Saturday, March 2, 2019


How Anti-Anti-Blackness Failed Asian-America.

In the hours and days following the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001, President Bush was quick to separate Islamic belief from the actions of Muslim terrorists. Perpetrators of terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam were, it was, and is, suggested, not acting in accordance with the true tenets of the faith. Additionally, the mainstream media largely supported this sentiment. The aim here was to guide society away from reprisals against Muslims and stave off anti-Muslim sentiment. Given America's history of racism, this political and media approach was quite remarkable.

It might be naive to think that our political/ruling classes simply and suddenly developed a conscience about racial and religious minorities that prompted this response. More likely, a combination of successful activism/lobbying by Muslim-American activists along with the need to avoid offending our oil-rich, Muslim allies around the world, led to this progressive-seeming reaction.

From an Asian-American perspective, these responses reveal what is possible for minorities to achieve politically. At the same time, it lays bare just how far Asian-Americans have yet to go to be considered an integral part of America. It is at times when America's other phobia - Sinophobia - rears its casual and normalized head that this contrast in attitudes becomes most starkly apparent.

Sinophobic sentiment is an issue that all Asian-Americans of East and South-East Asian descent need to be concerned about since casts a shadow of suspicion and hostility on Asians of all backgrounds and not just those of Chinese descent. Although politicians and the media scramble to assert the "American-ness" of Muslims in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, few, if any, take the time to reassure the Asian minority or the American majority of our Americaness during times of Sinophobic sentiment that is typically focused on alleged unscrupulous Chinese trade practices, claims of sneaky spying, sly intentions of conquest, as well as theft of technology.

So, how can we account for this disparity in the relative political and social empathy displayed by politicians and the media towards Muslims that is largely absent in its dialogue on Asians? The clear answer is that Muslim advocacy has embraced and pushed the interests of the Muslim community, succeeding in a relatively short period of time in positively changing how politicians and the media engage with, and describes them. By comparison, Asian-American advocacy has embraced a different strategy that leaves our community as a largely invisible non-entity who are given scant political consideration, and practically zero media empathy.

During the radical sixties, Asian-American activist groups were roundly criticized by Asian feminist factions for ignoring sexism within Asian organizations themselves. Many such feminists felt aggrieved at, apparently, being told that these issues should be placed on the back-burner and that feminists should "wait their turn" in the interests of the greater Asian-American good. Fast forward fifty years, and the Asian-American community faces a similar problem today: the "greater good" for Asians, we are informed, is in supporting the strategy of "centering anti-blackness" whilst placing Asian interests on  the back-burner.

Centering anti-blackness is a somewhat nebulous and - deliberately, perhaps - intangible notion. Not really comprised of many concrete, measurable goals, it seems to me to be more of an allusion to a kind of virtue ethics consisting simplistic, ad-hoc acts of "virtuous" centering anti-blackness behaviour, emphasizing the development of virtuous thought to this end.

This strategy places Asian interests on the back-burner by essentially denying the significance or severity of anti-Asian racism with the implicit reminder that "African-Americans have it worse!" Asian "advocacy", thus, pushes Asian-Americans into a falsely dichotomous position of either shutting up about Asian interests or be labeled as an unvirtuous anti-black racist. In other words Asian-American advocacy attempts to uphold the long defunct and never accurate notion of a black/white narrative to explain America's race woes.

Awkwardly, America has beaten Asian-American progressive racial trailblazers to the punch by several decades since the "righting" of anti-black wrongs has been central to much of American social policy since the nineteen-sixties. Securing the black vote is the priority of politicians at every election cycle, ensuring a commensurate black presence in all aspects of our society is considered a moral goal, and shooting of unarmed black men by the police is roundly centered in the media. That short list is indicative of a good degree of centering of black needs and the obstacles faced by black people.

This essentially means that Asian progressivism has been flogging a dead horse - the idea that we are achieving something that has already gone a very long way to being achieved (by black people themselves) and that to push Asian interests will, by definition, be an unvirtuous act of anti-blackness. Unfortunately for our virtuous friends, the success of Muslim activism in bringing Islamophobia to the social and cultural fore has obliterated the very premises of Asian progressive moral grandstanding.

Muslim advocates' success in bringing the concept of Islamophobia to the forefront of our political discussions, such that politicians are careful to clearly separate terrorist acts from Islam and Muslims, has expanded the scope of America's race dialogue beyond the archaic black/white narrative that Asian-American progressives insist upon. Even though "Muslim" is not a race, to all intents and purposes it is discussed in our society as though it is a race. This defining of Islamophobia in terms of race, itself, shows further evidence of how successful Muslim advocates have been in making the issue as relevant and significant as the issue of anti-blackness. I would even go so far as to say that America's race dialogue now, effectively, consists of a black/white/Muslim/Hispanic polychotomy with Asians silenced by their own activists.

