Thursday, January 8, 2015

The First Rule Of Asian-American Advocacy Is.....

.....You Don't Talk About Asian -American Advocacy.

Back in October of 2014, a guy by the name of Jack Linshi wrote what I thought was a refreshing article in Time magazine in which he discussed the place of Asian-Americans in society's dialogue on racial diversity. His thesis was simple; society's conceptualization and media-driven perceptions of Asian-Americans has resulted in their not being considered in the diversity equation. Significantly, he points out the damaging effect that the model minority stereotype has had on marginalizing the Asian-American voice, and hence, its consideration, from America's race dialogue. What Linshi did not know was that he had committed one of the cardinal sins of Asian-American politics.

As I lamented in this post - here - Asian-American activists and social commentators for some bizarre and inexplicable reason seem to have developed a negative knee-jerk reaction to any commentary written by Asian-Americans that have a specific focus on Asian-Americans. There is a bizarre tendency to be critical of Asian-American commentaries that don't also bring the issues of other demographics to the table. According to these folks, if you focus on Asian men, then your piece is flawed because you have not mentioned Asian women (although, the reverse scenario seems to be acceptable), if you talk about anti-Asian racism, then your piece is flawed because you didn't mention anti-black racism, if you focus on the detrimental effects of the Model Minority stereotype has on Asian-Americans, then your piece is flawed because it doesn't mention global warming (that one was jesty, but you get my point). In short, Asian-Americans are unreasonably critical of any commentaries on the community that are in any way presented as independently significant in their own right.

So, naturally, I was not surprised when a "response" to Linshi's piece was published in an online mag called "The Toast" that pretty much stayed true to the custom of diminishing the credibility of an autonomous Asian-focused racial experience. The Linshi piece shines a nuanced light on how the model minority stereotype has fundamentally worked to render Asians socially and politically invisible such that indications of discrimination against Asians in promotion in the tech industry - as well as the rich history of anti-Asian racism - are largely ignored as insignificant by the white majority, minority diversity advocates, and even Asian-Americans. By contrast, the Toast piece seems to want to constrict our conception of the Asian-American experience such that the notion itself has no meaning.

As Linshi points out....
Asians and Asian-Americans are smart and successful, so hiring or promoting them does not count as encouraging diversity. It says: there is no such thing as underrepresentation of Asians and Asian-Americans. The problem with this belief, historians and advocates assert, is that it not only obscures the sheer range of experiences within Asian and Asian-American populations, but also excludes them from conversations about diversity and inclusion in leadership and non-tech sectors..........Not that this exclusion is a new phenomenon. Historians agree that diversity has turned a blind eye to Asians and Asian Americans ever since the 1965 Immigration Act.
Overall, Linshi's piece sheds lights on the most destructive aspect of the model minority stereotype; that it excludes Asians from the dialogue on their own experiences. Because they are marginalized and rendered invisible, they have almost no part in setting, or even contributing to, the agenda on diversity and race - in part because Asian-Americans reactivists themselves seem to conceive of Asian issues as merely a parasitic addendum to other minorities' problems with little, or no, autonomous significance in their own right. I on the other hand, maintain that anti-Asian racism is both fundamental to, and is the very basis of, white supremacist philosophy. Although Linshi does not say it, the unspoken (and perhaps, unintended) implication is that marginalization of Asian-Americans via the model minority stereotype benefits both the white mainstream whose anti-Asian xenophobia means that it doesn't particularly want to see a politically and socially influential Asian minority, but also non-Asian minorities who seem to increasingly view Asians as a stumbling block to their own advancement as well as to diversity itself.

