So my name is Ben (@likehercoffee). I represent a collective (@newblackschool) here in NY that works on bringing black radical politics into a range of professional fields. Much of what I say now will be a short recap of one particular line of reasoning I outlined in @newblackschool twitter/tumblr posts. I had not given #NotYourAsianSideKick or #BlackPowerYellowPeril very much attention, but I began taking a closer listen after I saw different people critique how the discussion was framed. I first started following the conversation around Black and Asian solidarity through the commentary of @tgirlinterruptd.
When the hashtag founder @Suey_Park labeled @NayNayCantStop as “divisive” for bringing up Asian privilege relative to black communities I knew it couldn’t just be the periphery of the conversation but a core element worth addressing. It was almost textbook how the entire coalition of black and AAPI responded to this image of a black body. My emphasis on image here is purposeful, because who people are off-line may not coincide with their online personas. But what is clear is that Lewis Gordon’s idea of black bodies as “phobogenic” explained the top to bottom agreement from #BlackPowerYellowPeril to attack what they believed to be a black womyn threatening coalition.1
Now, antiblackness was mentioned by many members of the AAPI community, with a few positing a sustained ethical meditation on its foundation to coalition building. But elsewhere it was often either as a parallel of Anti-Asianness or as a hierarchy Asian-Americans were forced into by white supremacy. Divide-and-conquer strategy was the framing: that in essence white supremacy made them do it. It’s strangely similar to how white socialists explain the relationship between the white working class and black communities under capitalism.
This idea that Asians are just stuck in hierarchies set by white supremacy and not just independently hostile to fungible black bodies on the global scene is ahistorical in some fundamental ways. White supremacy does organize the world around antiblackness. But you can state that and still be remarkably wrong in your assessment of its significance. One of the things we must do is to utilize basic chronological analysis. Before the transatlantic slave trade that made white supremacy the dominant world order there was an Arab slave trade.
The bodies of Africans sold into large parts of Asia established antiblackness independent of white supremacy. We must keep in mind this was happening for centuries before the transatlantic slave trade. Historians like John Henrik Clarke tell us that not only did this slave trade inform the transatlantic but actually made it possible because Africa was too weak to defend itself from what was really the first world war. There is centuries of space for historical research here for brave black researchers. What is clear is that the whole world has agreed that Africa was the land of slaves or undeclared property, lost, waiting nonblack purchase.
So any black-asian solidarity must account for antiblackness within AAPI black communities independent of white supremacy. Aside from that historical moment we can consider how Asian countries relate to African countries without Western interlopers. But ultimately the experiences of black communities here are enough to ascertain that antiblackness in Asian-American communities is not dependent on a broader white supremacy. These broader histories have come crushing down with frightening immediacy in communities all over the U.S. Do we really think Asian-Americans need Eurocentric racial, capitalistic, gender hierarchies to be antiblack? American history especially in cities like San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles can answer these questions if we are willing to listen.
Now I didn’t bother addressing any anti-asian sentiment among black folk because I think our conversation has matured to the point where we know who is preventing coalition and that death conversation. Many strange things happened in these conversations, an Asian American womyn labeled John Murillo’s #AsAmAntiblackness as violence against womyn of color. That moment was surreal to me. That is a moment we can meditate on. It was also interesting watching other black people be so enthusiastic to attack the image of a black womyn for coalition’s sake. To what lengths will we go to feel like we are not alone? If we are willing to cannibalize our images on social media platforms what happens when we face a black womyn questioning the principles of coalition in off line organizing spaces? That is the only way I can explain that these same folk were nowhere in sight when AAPI were barraging black folk I saw making critiques.
It was also interesting when AAPI folk were asking for “divisive” black people to be dealt with. What started as peaceful coalition building in moments turned “divisive” into a watchword. Another issue is how all of the follow-up articles from these online conversations seemed to echo the above patterns so we have to think about what this all means.2 I have no answers just statements that demand questions. I’m interested to see how we respond to these things said in our quiet corners, those silent spaces where we are honest with each other. Its frightening sometimes to think this way. Because what can we say to all this? Is coalition possible? I don’t think so. But black life is not just an oxymoron it is fundamentally an impossibility. Impossibility has never been a prohibition.
1. Gordon, Lewis. “Living Fanon .” Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy XIX.1 (2011): 83-89. http://www.lewisrgordon.com. Web. 1 Feb. 2014.