Monday, August 31, 2015

Dylann Roof And Asian Racists.

Asian Progressives Again!

One of the unusual footnotes in the recent tragic Charlotte church shootings perpetrated by Dylann Roof was the revelations of his complex racial thinking as recorded in his so-called manifesto. Of special note was Roof's attitude towards Asians - while he voiced hatred for African-Americans, and a somewhat love/hate attitude towards Hispanics, he absolutely adored Asians.

He had this to say.....
I have great respect for the East Asian races. Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.
Naturally - and appropriately - Asian-American commentators reacted with horror to these assertions. Some pointed out the prejudices faced by Asian-Americans and argued that racism is present in all communities. Others took the road of contrition and sought to lay bare the apparent depth of anti-black racism in Asian communities. My take is that both of these perspectives missed the most significant question raised by Roof's assertions about Asians - why does, or would, he believe that Asians could be allies in anti-black racism?

This question is significant because there are no reports of Roof ever having had any Asian friends, or even having lived amongst Asians, he does not seem to have traveled to Asia, or in any way been exposed to Asian-Americans to any great degree. His friends seemed to have been either white or (strangely) black and there is simply no evidence that he had any significant exposure to Asians either on a personal or acquaintance level. Yet, Roof had formed this opinion - no, this certainty - that Asians would, by nature, support his racist beliefs.

To me it is extremely bizarre that the question has not been raised of why he would assign these qualities to a demographic that he seems to have had no exposure to. If Roof (apparently) had no Asian friends and had no significant personal interactions with Asians, then discovering why he would hold a belief about a people whom he simply is unacquainted with would seem to necessarily be the predominant question that needs answering rather than reacting with contritious angst, or merely reacting.

If Roof truly had little or no exposure to Asians that fostered his beliefs about them, then obviously, he formed these beliefs based upon secondary sources. In other words, his beliefs about Asians must be based on information he read or was exposed to either in the media or, far more likely, the internet. The internet as a source for his formation of these attitudes seems more likely because it is there that we see issues of race, accountability, and complicity being most vigorously discussed amongst Asian-Americans, whereas the media general portrays Asians monotonically negatively, the internet affords Asians an opportunity to be more integral to how they portray themselves.

This raises intriguing possibilities for this discussion; is it possible that Roof formulated his beliefs in the acute racism of Asians by reading Asian-Americans' own commentaries about themselves that they post to the internet? I would suggest that this is, indeed, the case and that Roof's ideation of Asians as soul-mates in racism may derive from these commentaries rather than from other sources.

I won't argue here that there is no racism amongst Asian-Americans, but I will argue that the idea (an idea that is rapidly becoming a stereotype) that Asians are a virulently racist group is one that has been formulated and exaggerated by Asians themselves.

Now there are a number of different avenues where this notion of virulent Asian racism could derive: firstly, there are the various Asian forums where racist attitudes seem to crop up from time to time; secondly, there are websites that are accused of being racist, although such sites seem explicitly against whites as much as anyone; thirdly, there is the racial commentary by Asian anti-racist writers who offer an Asian perspective on America's racial issues in the wake of instances of anti-black racism.

The question is; which of these platforms could offer the most accessible and plausible source for Roof to formulate his belief in virulent Asian racist attitudes? The first two options seems like weak contenders - in my experience, racist attitudes on Asian forums are rapidly isolated and condemned, and any supposedly racist/nationalistic Asian websites are few and far between, if they exist at all. Furthermore, there are certainly no nationalistic/racist Asian-American groups that operate within society that have formulated or propagate any racist theories or perpetrate racist crimes. That leaves the third option; Asian social commentary on larger issues of race in America.

Logic would dictate that any commentary on a platform with a larger readership potential than those with niche participation are more likely to have their ideas more effectively propagated throughout the culture. Put another way, a commentary written for a national or internationally read internet publication will probably have more influence over social opinion than a one sentence diatribe posted onto a web forum, or a blog post written on an alleged racist website. Thus, race commentary written by Asians in widely read and accessible news and magazine sites will reach a wider audience, meaning that it is reasonable to assume that commentary on race written by Asians in widely read, mainstream platforms will be the most likely to shape society's beliefs about Asian and Asian-American attitudes towards race.

If Roof believes that Asians are inherently race-supremacists and we accept that he could have formulated this belief based upon Asian-American race commentary then might we expect this commentary to be racist in nature? While that would make sense, you would struggle to find any Asian-American commentary in mainstream publications expressing white supremacists leanings. On the contrary, Asian commentary on race in mainstream ( and, therefore, most readily accessible) publications are almost uniformly anti-racist. So, why could someone like Roof form the opinion that Asians are racist by reading anti-racist Asian commentaries?

Content may be the culprit. Although thematically, Asian-American commentaries follow anti-racist notions, they often also tend to use the opportunity to simultaneously highlight anti-blackness in Asian communities. So, what we tend to find is that a piece written in response to instances of - usually - oppressive policing, often ends up being a diatribe against Asian anti-blackness. It's almost becoming a cliche and there are numerous examples.

Of course, Julia Carrie Wong's piece in Al Jazeera, is a good example of how the Asian experience is framed such that it forces Asians into the black/white narrative and denounces them - by virtue of their achievements - as collaborators in anti-blackness. Another piece, from March of this year and also authored by Julia Carrie Wong, in the mainstream liberal news magazine, Salon, again refocuses our attention away from white racism in order to spotlight what she terms, "ongoing", and "unchecked" anti-black racism within immigrant (it's those rampantly hateful, unenlightened FOBs again!) Asian-American communities.

A piece written in another online magazine by Liz Lin that was also published in the Huffington Post mulls over the reasons for "Why Asian-Americans Might Not talk About Ferguson". Lin has this to say about her experience of being given the benefit of the doubt by the maintenance man when she tried to break into her friends apartment (for benign reasons).....
....he unlocked the door and immediately left, not bothering to wait around and make sure that I didn’t ransack the place. He let a complete stranger into an apartment that wasn’t his and walked away.........As I entered the apartment and started looking for the box, I was incredulous — and I was never more aware of the privileges I have as an Asian American woman.
That is weird, but maybe the maintenance guy was merely not very bright, or just didn't care, or did not like the tenants who lived in the apartment. Was he making a judgement based on race? Can we be sure? But at least she acknowledges that being an Asian woman in this culture confers privileges.

She continues....
Would this person have ever let me into the apartment if I were a black man? I’m not a betting person, but even I would put serious money on the answer being no. I probably would’ve been asked to leave the premises, too.
The problem here is that she implicitly presumes that her privilege as an Asian woman is conferred on all Asians and, therefore, she cannot even conceive of the possibility that an Asian man could also have been treated differently. But then, after running through a gamut of racial presumptions about Asian passivity, single-minded focus on out-competing others, and the tired and completely unsubstantiated notion that Asians are somehow culturally predisposed towards political disengagement, she finally gets to the real gist of her piece; Asians are racist. Yes, Asians have and do experience racism and prejudice, but, we are racist........
And then you have the anti-black sentiment that pervades Asian and Asian American communities. In Asian countries, where the overwhelming majority of people have black hair and brown eyes, it’s especially easy to generalize about those with different phenotypes, either positively or negatively. And immigrants bring those attitudes with them to the States.
And there you have it, Asians are racist and they bring it with them from the old country. In and of itself it is odd to claim a race's racial characteristics makes it easier to generalize about others who have different ones. Could she really be meaning to say this? Phenotypal homogeneity makes it easier to stereotype others? Because Asians all look the same, that makes it easier to generalize about others?

Caucasians are certainly not phenotypically homogeneous (and neither are Asians for that matter), yet they don't seem to have had any trouble generalizing about others, and I see no evidence that it was ever harder for them to do so because they are phenotypically diverse. I hope this assertion sounds as silly to you as it does to me. Worse still, remember that this piece made it to publication with the HuffPo. Plus, funnily enough Lin's piece doesn't actually talk about Ferguson.

Influential progressive magazine, Colorlines, also weighs in with this notion of Asians as passive and active participants in anti-black racism. Commenting on some problems it found with a Time article written by Jack Linshi, the piece, written by Julianne Hing, says this...
Asians have actually been the subject of quite a lot of public fascination, mainly as props used to denigrate blacks and Latinos and programs designed to support them and other people of color--including segments of the Asian-American population. All too often, Asians are willing to play along.......Asian-Americans are subjected to the model minority myth, and yet also reap the social, cultural and economic benefits of not being seen as black......In the end, Linshi's article reads more like an extended whine for Asian-Americans who've bought into model minority-buttressed myths of white supremacy but wake up from entitled slumber surprised to find themselves stifled by it.
There you have it; Asians reap rewards because they are not seen as black and Asians play along through their achievements. In other words, just by virtue of the fact that any given Asian has "succeeded", they have played along with white supremacy. Despite the numerous progressive assertions of this "playing along", I am yet to actually find evidence for it.