Asian progressives have shaped our contribution to the race dialogue so that Asian voices are largely irrelevant except as mouth pieces screaming support safely from behind the dynamic activism of these other groups. Asian-American progressivism has largely undone the good work of previous generations of Asian-American activists by pushing an agenda of Asian submission to the black/white narrative that no other minority group seems to act in accordance with. Evidently, these other minority groups accept that the reality of America's race issues is that it has never - ever - been a black/white issue.

Even worse for our grandstanding friends on Asian-America's progressive left is that there is no indication that the success of Muslim advocacy has, or does, in any way detract from the interests of the black community - as has been suggested by the "centering anti-blackness" Asian activists who castigate other Asians for daring to speak for Asian interests. Surely, expanding the scope of America's race dialogue only weakens the power of white supremacy because it leaves less room for any outsider groups that can be harmed by it? Isn't the weakening of white supremacist power and thought a success for all people of colour?

Yet, it seems to me that this is exactly the place where Asian progressivism has led Asian-Americans. After, all, who would argue that anti-Asian stereotypes and mockery are still largely normalized in American culture, and that anti-Asian/China rhetoric is a significant detrimental factor in our society's conception of us as potentially treacherous permanent outsiders and foreigners? This represents an abject failure on the part of Asian progressivism.

Even as Presidents defend, propagate, and represent positive attitudes towards Islam and American-Muslims, at every opportunity, there are few, if any, equally glowing defenses of Asian-Americans in general, and Chinese-Americans in particular coming from any US politicians, at any level during times of high tension between the US and any Asian power. Just think about that for a minute: US Presidents are contributing to positive attitudes and media representation towards the Muslim minority - something that they don't even do for African-Americans. This is a clear indication that Muslim advocacy has succeeded in ways that Asian-American progressivism has not begun to conceive of as even a possibility.

Asian-Americans and Muslim-Americans share many similar experiences, such as originating from countries that have been on the receiving end of US military aggression, being subject to xenophobic ignorance, poor media representation, and being seen as potential fifth-columnists for foreign powers. Yet whilst Asian "advocacy" utilizes liberal media platforms to attack other Asians for being anti-black, privileged, misogynistic, and generally "in the way" of black advancement, Muslim advocacy seems to have actually striven to advocate for the interests of Muslims.

The result is that a Muslim minority of under 4 million are being positively represented in the media by US Presidents, in a surprising number of culturally popular TV shows, as well as a number of high-profile films featuring complex characters who challenge stereotypes. By contrast, Asian-Americans number nearly 20 million, and only two years ago, Hollywood racially mocked Asians live at the Oscars. An article from the "The Whisp" describes sixteen Muslim characters from film and TV who have been represented positively. I can barely think of a handful of positive, complex, representations of Asian characters in American film and television.

Asian progressivism's hegemonic appropriation of Asian-America's voice in order to push an anti-anti-blackness agenda - which black activists have already been in doing, successfully, without our help - has failed our community. It has been replaced with a delusional Asian progressive narrative that asserts that Asians are willing and sneaky beneficiaries of white anti-blackness, and those who speak up for Asian interests are labeled as implicitly anti-black. Thus, Asian progressivism has set our community back decades, and been successful only in marginalizing Asian interests from the mainstream.

The success of Muslim advocacy has exposed the absurdity of these Asian progressive claims. It has shown that America's race dialogue has changed forever beyond the archaic confines of the black/white narrative. Furthermore, the success of Muslim advocacy has shown that moving beyond the black/white narrative and pushing the interests of any group that is not black, does no harm, whatsoever, to black interests. This means that the entire dialectic of Asian progressivism of the past few years has been based on rhetoric alone with no meaningful epistemology to support its claims.

Asian-America has been Macguffined.

1 comment:

  1. A reason for the success of Muslim advocacy might be that a large portion of Muslims in the US also belong to the Black community. Muslim Americans like Malcolm X were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, so the success of one group arguably bled over onto the other.

    Asian Americans don't have this level of connection to Black Americans so they're shut out of the system in a way Muslims aren't.

    Ironically, most Muslims in the US trace their family origins to Asian countries but they tend to dissociate themselves from the Asian community due to the realization that there's little political capital or clout to be found in it.

    Basically, Asians are unwanted by any political advocacy group, mainstream or otherwise. Other minorities see Asians as unpopular, no different than the way the White mainstream treats them.