There was an old British sit-com that I used to enjoy called "Fawlty Towers", and one of my favourite episodes was called "The Germans". To cut a long story short, the protagonist of the show who runs a seaside hotel, is under so much stress to make his German guests happy and not offend them, that he actually ends up doing just that.
An article on an Asian-American activist blog called "Critical Spontaneity" caught my attention recently because it reminded me of that episode. Titled "Can Afro-Asian Solidarity Exist?", the post sought to address two main issues that the author felt related to Afro-Asian solidarity as brought up by a Twitter conversation on the subject; Asian Anti-Black Racism, and (our old friend!) Asian Privilege.
On Asian anti-black racism....
One of the most salient critiques mentioned was that there can be no solidarity between Asian Americans and African Americans because of the discrimination towards African Americans by Asian Americans. Asian Americans were criticized for profiting off anti-black ideologies and aligning themselves with white supremacist norms............As a group, we agree that this is and has been a serious problem within the AAPI community.In order to address this issue, the author suggests that we (the Asians) ask ourselves the following...
* Are we simply asking to be accepted and tolerated within a country that has exploited, enslaved, and committed genocide against people of color, or do we seek to reject white appeasement in its entirety?
* Recent activism and scholarship in Asian American Studies and AAPI communities has been critical of early AAPI movements, which were critiqued for being assimilationist, domestically centered, and for constructing an Asian American subject that was predominantly heterosexual and male, thus ignoring the diversity of AAPI subject identities. From this standpoint, how do we act in order to achieve these more radical goals?
* Despite the historical differences that AAPI and African Americans have experienced in the U.S., how can we jointly organize around shared interests and goals that speak to investments in civil rights and social justice issues?My first thought is that I don't see much advocacy for Asians in the above statement of intent - problematic if you are an Asian activism blogger. In fact, there is no advocacy for Asians in the above statement of intent, only unsubstantiated accusations of discrimination perpetrated by Asians that the author acknowledges as being a "serious problem within the AAPI community". With advocates like that, who needs oppressors! Of course, it is untrue - and a little silly - to imply that any lack of solidarity between blacks and Asians is solely the result of rampant serious discrimination on the part of Asians. As a matter of fact, that is itself a racist accusation.
I am being asked to believe that either the black/Asian relationship is in no way partially shaped by anti-Asian racism in the black community, or that anti-Asian racism does not exist in the black community. Both of these ideas are nonsense, but somehow the quest for solidarity between the two groups requires that even though this racism almost certainly exists, I am required to pretend that it does not. This is a poor basis upon which to build a healthy coalition of advocacy. No relationship ever worked out when one of the parties had to deny a significant aspect of their life experience, and hence their identity.
Oddly enough, this approach is actually a kind of "closeting" of the Asian experience of black racism, like the kid who is molested by his or her father and is then told by the mother not to say anything to anyone because to do so would break up the family. Yes, it is that sick. I actually can't help but get the feeling that some activist's concern lies more in earning street cred and being "down with the homies" than any real drive to explore the issue of solidarity in a meaningful way that is less agenda-driven.
A good example of this is the second point in the list of contritious acts that Asians must undergo so that Asian-American activists can save face in the eyes of their black activist cohorts. According to Park (the blog author is named Suey Park), early AAPI movements have been judged to have been less credible than previously thought because they have been found guilty of being assimilationist. Park doesn't mention any names, but it seems to me that early AAPI movements were far more radical than the present crop, whose radicalism, ironically, seems to consist of steering the assimilation ship into blackness and away from the white, yet still, frustratingly, devoid of an autonomous Asian-ness. So, instead of the invisibility of assimilation into whiteness, we should become invisible within blackness. Either way, we remain invisible but instead of downplaying white anti-Asian racism - which many of us do in order to prosper - we should downplay black racism. I suppose that could thought of as a form of equality.
By way of conclusion....