But the list goes on - blog posts, Twitter, online magazines, literary websites, news sites, even cartoons, all written by Asian-Americans, and all testifying to the rampant racism that, apparently, is gushing through our veins and seeping out of our pores as we scheme and connive with white power to prevent African-Americans from owning their own Seven-Elevens and becoming computer whizzes.

Those who abhor Dylann Roof's conclusion of a commonality between white supremacy and inherent racism amongst Asians and wonder why such an opinion could exist, need only look at the wisdom of Asian Advocacy to find out from where such ideas derive. We cannot blame the white media for this one; this is the one stereotype that the white media is not propagating - Asians are the one's propagating this idea of a rampant and implicit anti-black racism in our communities. Asians are themselves denouncing their own communities as inherently and rampantly racist.

The irony is that this merely "takes the heat" off of white racism, and acts as means to deflect attention and the discourse away from it. On this point, should we have suspicions that the white media seems so open to these kinds of Asian confessionals? Doesn't it dilute the gravity of white racism to have Asians make arguments to the effect that "we do it too"? Isn't it suspicious that in the midst of self-evident instances of severe and deep-rooted anti-black prejudice in America's local governments and police forces, white (and often liberal) media sites are publishing articles that deflect attention away from it and onto Asians? Sadly, to quote Julianne Hing, all too often, Asians are willing to play along with this.

What this implies is that Asian activist commentators are colluding with the white media and ultimately with the white patriarchy (nudge nudge, wink wink!) to create this stereotype about Asians and their inherent racism. Asian activism is contributing a narrative of Asian complicity - which is mostly overly simplistic, and often unreasonable and vague - that runs parallel to white racism and may help to divert our interrogation of it.

Some sociologists have suggested that in the wake of increasing Asian and Latino immigration, America's racial hierarchy is evolving from white/non-white into black/non-black in which immigrants who are neither white nor black assume a social positioning that places them above blacks in a kind of pseudo-white category that maintains social inequalities based upon race. But all this does is squeeze non-black minorities into the black/white dichotomy without consideration of the possibility that such a black/non-black "divide" could evolve away from the implicit injustices of white superiority and is in no way subject to unassailable determinism.

There is nothing implicitly wrong with the idea of a non-black identity - what makes such a thing anathema is that it asserts that any black/non-black categorization must follow the rules of white supremacy. And here is where we see the damage caused by Asian activism's insistence on conceiving of the Asian minority in terms of black or white. One can be non-black without being anti-black, and non-black without adopting whiteness. This implies that the nature of the relationship between blacks and non-blacks (Asians or Latinos) is one that can be shaped by blacks, Asians and Latinos without the baggage of white supremacy. In other words, it is up to us to decide what it means and how it will affect racial justice.

The obstacle to this - an obstacle that Asian activism is already reluctant to address - is that an actual healthy relationship of peers between Asians and blacks would require one, an autonomous Asian cultural identity (which is defined as anti-black by Asian activism), and two, reciprocity, that is, an acknowledgement that black/Asian tensions are far more complicated than merely "Asians are anti black".

By ignoring the obvious non-blackness and non-whiteness of Asians, our activists are preventing this necessary dialogue from taking place and in so doing upholding the power of white supremacy to shape black and Asian interactions. By insisting on framing Asians as complicit in whiteness simply because some succeed - or merely want to succeed - activists are shutting down the very avenues for dialogue that disempower white influence over how minorities view themselves and interact with each other.

It is because of Asian activism's narrative of rampant racism in our communities which have the effect of shielding white racial crimes, as well as its refusal to advance an autonomous Asian narrative not derived from the black/white dichotomy, that white supremacists like Dylann Roof are able to form the belief that Asians are brothers and sisters in spirit to white racial ideas. Asian commentators have created a narrative of Asian-American attitudes based on little more than their subjective impressions and reframing of the Asian immigrant experience as implicitly anti-black.

How creating stereotypes through the over-generalization of Asian-American attitudes helps to alleviate racial injustice is by no means clear. Asian activism needs to do better and if it is unable to do better, it should probably keep mum.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Interracial Dating Disparity And Anti-Blackness.

Rock Throwing From Glass Houses.

In a previous post that discussed the dubious charge that Asian successes in education and the tech industry are indications of sneaky Asiatic conniving with whites to keep blacks down. I also pointed out the inconveniently logical reasoning that if merely doing well in education and the tech industry amounts to anti-blackness, then how much more must be the complicity and anti-blackness of the (extremely) high out-marriage and dating rates of Asian women with white men. This idea of privilege imparted to Asian partners of white men is of great interest to me and was the subject of what became one of my most read posts several years ago on the gender gap in Asian-America.

In that post I examined the ways that gendered anti-Asian racism have manifested since the first communities of Asians were established on the West Coast. I examined how restrictive immigration laws that prevented Asian men from finding Asian partners whilst the influx of tens of thousands of Asian brides of white G.Is meant that it was far, far easier for Asian women to immigrate if they were partnered with white men. I also argued that this post-war period marked a shift in which the narrative of brutal hardships inflicted upon the predominantly male pre-war Asian communities became white-washed and seemed to have been replaced by the narrative of white men as saviours of both Asia and its women. In other words, Asian men and their experience became only incidental to the Asian experience.

Julia Carry Wong's piece has reignited my interest in this phenomenon if only because if we use Wong's (and other progressives') context of making the charge of Asian privilege and complicity in cases of success and assimilation, then the biggest complicity problem that Asian-America has must be the several million Asian women who have assimilated into whiteness through marriage and intimate partnering of white men. In my post on the gender gap, I alluded to an implicit "privileging" of Asian women in the post-war period that enabled thousands to leapfrog anti-Asian exclusionary immigration laws and enter the US unhindered. In this post I will examine this process in greater detail and the notion that Asian privilege - if it exists - is also largely gendered and may even have its roots in what could be termed "Asian female privilege".

If this exists as a phenomenon, then any notions of "owning our Asian privilege" has to - by necessity - include an examination of this specific aspect of it. Why? Firstly, given that Asian advocacy has largely become a platform for dubious confessions of Asian racist complicity, consistency impels us to examine all cases where Asians have been "complicit" in white supremacy and - by way of acceptance of this privilege - in anti-blackness. Secondly, logic demands it. Wong's piece argues guilt by association - Asians who succeed economically are by association to the "whiteness" of their profession (as though success is a white quality) guilty of complicity and maintaining the racist status quo.

Yet, as is often the case, the historical record tends to pull the rug out from such grandiose, self-righteous condemnations like this and, as I hope to show, presents problems for those who ignore the gendered privileges afforded Asian women who partner white men - particularly for Asian feminists like Wong - who pass vague, sweeping judgements over an entire demographic while ignoring the substantial privileges afforded to them.

I am reminded of an interesting - and painful - post written by an African-American woman (Bea Hinton) several years ago in which she acknowledged the privileges she experiences when she dates white men....
When I choose to date a black man, I inevitably send a message to society about who I am and what I represent. When I choose to date a black man, I choose to be ignored at bars, barred from clubs, humiliated by groups of drunken white men, or passed over by taxis. I choose to internalize their experiences of undervaluation, passed over promotions and emasculation. I choose to carry the burden of [dating] black men, and I choose it often; 90% of the men I’ve dated are black.........One night, a date and I decided to hit a local New Jersey bar. As we approached the secured entrance, a white couple was also entering, walking only steps behind us. Before we could hand over our I.Ds, the white security guard informed us that we could not enter, as my date was violating the dress code; mere seconds later the white couple reached the door and was promptly let in – with the guy outfitted in the same ensemble.
She goes on......
I still remember how I felt when I first dated a white man. I was welcomed into any space and important; we didn’t need to dress a certain way to prove our membership. Respectability politics were a non-factor. The burden had been lifted; we wouldn’t get turned away at the door, in fact, we always skipped the line. The ease with which this white man navigated the public sphere was simply amazing and I wanted that. Dating was just easier. Life was just easier. I implicitly signaled to whites that I was mainstream, that I shared their middle-class values, that I was civilized – that I wasn’t angry, but safe and approachable. I felt safe and free and privileged.
The honesty here is admirable and I found the piece to be an intelligent insight into the vagaries of some  interracial relationship permutations. What she is describing is privilege - or more specifically, being the recipient of an elevated social status that grants her access to "whiteness" and the life certainties that it offers. Hinton acknowledges that her choice of intimate partner serves as an implicit social signal and a political statement of acquiescence to white, middle-class values. She maintains that life was simply easier when in intimate partnership with a white man; the burden of racial presumptions about her disappeared and she was afforded the opportunity to navigate society as an individual rather than as a stereotyped minority.