Another piece written in the Daily Beast by Tim Mak expands on  this notion. Mak is more direct about it though....
Paradoxically, Asian Americans are considered minorities when white activists seek to challenge affirmative action but not considered minorities or contributors to diversity when other activists seek to promote it. We’re objects used to prove a political point about other ethnic groups rather than a group whose successes and failures are judged on our own.
Unsurprisingly, this refreshingly straight-forward piece that hints at the uncomfortable possibility that Asians are used as both a foil by the white mainstream to obscure their own racism but are also viewed as the unwanted red-headed stepchildren of the diversity demagogues, has not been embraced -  or even discussed - by the online Asian-American reactivist network. This may also be partly because the piece implies that maintaining  the marginalization of Asian-Americans provides a useful tool for both white supremacy as well as its black/Latino nemesis.

The Toast rebuttal-esque piece epitomizes the kind of pompous and self-important, yet devoid of substance, content that seems to accompany any attempt to bring an autonomous Asian-American voice to the table. The piece is based on an e-mail exchange between two - I presume - Asian-American journalists, Sarah Jeong and Nicole Callahan. Although the whole piece reads like a manifesto of self-importance, these two points, in particular, stood out for me......
Sometimes we are “left out” because we don’t face the same racism. I think it’s rather disingenuous to claim to be “left out” of the black/white framing, and then conveniently ignore or not talk about the ways Asian Americans benefit from not being seen as black.
And.....
But it also doesn’t make much sense to talk about race or the model minority myth at all without acknowledging white supremacy and the anti-blackness at its root........Yes, talking about racism and discrimination against Asian Americans is extremely weird without broaching how the model minority myth has been used as a weapon against both black and brown people.
Quite frankly, I don't see how you can motivate Asians to want to fight white supremacy by telling them that their own racial experiences are irrelevant and that they have nothing unique to contribute to the process. Somehow, Asian-American social justice commentators seem to hold to the principle that Asian advocacy is about stifling an autonomous Asian voice and co-opting the black one, like parasites. Some inspiration.

Even worse, though, this self-disqualifying of Asians from having a voice in America's race dialogue is attained by misunderstanding Linshi's point.  By my reading, the gist of the Linshi piece is not to claim that Asians are left out of the black/white framing, but to suggest that the black/framing is a hopelessly inadequate framework to effectively describe America's diverse racial experience. Even if you accept with full uncritical faith - as many seem to do - the axiom that anti-Asian racism is rooted in anti-blackness (in fact, history suggests the opposite is true - that the racial thinking that made anti-blackness possible and legitimate is predated by, and rooted in, anti-Asianism), you will find yourself unable to adequately describe America's diverse racial experiences. All roads do not lead to anti-blackness and the insistence that they do contributes nothing meaningful to America's race dialogue, particularly where it concerns Asian-Americans.

Asians are left out of the race dialogue for one reason and one reason alone; we are marginalized and offered few opportunities to actually present our experiences in our own words and on our own terms. That is the real damage of the model minority stereotype; it diminishes the credibility of Asian-American claims to negative racial experiences and casts doubt on anti-Asian racism as a significant issue. Ironically, the Toast piece does pretty much the same thing.

Linshi writes.....
Yet the movement to push Asians and Asian-Americans into conversations of diversity and inclusion has fizzled out in recent years. Asian-American activism, historians believe, was at its peak following a national outcry after two white men escaped prosecution for their 1982 racially-charged murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin. Nascent groups like American Citizens for Justice and the Coalition Against Anti-Asian Violence demanded equal treatment of Asian-Americans both under the law and in society. The fight for Asian-American equality may be less fierce today, but it is still there.
My take is that one possible reason why the "movement to push Asians and Asian-Americans into conversations of diversity and inclusion" might have fizzled out is that Asian-Americans - as the Toast piece illustrates - are stifling it. Asian-American "advocates" have created a hostile environment where those who want to actually focus their advocacy on Asians are deemed to be, or denounced as, anti-black, wicked model-minority embracers, or just not "down". In short, those historical efforts to  give Asians a voice in the diversity dialogue have been subverted by a new generation who seem to have run out of original things to say, so they co-opt anti-anti-blackness movement rhetoric and try to squeeze every possible scenario into some unfeasible manifestation of the black/white dichotomy.

