Are Asians black?

There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race [cannot]….” – Justice Harlan, 1896, in his famous Plessy v. Ferguson dissent, in which he rejects racial segregation in the Jim Crow south.

I attended this thing hosted by MOCA and AAWW almost three weeks ago, where I basically sat through 20 minutes of Wesley Yang’s very public very pathetic self-flagellation under the pretext of marginalization in America of Asianness, seething with the kind of anger only possible when you’re dealing with, on the one hand, secondary shame on someone else’s behalf, and on the other, a kind of derivative embarrassment caused by another due to the unfortunate association that he’s prescribed by way of his own inferiority complex and existential crisis.

In short, fuck Wesley Yang for being the unfortunate representative that we’ve been assigned, against our will. It is a shame that burns so deep that, after 3 weeks, having remembered not much else about the panel, I managed to encapsulate my rage in the long-winded, poorly constructed run on sentence above.

This is all to say, memory is vague and I can only now recap it in a very general way that doesn’t come anywhere close to the intense recap session post-panel, at Great NY Noodletown.

I grew up in China, and all I knew about America was from movies and sitcoms (Growing Pains dubbed with Chinese represented, as far as I was concerned, a life I was to lead once I cross over that ocean and go to America.). 美国人(American) meant white people with different color eyes and hair than my brown and black. I had the idea that I was going to a place that would vaguely resemble (in reality) a Scandinavian country. When I moved here in 5th grade, I started at an elementary school with all black, Latino, and Asian kids. The Hasidic Jews in the neighborhood startled me (as did the fact that squirrels and pigeons just roamed the streets; as my mother would say, in China, these animals would all be dead, and their existence represents the goodness and humanity of America).  I didn’t see any white people until much later. I also didn’t realize the spectrum of ethnicity that exist in the US until I got here.

When we talk about race or racial identity in the US, non-black “minority” groups are a secondary mention or a non-issue, much like how my conception of the US did not include non-whites. Mainstream rhetoric just doesn’t make room for it, so discussions happen in the fringes. I understand the need to fit our narrative in accepted rhetoric like this, and that “are Asians black” is kind of a provocative thought that might make people go hmm, but ultimately, that hmm is followed by confusion. The answer is emphatically, no. However our stories might have converged (both groups have faced discrimination, there have some exchanges between cultural groups), references to those rare occurrences, even in sum, do not amount to a common story. True, we’re both subjects of a racial hierarchy constructed by a white society, but drawing a comparison based on that sad nugget of commonality reduces both groups to nothing more than victims.

I had a lot more to say, especially about the many, many fallacies of Wesley Yang’s pathetic little monologue constructed based on arbitrary statistics that can be construed many different ways, as statistics often can be made to do, but I don’t have the energy to revisit his spiel.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy the program. I appreciate that we’re trying to have a dialogue, especially not just amongst ourselves as Asians but in a wider demographic, but I just think the focus could have been different and, maybe more narrow. Because a survey panel of such varied perspectives need at least like, a day, to be comprehensive.

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One response to “Are Asians black?

  1. jeanne (@jeanne_dit) April 29, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    Word. I thought about going to that but the thought of being in a 50 ft radius of the estimable Mr. Yang made my blood pressure shoot up to bad levels. Unfortunately he never grew out of the self-hating phase that I feel like most minorities go thru and b/c he’s been accepted and applauded by the White Literary Consensus he feels his bullshit opinions have some kinda significant weight. He’s like wayyy too far gone to find salvation. Agree on everything else, too.

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