These experiences are particularly significant when it comes to Asian-America whose female half of the population marries out - mostly to white men - at huge rates. For the most part, Asian-American women who marry out seem to want to avoid any attempt at politicization of their choices opting, instead, to view their choices as purely personal choices that have no political or social ramifications aside from as a kind of feminist empowerment. Unfortunately for them, this is no longer an acceptable position. Thanks to Asian-American progressives in general - and Asian-American feminist like Julia Carrie Wong in particular - the personal choice to date and marry into whiteness has become a political issue.

The reframing of the Asian-American racial experience as merely a reflection of anti-blackness and the insistence on condemning Asian successes and progress as complicity in anti-blackness must by necessity force us to examine the choices of those in our community who pursue intimate partnership with the white male racist patriarchy - that is, of course, Asian women.

Wong claimed in her Al Jazeera piece that success in the tech industry equals an implicit acceptance into whiteness as well as an implicit complicity in anti-blackness. For her, Asian success must mean an acceptance into whiteness which equals anti-black racism. Awkwardly, that reasoning condemns the 3-5 million or so Asian-American women who pursue or are in relationships with white men to the same charge. If we accept Hinton's claims, then dating white men implicitly confers whiteness on women of color which - by progressive reasoning - is implicitly anti-black.

I came across an interesting study recently that outlined the degree to which Asian women who marry white men have been the recipients of immense privilege in America - it has a surprisingly long history. Published in 2006, the study by a South Korean woman examined interracial marriages in Asian-American communities (primarily amongst the Chinese and Japanese) up to and including the Second World War. The findings are fascinating as they exposed the degree to which America's draconian racial sensibilities of the period were gamed in order maintain the sanctity of white male prerogative by granting the Asian female partners of white men special - preferred - status in America's racial hierarchy.

The study explores interracial marriage between first generation Chinese and Japanese and white partners covering the years 1880-1954 on the west coast. The study excluded other Asian groups since for most of the period these two groups comprised the majority of Asian immigrants. There are a couple of points of particular interest in the study: firstly, the majority of out marriages were between Asian men and white women due to the higher rate of male immigration; secondly, these marriages openly flouted anti-miscegenation laws and got around them by seeking marriage licensing in states that had no such laws before resuming their married lives in California. Even though such marriages were most often tolerated, there remained overwhelming white hostility to such marriages.

Yet, the study uncovers evidence that despite this hostility, there were significant differences in how these mixed-marriages were accepted by white America. These differences manifest in significant ways....
..........marriages between white women and Chinese and/or Japanese men were major targets of racist and misogynist assumptions about interracial intimacy in the U.S. West. Such marriages were further marginalized by federal government’s policies on Asian exclusion and on the mixed marriage families during the World War II internment of Japanese Americans. Government policies upheld a white male citizen’s ability to assimilate his Asian wife and his patriarchal prerogative to his interracial family. Pg.8
...........federal policies on Chinese and Japanese Americans, including immigration restriction laws and the internment of Japanese Americans, treated white men and white women married to Chinese or Japanese Americans differently. Gender gaps in interracial marriages were articulated at the level of federal laws and policies on marriages between citizens and noncitizens. These laws and policies respected white male citizens’decisions to choose their marital partners among Asians and accommodated the unity of these families. American male citizens married to Asian women could make their Asian spouses legal immigrants at a time when all persons of Asian nationalities denied entry to the U.S. According to the sources of my work, Asian wives of  white male citizens were exempted from the 1924 National Origins Act and could enter the U.S. as non- quota immigrants. Pg 25-26
Federal laws on immigration, overseas marriage, and citizenship punished white women citizens married to Asian husbands by stripping them of their citizenship.Between 1907 and 1934, American female citizens married Asians lost their citizenship for the duration of their marriages. The 1922 Cable Act allowed American women married to foreigners to regain their citizenship by naturalization. However, American women married to men of Asian nationalities could not restore their citizenship because they were married to men who were deemed ineligible for naturalized citizenship. Pg. 26 
These findings from the study speak for themselves but can be summed up as follows; Asian women who married white men were afforded rights not offered to male Asian immigrants who married white women. They were given the status of legal immigrant, granted entry and residency outside of the quotas established by exclusion laws (meaning that there was no limit on the number of these female immigrants so long as they married white men), and during the Japanese internment period they had the option of remaining in their homes in the military exclusion zone, thus, keeping their families intact. Federal law and racial "wisdom" of the time supported white male prerogatives to marry Asian women at a time when it severely discouraged Asian men from marrying whites but also hindered their ability to marry within their race.

By contrast, white women who married Asian men were considered to have "left the white race" and were socially ostracized by white society. In the period between 1907 and 1934 white women who married Asian men were required to give up their American citizenship and during Japanese internment although Japanese women were allowed to leave the camps and join their white husbands in California and keep their families intact, white female spouses of Japanese men were given no such privilege and were forced to enter the camps with their husbands and children if the wanted to keep their families together.

The study....
A “Caucasian”father of mixed race children was deemed as embodying a stronger and more desirable element of the “Caucasian environment” than a “Caucasian” mother of such children. The WDC decided to respect the right of a “Caucasian”patriarch to protect his Japanese wife and minor children and so released the Japanese mothers of mixed race children from camps, allowing them to join their white or other non-Japanese husbands on the West Coast. The same treatment was never applied to Japanese fathers who had had children with white or other non-Japanese wives. Pg. 32-33
In modern-day Asian-American progressive parlance, another way to say all of this is to say that Asian women who married white men were being inducted into whiteness, while white women who married Asian men were emphatically ejected from it. The privileges of easing one's ability to navigate society when a woman of color marries or dates white men that Hinto describes in her essay became enshrined in federal law and an accepted addition to prevailing social wisdom; Asian women who married white men became white (with caveats), Asian men who married white women confered a loss of whiteness on their white partners.

In the aftermath of the war these unique racial privileges afforded to Asian women who chose white men as partners continued with the historically unique passage of the War Brides Acts that effectively ruled that Asian women who were married to American GI's - the vast majority of whom were white - had special racial status; they were allowed into the US as "non-quota" migrants. This means that in theory, the only limitation to such immigration was the number of American GI's who chose to marry them. To understand the degree of privilege engendered by this policy, consider that at the time, Asian-American families were literally torn apart by exclusion laws and immigration quotas that prevented parents from entering the country to be with their kids, or kids entering the country to join their parents....
After 1924, the racial exclusion of Asians incorporated gendered difference to the legal status of Asian men and women married to Americans. An Asian man’s marriage to an American woman did not make any difference in his status; he was still an alien who was ineligible to become a naturalized citizen. An Asian man married to an American woman was under the same restrictions as other Asian immigrants were subject to after 1924. Although Asian women married to American men were not able to become naturalized citizens, the U.S. Government qualified these Asian wives of American citizens with a “non-quota immigrant” status, which exempted these women from the rule of giving no quota for Asian immigrants. This established a precedent of the U.S. government’s post - World War II policy on Asian war brides of American soldiers. The Soldier’s Bride Act of 1947 briefly allowed these war brides to enter the U.S. as non-quota immigrants. The 1952 Immigration Act resumed Asian immigration but did not repeal the quota system. Because immigration quotas allotted to Asian countries were still limited, Congress expanded the practice of recognizing Asian spouses of American soldiers as non - quota immigrants until the 1965 Immigration Act rescinded the quota system. Page 50-51
This privileging of Asian women who married white men stands in stark contrast to the loss of privilege for white women who married Asian men, and highlights the efforts of white social and political structures to discourage Asian men from miscegenation with white women. Asian women who married white men became white, white women who married Asian men were ostracized by the white community and - during the war - denied their civil and legal rights.

