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. Furthermore, Asian 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.....
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.
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.