On December 26th, the #NotYourAsianSidekick group, led by Suey Park, organized a Twitter conversation titled #BlackPowerYellowPeril to discuss ways in which the Asian American community could work with the African American community to further similar anti-racist, anti-sexist goals. These conversations are important in furthering our understandings of how white supremacy has used Asian Americans and African Americans to divide and conquer.
For too long, Whites have benefitted from the horizontal oppression between Asian Americans and African Americans. Unpacking key issues identified during the #BlackPowerYellowPeril conversation is necessary for #NotYourAsianSidekick to truly be centered around shifting our collective consciousness to find solidarity with people of color, rather than aiming for white appeasement.
Participants were critiqued on two major issues:
1) Asian Anti-Black Racism
2) “Asian Privilege”
This post will address both of these issues.
1) 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. There is a long history of anti-black racism in the AAPI community: blackface by Asian American student groups on campus; LA Riots; and the Boycott of Korean grocers in Brooklyn.
To address these issues, the AAPI community needs to ask ourselves/itself:
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?
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.
2) “Asian Privilege”
Throughout the conversation, the issue of “Asian Privilege” has been raised by many critics.
We argue that Asian Privilege is a problematic concept for several reasons:
Privilege exists on a structural, societal level that is set up to benefit a group in society. In the United States this does not include Asians. How much representation of Asian Americans are seen on the mainstream television networks, for example? Are there networks of Asian Americans that control most of the American industries? Does the college legacy system benefit Asian Americans? The answer to all of these questions is no. The United States is not set up to privilege Asian Americans on a structural, societal level.
AAPI is a large, diverse, multi-faith, and geographically-wide group. Some Asian Americans benefit from economic privilege–particularly, groups such as Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, and Indian Americans. However, many groups who also fall under this category do not, such as Vietnamese Americans, Hmong Americans, Samoans, and Filipino Americans, among others. Even among groups that historically have been more economically privileged, individuals come from a range of socioeconomic positions and occupations (from white collar professions, to the service industry, to sweatshop labor).
This concept of “Asian Privilege” is related to the myth of the “model minority”, which we argue is a debilitating concept that is used to divide people of color for white supremacist goals. Furthermore, the model minority myth inaccurately imputes class privilege to all Asian Americans when it only applies to some. The group “Asian Americans” has not been set up to benefit from privilege in a systemic level within the United States.
The idea that all Asians are wealthy provides an incomplete picture of the economic diversity of Asians living in the United States. To demand that we acknowledge “Asian privilege” exists before moving forward is an unhelpful and inaccurate demand. Blanket statements will lead us closer to finding solutions, but offer quick fixes to understanding race relations that will ultimately not last.
The point for #BlackPowerYellowPeril was to begin a conversation, to continue to hear, to expand our learning, and to affirm at least the very baseline goal of justice and human equality.
In this manner, we want to acknowledge that while the critique of “Rainbow Solidarity” was speaking truth and not “divisive” or “derailing,” that this truth also needs to consider the complex specificities of “Asian privilege.”
1) Anti-black racism has historically existed and continues to be a problem within the Asian American community. This does not preclude any potential benefit that may come from building bridges and organizing together. This history, however, needs to be acknowledged and addressed for any possibility of a solidarity movement to take place.
2) Asian privilege is a concept which does not exist, as the United States is not structured to give all Asians invisible forms of social, cultural, and economic privilege as it does whites. Some Asian Americans benefit from economic privilege, but this does not extend to all Asian American communities as a whole.
This conversation has not begun or ended on Twitter, and we believe it is important to begin making connections about how to move from talk into action.
1) Have this conversation with your parents. We cannot write off our parents in these conversations when they hold historical knowledge through their lived experiences. How can we work through our history of anti-black racism with the help and support of the older generation?
2) Make this a focal point of discussion within Asian American organizations and communities. How do aspects of this work contribute to anti-black racism? Why is this unhelpful towards Asian American goals towards equality, freedom and solidarity with other people of color?
3) Blog. Tweet. Storify. Tumblr. And share your stories and experiences with us. We would love to host more commentary and experiences on #notyourasiansidekick.com. To share, please either leave a comment with a link below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Signed (in alphabetical order by last name):
Anne Cong-Huyen (@anitaconchita)
Dorothy Kim (@dorothyk98)