This war on inter-marriage between white women and Asian men continued in the aftermath of the war when white wives of Japanese men who had been forced to live in the camps in order to keep their families intact were denied the right given to Japanese internees to make claims against the government for loss of property.......
More than half of the approximately 120 white women who were married to Japanese Americans decided to evacuate with their husbands and children in 1942, and most of these women remained in the camps with their husbands until the war was over. To be with their family in the camps, these white women had to agree to assume a quasi-Japanese identity by signing a waiver form that stipulated that they would be treated “as if” they “were persons of Japanese ancestry.” However, when the U.S. government offered reparations to former internees, to compensate them for the loss of their personal property, under the Evacuation Claims Act of 1948, the white spouses of Japanese Americans were excluded from the legislation and were unable to file an evacuation claim on grounds that they, as white, were not subject to evacuation orders in 1942. During the war, white women married to Japanese Americans resisted the way that government policies constructed their racial identities and challenged the white patriarchal assumptions implicit in the military’s mixed marriage policy. Pg. 34-35
This can be viewed as a sort of punishment of white women for marrying Asian men. But most interestingly, these policies asserted the rights of white patriarchal power by denying white women the same rights and choices as white men. This is the most convoluted irony; a common narrative from these marriages is that they released Asian women from the hardships of oppressive Asian patriarchy, yet such marriages were only possible because of white sexist and racist privilege that not only did not extend to white women but actively sought to deny them these rights of choice in marriage.

For Asian-American feminists such as Julie Carrie Wong, who have taken up the banner of "anti-anti-blackness", and seem to have adopted - like other present-day Asian "progressives" - the bizarre strategy of deflecting attention away from white racial crimes by equating Asian success to the practices of racial injustice, this history presents a problem. These advocates seem to froth at the mouth when unarmed black men and women are shot by the police in suspicious circumstances because it gives them a chance to hijack the tragedy and turn it into an opportunity to primal scream their angst over their ninety-year-old grandmother having been racially insensitive.

It is because of this tendency to make such mountains out of molehills that Asian advocacy has developed this skewed antipathy towards Asian successes. Consider this; Wong and other Asian progressives denounce apparent Asian "successes" in education and the tech industry as "complicity" and as something that somehow strengthens white supremacy and anti-blackness, yet this simplistic notion is only possible if we deny the racial experiences of those who have attained this modicum of achievement.

We have to remember that in order to get get into high-ranking colleges and go on to high-paying jobs in tech, Asians are required to jump over slightly higher hurdles than others. Higher test score requirements in college admissions, an apparently more critical assessment of their extra-curricular achievements than would be applied to other groups, and stereotypes of critical thinking and reasoning deficits, all conspire to impede Asian progress. Then, once Asians have broken through that barrier and attained those levels of economic parity, along comes self-righteous Asian "advocates with sweeping denunciations of them as accomplices in racial injustice. Whereas we should be looking at these people as pioneers and paradigm shifters, Asian advocacy insists that we deplore them as racist inductees into whiteness.

Yet, as I have shown, no group has been inducted into this whiteness more than Asian women - and no group has been afforded such racial privilege as those Asian women in marriages with white men. At a time when anti-miscegenation laws destroyed families of Asian men and their Asian or white wives, Asian women married to white men were inducted into whiteness and allowed to keep their families intact. During the one of the worst episodes of anti-Asian hysteria, Japanese-American women married to white men were given the option of leaving internment camps to be with their children and white husbands. White women married to Japanese men had to literally forego their whiteness and allow themselves to be incarcerated in order to keep their marriages and families intact.

In the post-war period, tens of thousands of Asian women married to American GI's received honorary white status that allowed them to breeze past immigration quotas and live freely as Americans with their husbands. At a time when Mildred Loving was having the door to her home kicked in and being dragged from her bed  by the police in Virginia for marrying a white man, Asian brides of white men were strolling freely through the streets of many Virginia towns arm in arm with their husbands without any fear of  arrest. I see no reason to believe that this cultural peculiarity of affording Asian women privilege if they are in intimate partnership with white men has in any way dissipated. What has changed is that other groups - to varying degrees - have found their own niche in the economic ladder of white power which has made this historical privilege afforded to Asian women less apparent.

Minority feminists writers such as Hinton are honest about it - being the partner of a white man confers privileges and eases navigation through society. Your race becomes less of an issue, and you don't have to worry about being the victim of petty acts of racism that can play havoc with your psychological state but which seem like minor impediments to those who never experienced them.

Honesty is the key word here; while Asian advocates are denouncing those who have struggled with stereotypes and racism to achieve a modicum of success, they are ignoring the most blatant instances of complicity with whiteness. This only highlights the featherweight substance of Asian progressivism - it seems not to have a clear principle by which it is guided, it only has those who should be denounced and those who shouldn't. That means that Asians who overcome prejudice to succeed are denounced, Asians who explicitly seek out white men, and are inducted into whiteness when they succeed are considered progressive heroes.

Don't get me wrong here - this is not a diatribe against the IR disparity. Those familiar with my writing should know that I couldn't care less about it. What concerns me is that the weakness of Asian advocacy is so pronounced that it has few avenues to explore its own voice that it has to turn Asian progress into a negative. The problem is, if Asian privilege is achieved through "complicity" the Asian women's dating choices (that is, ahem, their apparent pursuit of whiteness white men) must by necessity come under critical assessment. Not doing so only further diminishes the minuscule credibility of the grandiose proclamations made by Asian progressives.

If we are to denounce the special privileges afforded to Asians by white America, then let's be consistent and denounce it across the board instead of picking and choosing our principles from expediency.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Wrong Kind Of Victims.

Ignoring Looted And Destroyed Asian Businesses In Baltimore.

One of my recurring criticisms of the Asian-American political dialogue is that it seems unrooted and easily swayed by the slightest of social trends. A recent example was the Eddie Huang Scandal in which he incurred the wrath of justice workers, commentators, and wannabes across the racial divide when he refused to be bullied into admitting wrong-doing when he suggested that Asian men and black women share a common experience in terms of how both groups are considered outside of the normal standards of beauty and attractiveness.

As I pointed out, Asian-American progressives came out swinging to castigate Huang for doing the one thing they have insisted Asian commentators do; qualify Asian issues by mentioning anti-blackness. For me, this was a clear indication that Asian-American progressiveness is merely a reactionary movement that offers nothing original to the race dialogue and seems to wait in some kind of stasis, coming to life only to react to cases of anti-blackness with wild and dramatic emoting.

More recently, the tragic shooting of nine African-Americans in a Charlotte church by Dylann Roof has only further eroded my faith in the intellectual and philosophical foundations of Asian-American justice work, and has left me wondering what exactly it is these guys stand for.

In the aftermath of the Roof mass-shooting, apparently around half-a-dozen black churches had burned to the ground, with three of those being ruled the result of arson and none being considered hate-crime motivated. What has caught my notice is the response to these church burnings compared to the burning and looting of Asian-American stores in Baltimore.

As I pointed out in previous posts, Asian-American justice work seems to stop short of advocacy for Asian-Americans except in cases where it can be utilized to address anti-blackness. This custom is most noticeably applied to those FOBs who operate small-businesses in poor, predominantly black neighbourhoods. These Asians are a major stumbling block for the sometimes self-righteous, black-people-saving messianic moral pretensions of Asian-American justice workers who find it difficult to balance the obvious injustices perpetrated against innocent, looted Asian business-owners by African-American mobs with their "anti-anti-blackness" sensibilities.

The result has been a combination of silence and off-handed denial that Asian stores were in any way targeted - racially targeted - and a general "pretending not to notice" that Asian-American store-owners were victimized in any way. Clearly, FOBs who operate businesses in black neighbourhoods are, for some reason, not included in the pantheon of acceptable advocacy recipients of Asian justice work.

Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in the apparent lack of coverage, and, perhaps, support for drives to contribute to the rebuilding of these Asian stores. In the aftermath of the Charlotte shooting and the subsequent (possibly unrelated) spate of burnings of black churches, much was made of the remarkable efforts by Muslim and Jewish groups to raise funds to help the rebuilding of these places of worship. The mainstream media - including publications as far afield as the UK - carried pieces about this inter-faith compassion. Even Asian-American commentators gave a shout out to this story and other efforts to raise money for these churches.

Reactions of Asian-American advocacy commentators to the looting and arson attacks against businesses during the Baltimore riots, on the other hand, were muted to say the least.

As far as I was able to tell, the only Asian-American commentators to draw attention to fundraising efforts to assist these Asian store owners were Korean-American publications. Everyone else seemingly could not be bothered to promote assistance efforts for these innocent victims of mob violence. This is particularly problematic for the inaptly named Asian-American advocacy.

Contrary to what one might expect, in situations when Asian-Americans are in need of advocacy, Asian-American advocacy is nowhere to be found. In what to me would seem to be a straightforward case of racial targeting of Asians and their property that should have elicited strong condemnation by any movement claiming advocacy as their raison d'etre, the increasingly outspoken Asian-American progressive advocacy movement has remained obstinately quiet. The result is that not only have some of this progressive ilk tried to downplay or - without investigation - deny outright the possibility of racially motivated targeting of Asian stores in Baltimore, they are seemingly apathetic or absent in the efforts to raise funds to help the rebuilding of these businesses.

