The Space Between Black and White

During a practice run-through of a workshop examining rape culture in media, the facilitators showed a compiled video of examples of rape culture promoting media clips. The compilation included Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, coverage of the Steubenville case, rape jokes, Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble, and a lot of images of black women being objectified and sexualized. Someone noticed and mentioned that the video largely showed white men and black women, but added that it was okay as long as the facilitators purposefully told people to notice that certain folks (like Asian and Latina women) were not present in the video: “Who is absent? Why do you think that is?” Placed in that particular point in the workshop, the answer to the question was bound to be — “because Asian American women’s lives are not affected by the rape culture in the media.” No.

Many women of color’s sheer lack of knowledge on Asian American women’s issues is absolutely terrifying.

The most fundamental problems in my experiences with coalition building have arisen from folks not understanding each other’s history. The lack of Native American folks in our organizing groups have led us to use people of color as an all-encompassing term, not realizing the unique identity of Indigenous folks and their history of violent intertwining with the white lineage. Similarly, not understanding the Asian American history has led to perpetuation of the same old stereotypes, even within the POC community. People use the terms “people of color” and “Black and Latino” interchangeably, thus, effectively denying that racism has also left a heavy handed mark on Asian American communities. Especially in discussing police brutality in Providence, it is imperative to recognize the that Cambodian Americans and other Southeast Asian communities are frequently subject to raids and criminalization. Yes, it should be recognized that it stems from anti-Blackness, but it also should be understood not simply as a Black & Latino men’s issue.

In a workshop run-through, a couple of Black women told me that the section around Asian American women’s sexualization via geisha images, binding, and submissive positions had very little to do with sexism broadly and as women of color, they felt as though it had nothing to do with them. It’s a race issue, they said simply. I blinked. I had heard that argument before, except from the other side: This isn’t an Asian American issue. This is a women’s problem. I challenged folks to tell me why sexualization of bodies was not relevant as a sexism issue and angrily added on that as an Asian American person, I constantly read and teach myself about black criminality and criticize the animalistic depictions of Black people in the media, understanding that the issue of dehumanization is one that I care about as well, even though I’m not Black. Oh, they said.

We are not just some appendage to the discussion around race. Not something you tag on. We must center Blackness in racism discussions, yes, as Blackness has heavily shaped racial politics in the U.S. However, as a person of color, I refuse to engage in this cannibalistic battle of “oppression olympics.” Asian American issues bring in important analysis around imperialism, Orientalism, commodification, and xenophobia. There has to be space for all of us under anti-racism.

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