Black and fab. 23. Libra. ENFJ.
Bay Area. UC Berkeley Grad: Media Studies.
Writer, artist, illustrator, producer, critic, Disney Princessologist.
Benevolent Media Proprietor in training.
It's also my business standard.
by Robert ReeceIn the fervor of a recent string of new media phenomena focusing on Asian-American visibility and feminism, the idea of Asian-American and Black solidarity emerged, championed on twitter, and quickly off twitter, by the hashtag #BlackPowerYellowPeril. Understandably, black people tend to be skeptical for calls of solidarity as they often seem to be an attempt to leverage our movement capability, history, and theory while marginalizing us in the actual movement. In this case, that skepticism manifested in splintered, sometimes haphazard, discussions of “Asian privilege,” which Asian-American activists promptly attempted to debunk.
One of the most commonly used rebuttals of the claim that certain Asian ethnic groups are privileged in the United States is that because the country isn’t structured to afford privilege to East Asians, they cannot be privileged. But this blatantly disregards the way that privilege works. Privilege is relative and works hierarchically so one need not stand at the apex of the hierarchy to benefit from the privilege. Subordinate groups can still benefit from latent privilege even as the social world is structured to benefit other groups. One simple example of the phenomenon is the privilege afforded to non-white people of lighter skin tones relative to those of darker skin tones in the same group. Lighter-skinned people of color have greater educational attainment, higher incomes, more wealth, better healthcare, etc. The social preference for white skin is accompanied by a preference for skin that is near white so non-whites with skin tones nearer to white are latent beneficiaries of a white supremacist hierarchy. So while they didn’t create the system and may not seek to maintain it to the same degree of white people, they benefit from the structure even when accounting for the relative disadvantage they face.
That said, what people end up labelling “Asian privilege” seems to sit at the intersection of skin tone privilege and economic privilege, especially relative to blacks. At this intersection, some Asian-American ethnic groups accrue greater wealth, more education, etc, in ways that are not easily reduced to the selectiveness of the immigration process and in ways that compound over time. Privilege builds on itself when unchecked, which is why the racial wealth gap, and income inequality more broadly, has steadily increased in this country, and there is little reason to suspect that East Asians sitting at these intersections will cease to benefit from the compounding privilege, albeit not as starkly as whites. This is especially poignant because skin tone privilege comes with an intergenerational benefit that extends farther than the aforementioned wealth and education: the ability to intermarry with whites and produce white children.
Mary Waters called them “ethnic options.” And it’s a concept that Sociologists Aliya Saperstein and Andrew Penner in their 2012 piece in the American Sociological Review build on to show that from year to year about 45 percent of non-white people (a category that in their study includes Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans) shift their self-identification from non-white to white in a way that corresponds with positive life events. For example, non-white people are more likely to identify as white if they’re of higher economic status and less likely to identify as white if they’ve spent time in prison. The ability to move between races, to pick up and put down the mantle of whiteness at will, is a massive benefit and the result of the aforementioned intersection of skin tone and affluence. Regardless of whether one accepts or claims the classification, the ability to present as white or being viewed as white offers a type of access that can be invaluable when navigating a society that privileges whiteness at the expense of people of color. People who are too dark find that their race is stagnant. For example, in Saperstein and Penner’s study, only about 1.4 percent of black people went from black to white in any given year. And achieving whiteness as a poor person seems to be a tenuous proposition.
None of this is an attempt to deny the subordination that Asians and Asian-Americans face in the United States. Surely, the stigma of being a foreigner and the pressure to overachieve academically due to the model minority stereotype can be overwhelming, and the income statistics of Asian and Asian-Americans are inflated because of their concentration on the west coast and the fact that they see lower economic returns on their education than white people. Indeed, political scientist Claire Jean Kim in her 1999 article in Politics and Society argues that racial positions in the United States don’t exist relative to one another on a simple vertical hierarchy, but, instead, they exist in a two dimensional field with one axis indicating insider/foreigner status and the other indicating superiority/inferiority. In this field whites use the relative valorization of Asian-Americans as a means to dominate both groups, eg. the model minority stereotype that has transparently anti-black origins. (I’ve reviewed other theories of Asian-American racial positionality, assimilation, and anti-blackness here before.)Claire Jean Kim’s visual representation of the racial field
Additionally, the umbrella category “Asian” fails to capture the diversity of Asian ethnic groups, which have vastly different sets of life chances, some of which – such as the Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese – have life chances that mirror, or are worse than, blacks. But other groups like Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, who all have poverty rates at least ten percentage points lower than Blacks, college degree attainment over 20 percentage points higher, and median household incomes of $58,300, $61,630, and $48,500 respectively compared to blacks’ $33,300.