This illustrates why I view this recent incarnation of Asian-American progressivism to be of little substance. It seems to have based its activism on the appropriation of black suffering to give itself credibility and allow its various constituents to "punch above their weight" and, perhaps, achieve a higher-profile than what might be possible. As a result, some Asian-American demographics seem to fall outside the scope of what is considered permissible recipients of this non-Asian focused, Asian-American advocacy. One such demographic seems to be recent Asian immigrants who operate small-businesses in poor black neighbourhoods.

These guys not only have their experience of racial violence "reshaped" by those who put themselves forward as spokespeople for the community in order to downplay its significance, efforts to support them in rebuilding their destroyed businesses are effectively marginalized by the very advocates who should not only be at the forefront of helping this most vulnerable of Asian demographics, but should also be the most vocal about highlighting their experience of racial violence.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Asian-American Complicity In Anti-Blackness!

Asian Connivers And Schemers.

I came across an article written for Al Jazeera by Julia Carrie Wong that illustrated perfectly why I view Asian-American progressivism as a vapid and intellectually bankrupt vehicle for shameless self-promotion rather than a legitimate ideology that contributes valuable insights into America's racial dialogue.

In short, the piece explores the concept of "whiteness" arguing that it is an artificial racial category designed to construct a social hierarchy that associates whiteness with "goodness" and non-whiteness with whatever remains. According to Wong, whiteness only impacts race insofar as it delineates between black and "non-black". Contrary to what I had presumed were established historical facts, the article claims the following......
But the induction of Asian-Americans into whiteness doesn’t alter the meaning of whiteness; rather, it’s a reminder that whiteness has never been defined by a person’s country of origin or genetic makeup.
Wong's belief that Asian-Americans have been inducted into whiteness stems from a television show and a solitary study of the demographic makeup of the tech industry that actually cannot reasonably be said to shed light on the racial attitudes of anyone. Worse, whiteness has very much been defined by country of origin and, indirectly, genetic makeup - this is a simple fact of history. "Whiteness" has largely excluded those of non-European origin, explicitly denied the humanity of those of Asian, African and Native-American origin, as well as excluded non-European Caucasians. Clearly, "whiteness" has been founded on an inclusiveness based on genetic makeup and country of origin.

Of course, the problem is that Wong has tied herself up in intellectual knots from which she cannot extricate herself. Since she has claimed that whiteness has no real definition, she cannot really expound on what whiteness entails. If we follow her reasoning to its logical conclusion, then whiteness is a useless heuristic by which to discuss America's race issues - which is blatantly absurd.

Yet, I cannot help but think that this vagueness is deliberate and that this fuzzy definition of whiteness suits Wong's agenda - whatever that may be - because it allows her to make sweeping generalizations and wild claims about Asians without actually having to apply any kind of intellectual rigor to the process. By obfuscating on what "whiteness" means - and I admit, I don't know myself - then it makes it easier to deflect attention away from Wong's shaky reasoning.

While vagueness about what whiteness entails seems to suit Wong's skewed reasoning, it also happens to suit the racial status quo that exists in America - by placing (inaccurately) Asian-Americans in the role of co-conspirators Wong is effectively deflecting attention away from an insistence on white self-reflection and action. By unreasonably inserting Asians into the power dynamic of whiteness, she affords it the luxury of avoiding its own culpability. This goes beyond merely acknowledging racism within Asian-America - it actually deflects attention and resources away from the very source of America's racial injustices. Ironically, this is Model Minority behaviour at its finest - it protects white supremacy by passing, or sharing, responsibility for it to Asian-Americans. Bill O'Reilly could not have done a better job himself.

Of course, the assertion that high Asian-American representation in any particular field - Wong cites the tech industry - is somehow an indication of an induction into whiteness is itself an extremely fuzzy claim. This vagueness is fatal to Wong's thesis since it is almost impossible to decipher what she is trying to say. What it seems like she is saying is that Asian success is implicitly racist and detrimental to African-Americans or she is merely arguing guilt by association - Asians are well represented in an industry normally the reserve of "whites", therefore, whiteness? Asians are complicit because they succeeded? Disturbingly, this sounds like the reasoning and rhetoric of California's 19th Century white nativist bigots who cited the acceptance of low wages amongst Chinese immigrants as a sign of complicity in Capitalism's war on the white working class and utilized this slander to justify the pogroms against Chinese workers all over the West Coast.

The main problem with associating tech industries with whiteness is that it ignores the historical contributions made by Asians in the field and in so doing bypasses the fact that Asians have been present and innovating in the sector since long before it became racist for Asians to be well represented in the industry. FurthermoreAsian countries have also contributed to the conceptual progress of the industry. So to imply that Asians are somehow interloping on a white industry at the expense of blacks and Latinos is beyond absurd - Asians have been integral to the development and growth of the tech industry right from the get go and bear a not insignificant responsibility for its existence as a viable avenue for enterprise for a community that believes that prejudice has limited the options available to them in other industries.

What this means is that Wong's piece is clearly not about relaying facts, but is about rhetoric, hence the use of the term "complicity".

Complicity in this context is an extremely inflammatory term - no doubt deliberately so - that asserts, without offering a shred of evidence that Asians are actively and intentionally engaging in "anti-blackness" by being so well represented in stem fields. A look at some synonyms for the word illustrate this....
Complicity - the state of being an accomplice; partnership or involvement in wrongdoing: complicity in a crime.
And a couple of its synonyms.....
Connivance -  to cooperate secretly; conspire
Collusion - a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy
What is most noticeable is that these words - slurs if you will - have featured extensively in both the philosophy and specific episodes of anti-Asian sentiment. The notion and belief that Asians are implicitly sneaky, conniving and treacherous are foundational concepts in justifying anti-Asian hostility, exclusion, and, also, drives xenophobia in foreign policy considerations. The idea that Asians are untrustworthy is as old as anti-Asian racism itself and is a prejudice that continues to haunt Asian-Americans. I would actually feel better about Wong's utilization of this fundamental element of anti-Asianism if I thought that she was being deliberately polemic, but I just don't see that degree of intellectual sophistication in her piece or her reasoning.

It has to be said that any discussion on the phenomenon of high Asian representation in the tech industry - and STEM fields in general - is meaningless without mentioning the prejudices and racism that motivates Asian families to push their kids to pursue these careers in the first place. One reason that Asians are encouraged to enter STEM careers - as opposed to the arts, for example - is because of the belief that the greater subjectivity in assessing capabilities in many non-STEM fields leaves Asians more vulnerable to prejudices and disadvantage than in STEM where capabilities can be more objectively assessed. The experiences of aspiring Asian actors and the hostility directed at Jeremy Lin lend credence to this belief.

To me, this is a significant aspect of the phenomenon of the high representation of Asians in STEM. Just as in the past, sport - particularly boxing - was seen as a way for young black men to circumnavigate racism and achieve social mobility, STEM has come to serve that same purpose for the Asian-American community that faces a subtle, poorly defined, and easily denied prejudice in industries where success and ability are measured more subjectively.

This illustrates the grand opportunity that Wong - and Asian-American progressives in general - are squandering with ridiculously childish reasoning and juvenile moral proclamations. There is value in pointing out that it is anti-Asian racism that influences the decisions of many Asian-Americans to enter STEM fields, and that we can, and should, widen the dialogue on race to enable us to include this hugely significant fact. Asian-American progressives seem unable to intellectually juggle the multiple perspectives that America's racial story requires.

There is no conflict of interest to say that in order to create more room for under-represented minorities in STEM we should concurrently put forward ideas for policy drives that creates avenues of opportunity that promotes and encourages Asians to enter non-STEM fields. In other words, instead of labeling Asian-Americans as racist and connivers in "whiteness", why not actually consider ways to create opportunities for Asians outside of STEM fields where the casual racism and exclusion in industries, like, for example, acting, are mitigated. Instead of smug presumptions about the motivations of Asian parents, why not actually put forward ideas for how we can make non-STEM fields less prejudiced towards Asians and create programs that target Asian-Americans for industries outside of STEM?

Unfortunately, this seems too conceptually difficult for Asian progressives to imagine. Their uninspiring answer is to cut Asians out of STEM - where they do not belong -  and let them end up anywhere but "here". It's time for Asian-American activists to start exercising their minds instead of their mouths.

