Thanks to a colleague Alex Cummings, via facebook, I found this interesting article, Why I, An Asian Man, Fight Anti-Black Racism, written by Scott Nakagawa, an activist in NYC. Nakagawa makes the important point that “anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy,” a fulcrum being “the support about which a lever turns” or, alternatively, “one that supplies capability for action.”
I’ve found this to be true over and over again, brought home in teaching immigration and ethnicity in US history, a class that inevitably ends up being all about race. Last time I taught the course, students read toward the end of the semester a work by Philip Kasinitz that examined racial identities of new immigrants and their children. Having already read David Roediger and looked at countless images of immigrants portrayed as racially other, we were primed to read this with an understanding of the various constructions of whiteness and blackness.
Kasinitz describes a context in which immigrants identify as white or non-white. But being non-white does not mean being black, since they also differentiate between black and non-black, firmly claiming the latter. As their children assimilate into “American” culture, they often adopt the urban culture, tastes, and mannerisms of African Americans, much to the horror of their parents, who wish and work for upward mobility. This segmented assimilation is seen as potentially maladaptive or at least less successful for immigrant youth, since African Americans are systematically discriminated against, so why would you act like that?
It was interesting discussing this reading with the students, many of whom were African American. Their minds were kind of blown by the recognition of these ways of thinking in their own lives, to see it spelled out so clearly. Also depressing, since all semester we kept coming back to the point that in any American racial hierarchy, blacks are always at the bottom. today, immigrants of color who cannot “become white” as so many previous generations of immigrants have done, still find ways to *not be black*, and in doing so, also perpetuate anti-black racism and white supremacy.
That’s why this article was so important, in that an Asian American man chooses to identify and work for African Americans, understanding that his own oppression is linked to theirs. It is reminiscent of the ways in which various movements by people of color, identifying with the black power movement, sought to link the struggles of Black, Asian, and Latino people and pursue the “same struggle, same fight,” to quote an Asian American activists, Yellow Seeds, who emerged in the fight to “Save Chinatown” in Philadelphia in the 1970s. More on that another time.