So to charge “Asian Privilege” may be a misnomer if only because not all Asian groups benefit uniformly. But the idea that East Asians, particularly, Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, are privileged in the United States must be taken seriously if Black-Asian unification is the goal. Refusal to acknowledge these privileges means that any joint projects undertaken by the two groups will fail to account for this phenomenon and be doomed to fail. Real solidarity requires both parties to uncover their biases and honestly present their privileges. Otherwise, it simply becomes exploitation, with blacks, again, on the losing end.
I ended up reading the whole article and having to share. Read it. Think about it. Let it sink in. Especially the conclusions. And the last sentences especially, “Real solidarity requires both parties to uncover their biases and honestly present their privileges. Otherwise, it simply becomes exploitation, with blacks, again, on the losing end.”
Bingo. Bingo. Bingo. Bingo. BINGO.
This is exactly what happened here on tumblr. Between this and Kil Ja Kim’s article…I mean, seriously. This is what happened.
This article is so fucking on point. It’s also important to point out that anti-blackness is rampant in the APIA community (and in all the other non-Black POC communities if we’re being honest), because engaging in anti-blackness is how other minorities try and make sure they aren’t treated as badly.
All these notes suddenly lol. Everyone should read this article though it’s really fucking good and accurate
The bolded tho. It’s so important
If you mean Black people and antiblackness, say Black people and antiblackness.
If you mean Arabs and strife solely relating to being Arab, say Arabs.
If you mean Latin@s, refer to Latin@s specifically.
If you’re talking about a history and stigma associated with South or East Asians, then name them respectively.
This is 2014, let’s move past this lazy and reductive non all-encompassing term “people of color” or “PoC” when pinpointing a particular history or narrative. It does nothing productive.
this is so important. coming from a blog dedicated to solidarity amongst women of color, please remember that specificity is key.poc/woc/etc is a term of purposeful solidarity, not a just a phrase to be used to co-opt or homogenize the myriad of experiences of particular marginalized ethno-racial groups.
literally the only purpose of the term “people of color” is in a coalitional sense or to discuss shared experiences of white supremacy. it has very limited utility beyond that. so why use it unnecessarily, both like “Black women of color” or in this way?
Use the fucking specific ethnicity or race. “People of color” is not a new, “politically correct” term for “colored people” (I often see people use “people of color” in place of “Black”) but rather a collective phrase of solidarity. “People of color” is not necessarily interchangeable with “Black…
while we’re on the subject, I’m preeeetty sure I’ve (wrongly) ascribed ‘poc/woc/moc’ to Sailor Moon/Anime characters, and I apologize for that! That’s wrong, for the reasons described here.
I’ll leave whatevers up 4 posterity, but going forward I’ll be more careful about that :X
alice in wonderland/through the looking glass is one of those things u just want to make revamps of (very loosely based on the original tbh)
The term “PoC” is not meant to encompass all brown and black individuals of the world. Its not a general title for every non-white person; that was never its intention. Its a term that derives within western, specifically US context among like-minded racialized individuals who…
- refer to white people as Caucasian
- are under the notion that “reverse racism" exists
- think racism against white people exists and/or is a serious issue
- use the dictionary definition of racism as "proof" in your argument
- have the gall to say PoC are “takin’ all yer scholarships”
- claim the term ”PoC" is oppressive to white folk
- claim white people “aren’t technically white” (no link for this. should be common sense)
- say you are “colorblind”
- think being LGBT*QUIA means you don’t benefit from white privilege
Don’t waste my time with silly arguments and beliefs that have been refuted ad nauseum. Educate yourself before trying to discuss race and privilege.
In my next column, “The Black TV Crisis and the Next Generation,” I tackled why the labor market is so tight. Conglomerates own more networks today than they used to, in order to capture fragmenting audiences. This means network executives are laser-focused on capturing the largest, most profitable niches, as opposed to telling the most interesting stories to attract diverse audiences. This has had a disastrous affect on black producers, who are increasingly lost among conglomerates. Very few have benefitted from the shift. In fact, only Tyler Perry, Mara Brock and Salim Akil have multiple shows on television, and, in my opinion, they pale in comparison — both in art and audience size — to first generation of black programming in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A new generation of storytellers, many of whom, like Issa Rae and Lena Waithe, gained notoriety through web series, could buck the trend, but will network executives give them a chance?
This is an interesting read, y’all