Putting forward strategies for addressing the anti-Asian racism that impels Asians to enter STEM fields is implicitly beneficial to the cause of fighting anti-black racism. If you expand opportunities for Asians in non-STEM careers and address prejudices they might face there that are disguised as "subjective criteria", then you create more room for African-Americans in STEM.

That should be obvious to any reasonable person, why hasn't Asian activism made the connection?

Finally, it needs to be noted that the major elephant in Wong's article is her omission of any commentary on high out-marriage rates of Asian women to white men - yes, The Disparity! - as an indicator of "complicity in whiteness". According to social scientists, inter-marriage is the primary indicator that an ethnic or racial minority has  integrated into the majority culture.

Wong writes.....
The cost of becoming white is hard to measure. It is ethical rather than material. By passively accepting the privileges of whiteness, Asian-Americans become complicit in America’s present system of hierarchy, a system in which the nation’s institutions inflict ongoing injustices on a racial underclass.
What greater acceptance of the privilege of whiteness can there be than to be inducted into intimate union with the group that holds the most privilege and power? What greater complicity could there possibly be? Don't get me wrong here, this is not a diatribe against IR, I am simply holding Wong's reasoning up for analysis and finding it inconsistent. If the cost of becoming white is ethical more than material, then surely there is a greater ethical cost required of those millions of Asian women who are in intimate union with whiteness and who, therefore, have greater opportunities to sway it?

Yet, I do not see - and have never seen - any "progressive" purveyors of the notion of Asian privilege and complicity point the finger at the 30% or so of Asian women married to white men (plus however many are in intimate partnerships) and tell them they have to use their unique position to speak out on racial injustice. There are no other minority demographics of any persuasion in a better position than those Asian women married to white men who can utilize the power of the privilege when - literally - being in union with whiteness to "change the status quo".

If high Asian representation in tech industries is - as Wong suggests - synonymous with whiteness and its anti-black sensibilities, then how much greater must be the implicit racism of high Asian representation in intimate partner unions with whiteness. There is no implicit acceptance of whiteness in striving for a good education and a successful career. There is, however, a hugely implicit acceptance of whiteness and the privileges it confers when one marries or dates into it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Getting Up On Whitey.

Black/Asian Tensions - A Convenient Euphemism?

An article in an online mag called "Mic" that covered the recent Akai Gurley killing by Chinese-American cop, Peter Liang, caught my attention recently. The piece makes the argument that it is the social and political dimensions of the death - rather than the specific circumstances of the incident - that should persuade us against supporting Liang. Furthermore, supporting Liang, the title of the article suggests, will result in "worse racial tension". The article does not explain why this should or would be the case, and neither does it question whether such a reaction would be reasonable or ethical.

Instead, the implication is that such an outcome - i.e. worsened racial tensions - is both natural, reasonable and possibly acceptable. Sadly, justice is not served by committing further injustice. Levelling disproportionate charges against an offender because it satisfies political requirements (which is the fundamental concern of those who support Liang - and not racial prejudice on the part of his supporters) and assuages our frustrations about historical and ongoing racial injustices is as unjust as not indicting policemen who commit brazen murder.

For justice to be justice, the social and political conditions that gave Gurley his hand in life cannot play a role in how Liang is charged or tried. Liang is not guilty of creating the housing projects, nor of their state of disrepair, nor of racial inequalities that makes those living in poverty more likely to be black. If those factors are considered in the case, then justice is not served. Those who support Liang are demanding that he be tried not with social and racial injustices that are beyond his control in mind, but that the specific circumstances of the incident be given the utmost consideration. But the Mic piece fundamentally argues that we should overlook the injustice of charging Liang disproportionately because  there exists so much racial injustice in society. That sounds more like vengeance and scapegoating and less like justice.

Nowhere in the piece is this idea of scapegoating more clearly illustrated than in the words of New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres whom the Mic piece quotes thus...
"If we were as aggressive in policing the housing conditions as we are in policing the residents"  [this might have never have happened.]
This would be hilarious if it did not come on the tail of such a tragedy. The New York City Council bears the sole responsibility for approving the city budget and also monitors the performance of city agencies - which includes New York's public housing authority responsible for the maintenance of the high-rise project where Gurley was shot. How does the New York City Council doing a piss-poor job of ensuring decent housing conditions in its jurisdiction have anything to do with the charges levelled against Peter Liang? In effect, what is being said here is that a membere of the NY City Council admits that it failed in its responsibilities to the people who it represents, contributing (greatly) to the circumstances that led to the tense situation that resulted in the death of an innocent man, and maybe even contributed to the manner of, and raison d'etre for vertical patrols. Yet the implication is that these factors should be considered in Liang's case. This is as unfair as institutionalized racism itself.

Yet it is the dramatic title of the Mic piece - "Supporting This Chinese-American Cop Who Shot a Black Man Only Makes Racial Tension Worse" - that I find to be most disturbing. The idea that an entire community will experience negative outcomes from the actions of a few of them is a classic example of racist thinking. More specifically, it is an acknowledgment that there exists an intolerance amongst blacks for Asian-Americans such that their merely voicing a different opinion of advocating against possible racial injustice against Asians is sufficient to make racial tensions worse.

It looks worse when we consider that Chinese-Americans account for a mere 20% of the population of Asian-Americans and that those who seem to support Liang account for a fraction of that. Yet, their actions will serve as the catalysts for "worse racial tensions". I cannot think of a more clear example of racist mob reasoning. Furthermore, I wonder if - but doubt that - the piece would have been published if it had been directed at white-Americans.

In the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, there were no commentators claiming that Ferguson's white residents' support for Darren Wilson would worsen racial tensions. Yet, here, in the Liang case where there are, objectively, several reasons to be concerned that justice is being twisted for political expediency, we are told to expect a potential worsening of racial tension possibly because those questioning the indictment happen to be Asian. Why, then has no (as far as I know) African-American commentator published an article warning of worsening racial tensions when whites support white cops who kill? Whatever the reasons, there seems to be a clear message that - unlike Asian-Americans - the entire white community will not be held accountable and subject to worsening racial tensions because a minority of them supported killer cops.

An examination of the nature and character of black/Asian tensions might provide some insight to this disparity in attitude. In short, "black/Asian tensions" means two different things to each group. For Asians, these tensions are often experienced as violence. Whereas Asian on black violence is almost unheard of, black on Asian violence seems to be far more prevalent. By contrast, African-Americans seem to experience black/Asian tensions most often as a series of interpersonal slights that are perceived to be an affront to dignity and pride. African-Americans complaints of anti-black violence committed by Asian perpetrators are rare, but there is a long list of Asian victims of violence - ranging from school children to the elderly - at the hands of black perpetrators. Clearly, there is a vast difference in how these "racial tensions" are experienced by both groups.

In the context of the Mic article, to say that there will be an increase in racial tensions could - and should - be viewed as a way of saying that the experience of these tensions by both groups will be intensified. Or, put another way, blacks will experience more hurt pride at the hands of Asians and Asians will experience more hostility and violence from African-Americans.

On the other hand, white-Americans hold most of the power in society and violence between the black and white communities is more mutual. Asians possess no such institutional power. Thus, it could well be that this idea of worsening violence towards Asians reflects a belief that it is less likely to be met with the kind of potential for retaliatory violence that would arise from white society. If not, why were there no commentaries proclaiming the prospect of worsening racial tensions in the aftermath of violence against Asian children and the elderly? The answer is that there is no expectation or probability of anti-black violence to flare up amongst Asian-Americans, and at worst Asian store owners might commit more acts of effrontery to African-American pride.

But it is not just that there seems to be a proclivity towards a casual attitude when it comes to anti-Asian violence in black America. The increasing presence of African-Americans in positions of political and social authority has altered the landscape of black and Asian relations in unexpected ways and there is another extremely disturbing phenomenon that seems to be emerging in the saga of black/Asian relations that goes beyond mere "tension" and hints at more deep-rooted anti-Asian racism in black-America.

