. He recalled, "They looked like my little brothers, how could you not like these guys? He remembered, "It was definitely a visual and race thing for them I was a Montagnard homeboy until I opened my mouth.

He compared the Montagnards he met to his own family, concluding that some resembled him sufficiently that they could be his little brothers. Their darker skin immediately endeared them to him. He believed that they responded to him in much the same way. Their shared skin color was an attribute that united them and perhaps reflected a common experience.

Emmanuel Holloman discussed an incident in which a thirteen-year-old Montagnard girl was evacuated to a hospital in Long Binh after being shot. The girl was naturally very upset, but because she had a broken jaw she was also unable to communicate.

Holloman recalled, "The first person she grabbed was me. She wouldn't let anybody feed her but me. I sat with her all night holding her hand I took care of her for four days.

An Armed Forces Human Relations Council study of revealed that many African American soldiers wore bracelets modeled after Montagnard bracelets normally reserved for honorary members. That some African Americans designed their bracelets to resemble Montagnard bracelets suggests that they saw themselves as honorary Montagnards or at the very least wanted others to see them that way.

Ford and his fellow black soldiers considered Montagnards "brothers because they were dark" and felt they could relate to them because "the people in Vietnam didn't have anything to do with Montagnards. T h e Vietnam experience has, of course, attracted considerable national interest and publicity to the topic of race relations in the military. However, little systematic inquiry based on relatively large samples exists concerning the racial situation during the Vietnam conflict.

Most accounts in the literature are based either on the impressionistic experiences of mental health professionals who served in Vietnam or on the interview responses of a small number of Vietnam veterans.

T o our know- ledge, no attempt has been made to develop or utilize survey measuring instruments in order more accurately to focus on the Vietnam racial experience. Stanton commented on the differences in interpersonal interaction pat- terns between soldiers in combat and support units. He stated 41 that for those in actual Vietnam combat versus noncombat-support roles the issues of race and racial differences seemed to lose their importance.

Combat experiences demand that men become more dependent upon each other for survival so that prejudice becomes encumbering and maladaptive.

Borus , after interviewing a number of Vietnam veterans, conclud- ed that a different racial climate seems to prevail among support troops stationed in rear base camps. These troops described racially segregated groupings, discrimination, tension, and frequent in- terracial conflicts. While they have not focused directly on race relations in Vietnam, other investigators have hypothesized that black aliena- tion is related to the Vietnam experience.

Fendrich admin- istered a questionnaire to a group of black veterans in the United States and found that those who had been in Vietnam expressed more alienation, defined as distrust and rejection of white institu- tions, than those veterans who had not been to Vietnam; this difference, however, did not reach statistical significance.

Borus et al. In addition to commenting on black-white relations, these investigators have been concerned with the quality of the American soldier-Vietnamese relationship. Stanton observed that soldiers of both races in combat units experience great conflict in coping with the demand to kill other human beings. It has been suggested that some men resolved this conflict by sterotyping their Vietna- mese enemy as subhuman and dispensable. Perceptions may have generalized to all Vietna- mese, for it is quite difficult to discriminate among the North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, and Viet Cong.

Such stereotyping 42 zyxwvu zyxwvutsr B. STANTON may have been associated with friction in American soldier- Vietnamese relationships in combat versus support units where soldiers had substantial contact not only with South Vietnamese military and civilian personnel but also with the enemy.

The race of the American soldier also appears to have been related to the American soldier-Vietnamese relationship. Stanton reported that many whites viewed the Vietnamese as lazy, deceptive, cowardly, and subhuman. Blacks were reported to hold less prejudiced and more respectful views of the Vietnamese Borus, One of us Stanton also observed that blacks were likely to give the offspring of a sexual liaison between a black and a Vietnamese special treatment and were more likely to interact as social equals with the local populace than were whites.

Blacks were also more likely to learn the Vietnamese language on their own, although the incidence of this was very slight for either group Moskos, Of soldiers who received the larger questionnaire, had been to Vietnam, all between and Units of soldiers were selected to be representative of each post at which the instrument was administered: a typical garrison post located in the southern United States, a large military medical center, and a combat-ready installation located on an island outside the continental United States.

The survey was administered anonymously by a biracial team of investigators to groups ranging in size from 50 to In the process of selecting items and developing instructions, consid- erable effort was devoted to discouraging any pro-black, pro-white, or anti-army response biases.

Each of the 19 statements was answered on a five-point scale ranging from strong disagreement to strong agreement. Responses by the first group of soldiers were factor analyzed utilizing a principal components solution with a varimax rotation, yielding two interpretable factors. The five items were as follows: 43 zy zyxwv 1. In Vietnam GIs stick together by race blacks with blacks and whites with whites more than in the U S.

I n Vietnam there is less racial discrimination against blacks by whites than in the United States. In a tight combat situation in Vietnam I would depend more on zyxwv GIs of my race to help me than GIs of another race. There is more racial tension between blacks and whites in Vietnam than there is in the U S. For the second factor GI-VN , loadings ranged from. Items for this factor, reflecting the American soldier-Vietnamese relation- ship, were: 1.

In Vietnam almost all GIs dislike the Vietnamese people. In Vietnam a great many Vietnamese people dislike the GIs. All Vietnamese look about the same to me. I like the Vietnamese people. There is much racial discrimination against American GIs, both black and white, by the Vietnamese people. The internal consistency reliability for the two factors assessed zy for the two additional samples was similar to that for the original administration.

For the total sample of soldiers it was. Although factors with more items and therefore a higher degree of reliability would be preferable, the present factors are sufficiently consistent to prove useful in understanding the attitudes and perceptions of the soldiers. RESULTS An analysis of variance design was selected in order to make the necessary comparisons and to identify any possible interaction 44 zyxwvut zyx zyxwvuts B.

Since previous findings suggested that older, higher-rank- ing soldiers tended to perceive a higher quality of race relations Borus et al. Age and rank were highly correlated because nearly zy the entire sample was in the enlisted ranks.

The independent variables were thus race black or white , type of unit combat or support , and age group , , 30 or over. The dependent variables were the B-W and GI-VN factor scores, both simply summed such that higher scores reflect more negative attitudes toward racial interaction. Generally, black soldiers and soldiers in support units expressed a more negative perception of the black-white relationship than did white soldiers and soldiers zyxwv in combat units.

That is, the specific numbers for each ethnic group vary depending on how you measure "intermarriage. The benefit of this approach is that you get a complete picture of all marriages involving Asian Americans.

The drawback is that since most married Asian Americans are immigrants, many of them got married in their home countries before immigrating to the U. This model narrows down the sample somewhat by trying to exclude those who were already married when they arrived in the U.

This has the advantage of including only those who were raised and socialized within American society and its racial dynamics. It is this U. The drawback of this model is that by focusing exclusively on the U. I present these three models to give you, the reader, the opportunity to decide for yourself which model best represents the "true" picture of marriage among Asian Americans.

You should understand that each model has its strengths and weaknesses and as you can see, each produces some very different numbers. If you would like to read about the exact procedure J. Huang and I used to calculate these numbers, visit the Statistical Methodology page.

These are certainly a lot of numbers to consider and as I mentioned above, each model presents a different proportion. In other words, they only represent a 'snapshot' look using the latest data from Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that such marriage patterns have evolved and changed over time.