One such scenario is the model minority stereotype, which - according to many Asian-Americans in the know - was created, and exists, solely as a means to embarrass other minorities, discredit welfare programs, and roll back civil rights gains achieved in the nineteen-sixties. I will expand on this conception of the stereotype in my next post, but for now it will suffice to say that there are plenty of reasons to think that the model minority stereotype is, and was, far more complex than simply a conspiracy to pit minorities against one another.

In summary, as long as Asian-Americans continue to diminish and stifle efforts to give our community its own voice and perspectives in the diversity conversation, we will continue to be marginalized, or worse still, not taken seriously. Borrowing the terminologies and rages of black activism - though ostensibly noble - just makes us parrots of someone else's experiences. In some ways there seems to be an element of abdication of responsibility in the sense that it is easier (but not braver) to appropriate the ready-made activist agenda of black advocacy than it is to create an Asian-American ontology from the rich history of anti-Asianism.

On a final note, another thing to consider is whether diversity and the credibility of one's input to the conversation on it must be - as the Toast piece seems to imply - correlated with the degree or severity of the experience of racism. It seems like even more abdication of responsibility to suggest that one has to experience harsher racism to earn the necessary credibility to deserve to give input to the diversity dialogue. Do I really need to have been severely beaten by skinheads, harassed by the police, or racially mocked on national broadcast television to be able to put forward a meaningful and legitimate contribution to the conversation? It seems silly and unhelpful to dismiss an entire community's input because of simplistic notions of who suffers more and harsher prejudice.

9 comments:

  1. Happy new year, may 2015 bring the collapse of these blood sucking "Christian" parasites who are destroying the Middle East and provoking Russia and China into a nuclear war.

    I think a good cure for these "activists" and those who are persuaded by their drivel is to show the long history of anti Asian hate crimes in videos and graphics.

    It's one thing to write using unfamiliar terminology. It's another to see rape victims, body counts, freak genetic mutations, 3rd degree burn victims of napalm, and dismembered children thanks to "western values" and white "men".

    ● Opium Wars
    ● Overthrowing Hawaiin monarchy
    ● Massacre of Chinese coolies
    ● Philippine-American war
    ● Korean War
    ● Vietnam War
    ● Aerial bombing Laos and Cambodian civilians
    ● Nuclear bomb Japanese civilians twice

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    1. Happy New Year.

      Don't worry I will talk about some of those things in the next post.

      Delete
  2. I have to bother you again.

    I agree. Every group's experiences should be acknowledged, taken seriously, and has to be considered to gain the clearest understanding of the problem of racism. I think people should not be so narrow-minded and not just selfishly gorge on their own history/experiences, but also learn about other groups of people because all of our respective histories and experiences here are connected and have affected (and continue to affect) one another. I do so myself. I think that would lead to more constructive interactions. Might it be better to promote that idea?Do you already do that? The critical element of all that would be having the ultimate goal of producing justice, not just capitalizing off of certain things for narrow gains. That goes for everybody.

    The tone of this article comes off as more opportunistic (or maybe just reacting by venting) than it is concerned about justice. Seeing as you argue that institutional racism doesn't exist, I'd suspect the voice you seek in the diversity dialogue is more of a selfish one than one of justice. You only mention wanting to have a bigger voice, not that you want to solve problems (as these problems are resulting from racism). That says a lot.

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    1. Rashnu

      What do you consider to be a constructive interaction? And between who and whom does this interaction take place? Can an interaction between parties ever be constructive if the experiences of one of them is constantly being stifled and obscured? I don't really see any hope for constructive interactions in any circumstance if some participants are not allowed to have their experiences.

      Your points about justice are somewhat obscure. Are you saying that Asian-Americans speaking out about their own autonomous experiences of racism does not contribute to justice, or that it somehow stifles justice? You will have to explain how it could be the case that speaking about injustice is not implicitly working towards justice. Plus, how do you propose that people go about solving problems if they are not allowed to acknowledge them?

