In July 2020, a Los Angeles-based film producer stood outside a Walmart in Harrison, Ark., with a Black Lives Matter sign.
Rob Bliss, who is white, had wanted to see for himself whether the word about Harrison was true: that it is the “most racist town in America.”
Set in the Ozark hills of northwest Arkansas, Harrison has held its infamous reputation for as long as anyone can remember. More than 95% of its 13,000 residents are white, while the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) — a Klan faction whose headquarters lie several miles away — reportedly uses one of its post office boxes as their mailing address.
Bliss caught the outrage he received on camera and posted it onto YouTube. The video only runs for two minutes, but all the hate distilled in it was enough to make national headlines and propel Harrison into the spotlight of discussions about racial intolerance.
But just how racist could this town get? Do residents only harbor animus toward one group, or do they discriminate against everyone who isn’t white? What if Asians showed up?
“Our channel goal is to push the boundaries of what is expected of Asian Americans and in turn to spread our own culture and positivity to the world,” the group told NextShark. “We’re big believers in change through action and not just words so when we were curious how Asians would be treated in Harrison, known as the most racist town in America, we had to go there for ourselves to find out.”
The trio filmed themselves spending an entire day in the town. What started off as mere curiosity, they said, became a journey of “pushing our comfort zones, discovery and a chance to spread Asian culture to the world.”
In their now-viral video, Sheldon, Mike and Edward start their day at 8 a.m. with breakfast at a local diner. As soon as they enter the establishment, at least four white people are immediately caught staring at them.
The staring continued past 11:30 a.m. while they were at a local Walmart, which required the trio to put on face masks while allowing virtually every other white customer to shop without them. Shortly after, the group met an elderly white woman who told them her granddaughter “loves China men.”
The woman, who was using an ambulatory device, pulled Sheldon in to give him a hug, saying that she liked “this one.” “My granddaughter is 26 and she wants to go to China. She wants to bring her a China man home,” she said.
Shortly after, the trio headed for lunch at Dragon King, which they believe was the only Chinese restaurant in Harrison. There, they met an Asian waitress who claimed that she has never experienced racism in town, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sheldon, Mike and Edward continued their journey downtown at 2 p.m., to the flea market at 4 p.m. and to a bar at 9 p.m.
The group never encountered another single racist incident since, and to their surprise, the white strangers they had engaged with were actually friendly and accommodating.
At the bar, one man even bought them drinks and invited them to celebrate his birthday, all without knowledge of himself being filmed.
Another non-Caucasian man echoed what the Asian waitress said, telling them everyone in town gets along and that he has no bad experiences to share.
Still, Sheldon, Mike and Edward pointed out that not everyone’s experience will be the same.
“Although our experience here in Harrison has been positive overall, we are not speaking for everyone. It is important to note that everyone’s experience is unique and different,” the trio told NextShark. “We want to stress that our video does not reflect the experiences of all minorities nor do we want it to make a blanket statement. We simply made this video to share our personal experience in Harrison as Asian Americans.”
They added, “We were pretty scared before going, and we were honestly scared for the worst to happen.”
The trio said they also talked to residents about last year’s viral video. “We talked to some locals about the famous viral video, and they told us that [the] video had a devastating impact on the community, and that some people even moved out because they didn’t want to be associated with that. Locals also condemned the behavior in that video, and said that it doesn’t represent the people of that community,” they said.
The town’s mayor reportedly reached out to CantoMando after they published their video. The official informed them that the town’s committee on diversity searched for the 24 individuals who made hateful comments in Bliss’s video, but “they were only able to find three locals and likely the other 21 were from out of town.”
Some users have questioned the authenticity of the residents’ behavior because a Facebook post about their presence was reportedly made before they went to the bar. The group’s video has now received more than 3 million views on YouTube.
Sheldon, Mike and Edward hope that their video will encourage others in the Asian American community to express who they are.
“We’re hoping that by sharing our culture and embracing it in an environment like Harrison where we might face hostility, this would inspire other members of the Asian community to never be afraid of expressing who they are. Because no matter the fear or whatever obstacles we might face as a community, we should be proud of who we are.”
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