In many of the communities where some of the worst and most violent incidences where "black/Asian tensions" have been reported, African-Americans hold influential positions as local politicians, heads of police, heads of school boards, school principals and so on. This means that in many of the spaces where the lives of many Asian immigrants and African-Americans intersect, it is African-Americans who often wield the power of America's institutions. This has not always turned out too well for Asian-Americans.
Council Member Inez Barron and Assembly Member-Elect Charles Barron will be holding a press conference at 12 noon in front of the Brooklyn DA’s Office, following a meeting with District Attorney Ken Thompson’s Office, regarding the shooting death of Akai Gurley, by Police in the Pink Housing development. - See more at:

The Liang case produced its own example of a skewed application of institutional power.....
Council Member Inez Barron and Assembly Member-Elect Charles Barron will be holding a press conference at 12 noon in front of the Brooklyn DA’s Office, following a meeting with District Attorney Ken Thompson’s Office, regarding the shooting death of Akai Gurley, by Police in the Pink Housing development.......“We are calling on the arrest and indictment of Officer Peter Liang,” says Charles Barron.
This seems like a blatant case of elected officials endeavouring to influence the judiciary to bring about a criminal prosecution - charges which could, objectively, be viewed as disproportionate and biased. After all, why hasn't Liang's partner - Landau - also been charged for not calling in the shooting and not administering first aid? Aside from the fact that democracy itself is predicated on the principle of the strict separation of powers and that there seems to have been an open and unapologetic flouting of this principle to target an ethnic minority individual, the idea of institutional power of elected officials targeting an Asian policeman while ignoring the fact that a white officer also neglected his duties reeks of racial bias. The words "persecution" and "bias" come to mind here.

Even worse, here, these local politicians explicitly stoked, and threatened to stoke, the flames of violence if the judiciary failed to bring the charges that they wanted brought against Liang...
"Unlike my colleagues, I am not calling for peace and calm. I’m calling for us to be hot,” state Assemblyman-elect Barron said, standing beside Gurley’s gal pal, Melissa Butler, at a press conference outside the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.....If you want somebody to be peaceful and calm, tell the police to be peaceful and calm!.....He also demanded that Officer Peter Liang, who fired the single shot that killed the 28-year-old Gurley on Thursday night at East New York’s Louis Pink Houses, be charged with criminally negligent homicide.
To paraphrase this, an elected official insinuated the use of populist violence to pressure the judiciary to bring specific charges against an accused man. Oddly - but not surprisingly considering that the accused is Asian - no one seems disturbed by this abuse of institutional power. At least I have now learned not to expect Asian advocacy to take note, saving me from disappointment that always follows in the wake of expectation.

Sadly, there are several cases in which Asian-Americans - most often immigrants - living in neighborhoods where much of the power of the local institutions rests in the hands of African-Americans find themselves on the wrong end of institutional apathy and apparent bias. The racial targeting of Asian immigrant students by their African-American peers at South Philly High School several years back was investigated by the Justice Department after claims that the victims' reports to school administrators went ignored by the principle and the District Superintendent, both of whom were African-American. The Justice Department found in favor of the Asian students, finding that the district abused their civil rights and engaged in racial bias against them.

More recently, Rochester, NY has seen another explosion of violent racism against Asian immigrants perpetrated by African-Americans under the apathetic eye of African-Americans who hold positions of institutional power. According to the victims, their reports to the police were ignored or not taken seriously even after community leaders held a meeting with police officials.
The anger [of the immigrants] is fueled, he and more than a dozen other residents interviewed say, by hundreds of incidents of robbery and violent and verbal bullying in recent years.......they kept loose documentation of some 300 incidents before a meeting with police two years ago, and hundreds more since, only to see nothing change.........The refugee community typically doesn't report crimes to police because they either fear retaliation, they don't trust police (sometimes because of conflicts with authority in their homelands) or don't think police take their plight seriously.
So, according to the immigrants, the violence cannot be put down to crimes of theft against a vulnerable community - the verbal and violent bullying adds a dimension that goes beyond mere criminal opportunism. The comments of the former African-American police chief - John Sheppard - who met with community leaders are far from inspiring.....
Sheppard described the immigrants as easy targets for crime because they stand out from the rest of the community because of their lighter complexion and facial features.......They may dress different, they may talk different, they tend not to fight back and so that just made them easy victims, easy to identify and the fact that they didn't call police that just made it happen more often.
...that's also known as racism. But it gets even less inspiring. Another officer suggests the following.....
Police Lt. David Gebhardt, who was at the meeting two years ago, said police offered safety classes following the meeting to help the refugees make themselves less inviting to criminals and to become more street smart.
As though somehow the victims of racial violence can change racially motivated crimes by altering their own behaviour. Maybe one of the suggestions to make themselves less inviting to racially motivated crimes might be eye surgery? But Sheppard adds the following.....
There was a time when a lot of Southern blacks were moving from Florida and South Carolina into the Rochester area looking for jobs and they went through the same cycles of discrimination and having to fight back and get a foothold. Then, when they established a foothold, other groups came in whether it was Puerto Ricans or other nationalities and they had to go through the same rites of passage.
This is disturbing to say the least. The idea that racially-motivated violence is some kind of normal rite of passage meted out by African-Americans for newcomers to this country is merely a way of avoiding condemnation of racial prejudice directed at Asians by elements in the black community. No one would dare to make such a suggestion if the perpetrators were white, so why do African-Americans get a pass? Furthermore, the very suggestion that the way to resolve violent racism by "fighting back" avoids the social and political conditions that foster anti-Asian sentiment, but also is an explicit endorsement for the perpetuation of violence - all from the mouth of law enforcement.

In Baltimore itself, despite early indications that there would be targeting of Asian stores, the black mayor of the city did and said nothing to stave off any potential racially-motivated looting - even as the police failed to respond when Asian business owners reported that looting was taking place. These examples illustrate that Asian immigrant experiences of black/Asian tensions engender a gamut of circumstances from black on Asian violence all the way up to apathy and bias amongst African-Americans who hold institutional power that - either by design or unintended consequence - enables or encourages aggression and intolerance of Asian-Americans.

The Mic piece seems to casually accept this aspect of black/Asian tensions and implicitly endorses classic self-righteous racist reasoning that places the blame for racial intolerance on the targets and victims of it. This is not only reprehensible but also extremely disturbing that such an attitude could be expressed and not challenged for its implicit endorsements of racism. Of course, since black/Asian racial tensions manifest most dramatically as black on Asian violence, the article implicitly justifies anti-Asian violence.

This is worrying to say the least, but in the present climate when Asian-American progressives have been prominent in voicing their support for black causes, participated in anti-anti-blackness protests, and shown a willingness to castigate (but also exaggerate) racism within their own community, it is beyond disappointing that those efforts have not translated into a more tolerant and nuanced approach in this black commentary. As Jeff Yang points out (in an article that would have been better suited as a response to the Mic piece), there are many examples of black/Asian cooperation and mutual support, the question is, why is this cooperation and community building between the two groups so easily tossed aside when some Asians voice opposing or unpopular opinions?

If the author of the Mic piece believes that support for Liang will worsen racial tensions, then fine - that may be objectively true - but the passive acceptance of this possibility without any questioning of its rationality or fairness merely serves to justify anti-Asian racism in black-America.

There is nothing implicitly anti-black about the concerns voiced by Liang's supporters - rather, they have highlighted some extremely problematic aspects of the case. Framing their activism as racist - apparently to justify ratcheting up the violence - is the kind of simplistic racist thinking common to all bigoted thinkers. And I'm sorry, but I just don't hold to the notion that racial oppression can justify racist thinking or that those whose communities are heavily victimized by it should be given space to express it uncritically. This would be like saying that we can somehow end racism and racial injustice by being racist and unjust.

This might make sense to some people, but I see no sense in it at all. If a white writer had penned the Mic piece, then I have absolutely no doubt that our advocates would be jumping up and down decrying its implicit endorsement of racial violence. But Asian-America has gotten itself into the habit of dismissing incidents of anti-Asian violence committed by African-American perpetrators out of hand - see Jeff Yang - as though it is a necessary by-product of the fight against anti-blackness. Of course, this merely legitimizes anti-Asian violence and normalizes it as an implicit aspect of the black racial experience. 

Asian-American advocacy's apathy on the plight of the violence against some of the most vulnerable members of our community is a huge dent in the credibility of its pretensions of intersectional activism. There is no logical reason to exclude Asian victims of black racial violence from considerations of justice and failing to do so only reveals the extremely flimsy ethical and intellectual foundations of Asian progressiveness. After all what credibility is there in raising one hand in a fist proclaiming "anti-anti-blackness" whilst flipping the bird at the vulnerable immigrant victims of anti-Asian sentiment with the other?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Anti-Asian Pogrom?

The Looting of Asian Businesses In Baltimore. 

The high-profile shootings of unarmed black men by the police in recent months has brought the state of black/Asian relations to the fore of progressives' discourse - at least for Asian-Americans. Although much has been written over the past several months by Asian-American commentators - often with titles like "Why Asians should care about such and such a black issue" - attempting to forge a narrative of a common black/Asian political and social agenda, it has been noticeable that pretty much all of the commentary to forge this partnership of visible minorities has been done by Asians, with apparently little being said by the other half of the alliance.

