Tag Archives: blackness is the fulcrum

Regarding Blackness is the Fulcrum

16 May

Blackness is the Fulcrum continues to be, by far, the most read post on Race Files. Many of the conversations I’ve had about it begin with the assumption that Asian Americans are less likely or even unlikely to step up on issues of racial justice. The suggestion is that I’m an exception to a rule that generally applies to Asian Americans who, a few imply, get off easy where race is concerned.

I think this deserves a response.

I didn’t mean to imply that Asian Americans are opting out of fighting racism. Neither did I mean to present myself as exceptional in my concern about racism.

I’m no exception. The reality is that many Asian Americans are leaders in the movement to win racial equity in the U.S. My firm, ChangeLab (website on its way), recently conducted interviews with 80+ Asian American activists to get their takes on race and racial justice. Those interviewed are active on criminal justice reform, civil rights, environmental justice, health care, labor organizing, and humane immigration policy, among other issues.

Many of those interviewed work in communities that are made up of people of color from across the American spectrum. I am humbled by their commitment to the cause. And they are just a small sample.

The interviews generally indicate that there’s a problem with racism in Asian America. Many spoke to the prevalence of anti-Black racism in some Asian ethnic communities. But, my hunch is that interviews with any group would have revealed racist attitudes. The reality is, there is a problem with racism in America and it affects everyone.

One of the particular challenges facing Asian American racial justice advocates is the lack of educational tools and strategies designed to reflect the many specific and diverse ways in which Asian ethnic minorities understand racism in the U.S. and the world. For instance, many Asian Americans came to the U.S. as war refugees. In order to address racism among these groups, we must understand and respond to their experiences with foreign armies, including the U.S. military.

Equally important is the history of European and/or American colonialism of India, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia. Many have been subjected to white supremacy. Many  have also been infiltrated by right wing evangelical television and radio ministries.

A lot of Asian immigrants watched American T.V.  in their countries of origin. Those countries often include few if any African Americans or Latinos. How would any of us feel about Blacks and Latinos if our main source of information was U.S. television?

My current work involves calling Asian Americans to action not because I believe we’re less active or more determinedly racist. I’m reaching out to Asian Americans because I believe it’s my responsibility do my part where I can be most effective.

I was politicized on race as a teenager in a rural sugar plantation community. The plantation was based on a racial caste system, the legacy of which was still obvious even in the 1970s. There were neighborhoods known as Filipino Camp or Japanese Camp. I remember only one white kid in my high school class. The few white families still living near the plantation usually opted for private school, considering our public schools dead ends, leading only to low-wage labor.

Like most of my peers, I cleaved strongly, even militantly to my family and community. When I finally left Hawaii for the U.S. mainland, I was shocked by the overt racism I experienced. Outside the embrace of my community, I was exposed to harassment, intimidation, even a couple of incidents of violence during the years of the U.S.-Japan auto wars.

In my 20s I made my way into college for a year and that changed my life. In college, I met people of privilege. Some of them used that privilege to help me create a professional career in human rights. The happy accident of college, something I never planned for, led to a life I could not have imagined as a boy.

As my life in human rights progressed, I found myself working on what many perceive to be “Black” issues – countering vigilante white supremacist groups, fighting the drug war, and advocating for criminal justice reform, even teaching at a school for activists in Appalachia and the Deep South.

But I didn’t do this work because there was no basis for action on racism in the Asian American community. I did this work because I considered it strategic to ending racism for all of us. I did this work because I believed, as I wrote, that anti-Black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.

White Identity Politics

13 Apr

My recent post, Blackness is the Fulcrum struck a nerve. It landed me on Blacking It Up, a radio show hosted by L. Joy Williams and Elon James White as the Asian man who opposes anti-Black racism. It was a valiant but sad performance. To all of you I’m supposed to be representing, I apologize in advance for the two shows I’m on this week. If you follow @nakagawascot I’ll tweet you the pod casts.

I’ve been busy. But busy or not, I can’t help making trouble and I’m guessing this post will stir some up.

Here goes –

Whiteness has a political meaning as much as does Black or Asian or any other racial category. In order to define non-whites as inferior and deviant, whites needed to be defined as superior and normal. By claiming the category “normal,” whites imagined themselves outside the racial paradigm they had created. But, in fact, they were and are at the center of it.

For this reason, unless whites consciously oppose white privilege, their identities are defined by it.

I call the subtle and not so subtle ways this system of privilege/injustice works white identity politics.

In recent decades, overt white racial supremacy has met some serious challenges. It’s no longer socially acceptable to say that people of color are racially inferior. However, white privilege hasn’t been eradicated. In fact, measured in terms of wealth, the privilege gap between whites and non-whites is at it’s widest in 25 years.

White supremacy still exists in deed if not in word, and the fact is that we’re not doing much as a society to fix it. Worse, when programs like Affirmative Action are created to address this injustice, they are attacked as reverse discrimination.

No doubt it has become uncivil to claim white supremacy as a birthright. Credit goes to the Civil Rights Movement for that change. Instead, in the age of colorblind racism, overtly racist justifications for white privilege are avoided. Overt racism is substituted with a normative standard that begins with white privilege as a baseline of what is just, rather than as a political achievement of white supremacy.

In (not) post-racial America, white privilege is considered the baseline of fairness.  No one, it is argued, should have to settle for less. However, because no one should have to settle for less, no solution that erodes white privilege is tolerated. Yet, white privilege is the basis of racism. As long as it is preserved, racial justice cannot be achieved.

Seem like a circular argument to you? Then you’re getting the picture. To me, it’s not just circular, it’s a downward spiral. And that spiral is white identity politics.

White identity politics is a game in which whites demand they be judged by what they intend, not by the unintended consequences of what they do. But what they do (including keeping the spoils of what their ancestors did before them) has everything to do with what they have relative to people of color regardless of intention, as evidenced in the Census statistics cited in the link about the wealth gap above.

Because of white identity politics, the suffering of people of color is acceptable until solutions can be discovered that don’t erode the value and meaning of whiteness. This me first mentality of the white majority requires efforts to materially address unjust racial relations to pass an impossible test. If the problem is economic inequality, the opening question of the test is: can you address the economic consequences of historical racism without changing the way that racism has distributed economic resources?

If you can’t, you fail the test. Either our solutions are only symbolic, or they eventually fall to white resistance.

That’s white identity politics. It’s a tough nut to crack, especially because it’s been business as usual for so long, it’s invisible to most white folks.

Lucky though that the value that accrues to whiteness in the white identity game aren’t evenly distributed. Most of the cash value of whiteness accumulates at the top. In order to address this problem, white folks need us, and they need to break with white identity as we’ve known it til now.

So we gotta call it out. White identity politics is essential to the perpetuation of racism.

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