As a group, we reject the historical racisms perpetuated against the black community in the United States and call on our community to deeply interrogate the reasons behind these racisms, and to find ways to combat it. Without this, we will not be able to achieve any form of solidarity with other people of color.That is a tall order. Asians - as a general observation - don't even deeply interrogate the reasons behind anti-Asian racisms (as evidenced by the article under review) let alone find ways to combat it. But even more naive is the idea that in order to prove themselves, Asians can brainstorm and find a solution to something that very smart people have been working on for a very long time and for the most part come up short - how to combat racism. There is a tragedy about this way of thinking - not unlike the idea of the Chinaman's chance - in which a bar is set so high in the full knowledge that it can never be reached.
But there is a deeper problem with Park's piece; solidarity amongst Asians themselves is nebulous to say the least, and we have not really figured out how to create that solidarity between the various Asian ethnic groups, classes, genders, and generations. In fact, some of these demographics seem to be at odds or warring with each other on a regular basis with no real coming together in sight. There probably cannot be Afro/Asian solidarity because there is not really an Asian solidarity, even on seemingly fundamental issues like our experience of racism. I would like to hear more ideas on how Asians can resolve their own lack of solidarity before I can be sold on the the efficacy of Afro/Asian solidarity. If Asians the issue of solidarity is not resolved, then how am I supposed to believe that the points suggested in the article are feasible?
Having said that, one way that we could approach solidarity with black America is to speak about our own experiences of racial victimization, with the expectation that these experiences will be respected instead of being minimized as secondary to, and less credible forms of suffering than, the greater suffering of black Americans. And this is not being facetious. Understanding between peoples emerges out of a genuine dialogue in which both parties are honest about who they are, what they have experienced, and what they want. If we are required to be silent about black anti-Asian racism in order to be accepted, then that is not real solidarity, that is merely an unhealthy relationship. You can observe this unhealthiness taking shape in the second part of the article that deals with Asian privilege.
When writing about Asian privilege, Park is eager to deny its existence but, for me, whether it actually exists is less important (hardly important at all, in fact) than why the accusation of its existence exists. A feature of anti-Asian racism is that its credibility is questioned. That is to say that anti-Asian prejudice is downplayed, and given secondary significance to racism experienced by any other minority group and even perhaps to racism experienced by white people. The reasoning is that Asians are successful (really?) so talking about anti-Asian racism is unnecessary. But this is just plain silly.
If we abided by this reasoning, then any ethnic minority individual should lose their right to complain about racism once they reach a certain income level. This means that only poor people can complain about racial prejudice - so when someone like Forest Whitaker cries racism we should all remind him of his wealth and how much privilege this affords him and tell him to live with it. Of course, this just isn't done - except when Asians are the victims.
So, what this means is that calling on Asian privilege is merely another way of normalizing anti-Asian prejudice - by deflecting attention away from our experiences of racism, and downplaying their impact on the basis that it is offset by high average incomes. Citing average incomes are the dishonest but popular way of delivering this form of anti-Asian racism, particularly in the oppression Olympics. No, if high incomes lessen the impact of racism - as Asians are often told it does - then it should lessen the impact for every minority individual who has a high income. Defending against notions of Asian privilege gives the nonsensical basis for the accusation far more seriousness than it deserves. If someone wants to play the privilege card, then that is often tantamount to using a racial slur against us.
In summary, any movement towards Afro/Asian solidarity is doomed to failure if the marriage is based on one side denying its experience whilst taking the blame for all the pathologies in the relationship. Even more problematic is the fact that without Asians experiencing solidarity amongst their own disparate groups, we don't actually have a good model upon which to conceive of a healthy solidarity with any other group. We don't need to own or defend our "privilege" because no other minority individuals who have achieved economic success are required to do so, and neither is any suggestion made that economic success makes such individual's experience of racism any less significant.
Furthermore, as I alluded to here this idea of declaring contrition for privilege, makes for good rhetoric, but poor inspiration. This is because other factors - like compassion, a sense of justice, and empathy - are more likely to foster solidarity than the simplistic jingoism of accusing random Asians of privilege and demanding that they seek atonement for it at the altar of black suffering. That approach is doomed to failure.