Perhaps there does exist an extensive body of work and conceptual analyses that envision a mutual black/Asian power block from an African-American perspective, but so it seems not to be a high priority for them. It seems as though Asians are more invested in the alliance than their black counterparts. The one area where Asian advocates and their black cohorts seem to be in perfect alignment is in their response to reports of anti-Asian sentiment that seemed to creep into the Baltimore riots following the killing of Freddie Gray. In short, the reports of alleged targeting of Asian businesses and the subsequent destruction of many of them have largely been ignored by both Asian-Americans and African-American commentators alike.

The first report that hinted that Asians were being targeted came from the respected news source, NPR, whose piece, although brief, offered a clear picture of the tensions that seem to exist between Asian merchants and the black community in some parts of Baltimore hit by riots. The NPR article notes that although there are those in the black community who have positive and even close relationships with Asian shopkeepers, there are others who harbor resentments and view Asians as interlopers who "give nothing back" to the community.

At least forty-two Korean-owned stores were looted and/or destroyed in the area whilst reports suggest that black-owned businesses were protected and spared. It could certainly be argued that evidence for racially driven looting is inconclusive, although the  main reason for that could be that there seems to be little interest or motivation to actually thoroughly investigate either the experiences of Asian merchants, or claims of racially motivated targeting of their stores. But most noticeable of all is that Asian-American advocacy seems to have no stance, opinion, or point of view regarding this apparent targeting of Asian stores by some black locals.

The best that we seem to have come up with is the effort of progressive CNN writer, Jeff Yang, whose piece seems more concerned that America will get the wrong impression about the character of the riots whilst completely avoiding any hint of empathy for the Asian-American victims of a brutal and terrifying pogrom. It is this disconnect between those who act as spokespeople for Asian-Americans, and those Asian-Americans who have the least political and social clout but who find themselves in the no-man's land of America's racial dialogue that I find troubling.

This disconnect allows Asian merchants - who are most often immigrants with poor English language skills, and who are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable group within Asian-America - to be repeatedly excluded from the dialogue on their own experience. Instead, their experience is lost and diminished (and even "gaslighted")  in narratives put forward by progressives such as Yang who exhort us to accept the big picture that effectively leaves targeted Asian merchants as necessary collateral damage in the fight against anti-blackness. Yang quotes Jennifer Lee  thusly....
..the mainstream media continues to pit minority groups against one another to draw attention from larger structural problems that plague poor, disadvantaged communities. By directing our attention to interminority conflict, it directs blame away from the structures that perpetuate gross inequality and toward individual problems.
As you can see, there is no mention of the human tragedy experienced by Asian merchants nor of their looted and destroyed livelihoods - it seems to be forgotten that Asian immigrants often count as poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable. It is probably true that the media promotes this narrative of inter-ethnic conflict - most probably because it makes for exciting viewing as much as for the purpose of deflecting attention away from real social issues - yet, that does not mean that we should ignore the very real possibility that there are elements in black America who harbor racial bias and hostility towards Asians.

The problem is that there is no reason to believe that any anti-Asian sentiment would be assuaged by an improved economic situation, or even that such sentiments are the result of dire economic circumstances. Adhering to this belief ignores the larger picture of xenophobic anti-Asian sentiment in American society that blames Asian economies for taking jobs, resources, and prestige away from Americans who are more deserving of it. The parallels with sentiments expressed by African-Americans are striking - the idea that Asians are taking an economic slice of the pie that rightfully belongs to African-Americans by operating in black neighbourhoods, Asians are taking jobs from locals by unfairly self-employing, and Asians are flaunting their prosperity by looking down their noses at locals, all speak of an entitlement complex that is too similar to mainstream America's negative attitudes towards Asia to be so easily dismissed.

....there's little evidence to suggest a pattern in which Asian businesses have been actively targeted out of racial animus.......Instead, it seems as if Asian-owned stores have experienced damage partly because they make up a portion of establishments operating in the most economically vulnerable and socially volatile of neighborhoods. In other words, they were collateral damage, along with other stores in the vicinity of riots.
This is extremely insulting to those Korean-Americans whose stores were destroyed in Baltimore. Does there have to be a pattern of racial animus for racist hate-crimes to be considered as such? The NPR piece that Yang is responding to explicitly reported eyewitness accounts where Asian stores were the only ones targeted.....
But on this particular stretch - picture three treeless blocks of row houses, a lot of them boarded up - the only shops that were targeted were ones owned by Asian immigrants - mostly Koreans.
Speaking of racial animus, one local had this to say......
It's almost like payback, I guess you could say.......For all of the unspoken things that has happened between those businesses and our people, I feel like it was payback.
So, yes, the NPR piece does provide us with sufficient reason to believe that (at least in some cases) Asian stores were specifically targeted and that it was the result of racial animus. Whether or not this constitutes a "pattern" of any kind is completely irrelevant and I think Yang is intelligent enough to know that just because not all looters were targeting Asians stores does not remove the possibility that some were. The absence of a pattern of racial animus in no way precludes incidents of racial animus.

What I find most appalling about the Yang quote above is that he seems perfectly happy to hand-wave away these possible incidents of racial animus (that destroyed people's lives) in order to refocus our attention on what he terms the "real issues". In case he hasn't noticed, racism in America is a real issue and for those Koreans whose stores do seem to have been targeted, it was a very real issue, but Yang has presumed the moral authority to school us on what should really matter to us and whose suffering we should prioritize. That's easy for him to say and it seems his conscience permits him to view the livelihoods of targeted Korean merchants as a price he is willing to pay - all, I suspect from the comfort of a safe neighbourhood that is patrolled by a racist police force. The Koreans on the other hand might not be so thrilled and I don't find this sanctimonious posturing to be particularly ethical either.

Yang's piece gives absolutely no indication that he knows enough about the circumstances of the people or circumstances of that community whose experiences he, remarkably, presumes to be knowledgeable enough of to frame for us. He simply does not seem to have sufficient information to dismiss any reports of racial animus or what seem to be reports of clear incidents of targeting of Asian stores.

Yet, he has presented his piece (and himself) as authoritative on what was happening in a community which he seems to have no first-hand experience of nor does he seem to have actually gone to Baltimore to investigate whether the claims made by NPR are true or not. Thus, I fail to see on what grounds he was able to so thoroughly dismiss the NPR report. His only argument seems to be that we should dismiss claims of racial tension in Baltimore since the media has in the past - and does still - stoke the flames of urban violence with hyperbolic reporting on inter-ethnic tensions, 

It should go without saying that hyperbole does not mean untrue and that just because tensions are melodramatically reported, does not mean they should be dismissed outright.

Interestingly, the NPR piece is actually far from being hyperbolic - if anything it seems balanced and presents several different perspectives. What the NPR report showed was that there are African-Americans in the community who view Asian merchants with great fondness, while others are hateful. No hyperbole there.

I genuinely believe that most African-Americans - even in poor neighbourhoods that are subject to oppressive policing - do not harbour anti-Asian hostility. And I would even suggest that for many (hopefully most) African-Americans, these Asian-owned stores provide an important and convenient service to the local community. If this was not the case, then it is hard to explain how some of these Asian stores could remain in business for the years and decades that they have if they were such terrible racists as some locals suggested. But Yang's approach to frantically dismiss any and all suggestions of racially motivated looting merely plays into the hands of the hyperbolic mainstream media.

It could be that be that one reason the media is even able to stoke racial tensions between blacks and Asians is because prominent Asian-American journalists like Yang marginalize the racial experiences of Asian merchants in black neighbourhoods. The vacuum is naturally filled by the mainstream media. As far as I know, no prominent Asian-American journalist has even bothered to report on what these 42 Korean merchants went through. So don't complain and freak out when the mainstream media does the work of giving these marginalized, invisible, and neglected members of Asian-America a voice and then shape what they say to suit their own racial agenda (although the NPR piece didn't actually do that). Maybe, if Asians themselves were to include these merchants in the narrative of vulnerable communities then the mainstream media would not have the opportunity to take advantage of their invisibility?

I don't agree that Yang's proclaimed "real issues" should exclude the suffering or hardships experienced by Asian merchants in depressed areas. If people are looking to these merchants to be part of the solution to urban dysfunction then it is logical to include them as part of the "real issues" - particularly when their stores are targeted by resentful looting mobs. Losing your livelihood is a real issue and, by its silence or casual dismissals, the Asian media is complicit in protecting, defending, and excusing those who perpetrate these kinds of crimes against Asian merchants.