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.
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.