      My next post will shed a bit more light on how Asian-American anti-blackness reactivism is a philosophical dead-end and an ontological wrong turn.

      Delete
    2. What do I mean by constructive interaction? Interaction between people that is helpful, empathetic, seeks to make sure no one is mistreated, etc. Does that make sense? That's the kind of interaction that should happen anytime one person encounters another person. In the context of your the article I think it means between racial groups. No, it is not constructive if some people's experiences are constantly being obscured. Like I just put in my last comment: every group's experiences should be acknowledged, taken seriously, and has to be considered to gain the clearest understanding of the problem of racism.

      No, I'm not saying that Asian-Americans speaking out about their own autonomous experiences of racism does not contribute to justice. That depends on the intent of who is speaking. The question is: are they are speaking out intending to contribute to producing justice or are they merely out for selfish, narrow gains? With all the injustice going on, sometimes situations have to be triaged. It's like an ambulance or something going to the scene of an accident: even though you have your own concerns and problems, you yield and let it get to those who need help the most. That doesn't negate the fact that others need help.

      In reality, the voice you want that you are referring to is mainly in the dialogue between each respective non-white group and the white race -- not between non-white people. It's white people who decide who gets what attention. Too often, many non-white people are always undermining each other not because arguing with other non-white groups will get things done, but to make the case for their voice to be higher priority to white people, who will be making the decisions. Asians are not "left out of the race dialogue for one reason and one reason alone". That's why it's important that nobody is overlooked: to get the best understanding in order to efficiently eliminate the problem. When people are left out, there will be more misunderstandings.

      What is your problem with some Asian-Americans addressing the need to make efforts to eliminate anti-blackness?

      Your comments still carry a more opportunistic tone than one of seeking justice. Will you also be exploring how your anti-anti-anti-blackness reactivism may be a philosophical dead-end and an ontological wrong turn?

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    3. Rashnu

      If you need to ask me what my issue is with Asian-Americans addressing anti-blackness in the way that they are addressing it, then I have to wonder if you even understood the post.

      Again, you will have to point out where I say that I am against fighting anti-blackness. If you agree that justice is not served by obscuring some group's experiences then you agree with my post. But you will have to show me where I am being opportunistic or at least show how bemoaning those who are critical of an Asian-focused essay is in any way selfish. Good luck.

      Plus, why would I explore anti-anti-anti-blackness reactivism that is a dead-end and ontological wrong turn, if I don't believe that it is?

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    4. You may not like the way some Asian-Americans are addressing anti-blackness, but it needs to be done even if you don't like it. The same thing also needs to be done for anti-Asianness. Everyone must be open about these things, faults and all. I'll say again: nobody should be left out or be off the hook.

      No, justice is not served by obscuring some group's experiences. I already said that I agree with that. Your overall tone is opportunistic because you are only expressing desire to take advantage of an opportunity for narrow gain -- with one of your ideas being one-uping anti-blackness with anti-Asianess. Your scope is too narrow. You're still just talking about what you can get, not that you a desire to solve the main problems of which these others are symptoms -- which has been/is a significant factor in why the problems persist.

      Why would you *not* explore anti-anti-anti-blackness reactivism that is a dead-end and ontological wrong turn? Sounds opportunistic to me. Your repeating history.

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    5. Rashnu

      I concede. You have hallucinated or made up my trying to "one-up" anti-blackness. And they say that Asians are uncreative!

      Anti-Asianism is a phenomenon that lies at the foundation of white supremacy and precedes anti-blackness by centuries whilst the political and economic dynamics of the East/West divide continues to dominate policies. Addressing anti-Asianism hardly sounds narrow in scope.

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  3. Excellent article. It seem that these activists were enlisted and indoctrinated on college campuses. Their naiveness won't spare them from being shot at, robs, mugs, rape, beaten, burgled by the blacks. I curious of how many of them actually live in a black neighborhood.

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