Lonely Britches Presents: Model Minority Mutiny!
This week I want to share with y’all a communique sent to me by my britches in arms, Asian/Asian American poets, writers and translators regarding recent anti-blackness they have witnessed in the poetry community. This is their letter:
Today and forever we reject and rebuke Asian/Asian American works that uphold the racist, anti-black framework of model minority.
If your Asian/Asian American-ness is invoked only when people (Black poets especially) speak about anti-black, destructive work, and only invoked to say, “I’m conflicted! I’m only personally affected because the people who published me are under fire—otherwise I would not be pressured to think about this,” then you have become whiteness’s alibi. You have become whiteness’s legitimacy. We see you, and we will not let your support of white supremacy go unnoticed.
We want to begin by discussing the political obfuscation by Asian/Asian American poet Trisha Low. Her statement is just one example where the discourse of “race” or “racism” obscures the explicit anti-blackness in the works of Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place. We want to comment that the article was politically careless, rooted in the historical discourse of model minority, and amounted to a #weareallcomplicit fest that centered the affect of one individual and obscured the ultimate and ongoing critique of white supremacy in poetry.
We want to say: Asian American is not a monolithic category. White supremacy would have you believe that we are neat, packageable difference units, that one of our voices is the consensus and that not more than two of us are needed (otherwise panic!!!). So we write this as a group of Asian/Asian American poets deeply concerned with the ways in which white supremacy and its accomplices are co-opting racialization in order to deploy more anti-blackness. We realize that Asian/Asian Americans are already implicated in this—especially East Asian Americans—and we wish to push back.
We want to point out that Low’s piece was not the only article that fails to disaggregate racism, specifically anti-blackness, in poetry. In “solidarity” she pointed to another piece of writing by a non-black poc more willing to critique the energies of an anonymous twitter handle than the anti-black works of two prominent gatekeeping “poets.”
We want to be clear that such articles—arguments and statements that obscure, deflect and normalize anti-black violence—are to be expected. They are not out of the norm. Anti-blackness is the foundational and fundamental logic of white supremacy. Non-black poc and non-black communities are direct perpetrators of anti-black violence and are encouraged, validated, and rewarded for participating in anti-blackness and anti-black violence. They can become what Howard Zinn describes as “guards” and others have described as “Honorary Whites.” Honorary whites will be given small or assistant gatekeeping/power roles. This does not mean that the Asian/Asian Americans practicing anti-blackness will never experience racism, sexism, homophobia, etc—but participation in anti-blackness is one way to prove that one has, in fact, bought into the racist narrative of “model minority,” a term that Ellen Wu has defined to mean “definitively not black,” in exchange for proximity to whiteness and its concomitant privileges.
We wish to frame poc solidarity (specifically, Asian/Asian American solidarity) as staunchly allied against the perpetrating, deployment, normalization, and silencing of anti-blackness under the guise of “poc identity” (homogeneity). To do so, we call for critical disaggregation of poc-ness in order to properly interrogate all the ways in which white supremacy renders non-black poc’s complicit in anti-blackness:
1. There is no general racism. There is anti-blackness (a term that never appears in Low’s essay). There is misogyny. There is anti-Asian, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino—and we don’t break this up to say that we cannot be in the fight together, but to state clearly that neoliberal capitalism finds a function for our differences (Rod Ferguson, Grace Hong), and also that neoliberalism deals its death via these differences (Ferguson, Hong). In the current historical era, Asian Americans are not dying on the streets everyday. They are, it seems, more likely as a police officer, to kill an unarmed Black person than to be killed by the police. So it is a grave injustice to lump all racial and epistemological violence into one big pile so that one’s racialization might speak for their “generalities.” There are no generalities here.
2. Low’s article ultimately obfuscates the critique that her queer mother (Vanessa Place) and father (Kenneth Goldsmith) have received. She makes it about “general racism” in her queer family, “general racism” in poetry. And what, we ask, is general racism? Is that like the neoliberal multicultural movie Crash where everyone partakes in some explicit aggression towards someone so that ultimately, we see how flawed racism is and how much we all contribute (no victims, no enemies, no justice)? Rather than the uncomfortable discussion of: anti-blackness and white supremacy, active and passive complicity, anti-blackness and non-black poc?
Note: No to quoting James Baldwin but refusing to discuss anti-blackness or the bodies most affected by this violence.
3. It serves Low and others well to make Vanessa Place and the actions of Goldsmith into a “generally racist” event. Vanessa Place and Goldsmith did not make generally racist work—they made specifically anti-black work. They worked recklessly with the bodies, artifacts, and representations of anti-blackness. Michael Brown. Chattel Slavery. Coon Songs. Blackface. Where does/should Asian/Asian Americans figure into this?
4. Scholar Claire Kim has argued that we can see anti-blackness among Asian Americans historically. She cites that during the segregation era (in Lum v. Rice), Asian Americans in the South sued to attend white schools. They did not see themselves as black—they identified as white. The law, however, saw them as colored and did not see them as white and/or exempted from segregation laws—until the end of segregation with Brown vs. Board of Education. The solution? The plaintiffs were able to raise money from abroad to set up a private school for Chinese Americans to attend, privatization becoming the secondary route in anti-blackness. If you are curious about other examples, we ask that you read more of Claire Kim’s work, Ellen Wu’s work, Catherine Fung and Grace Hong’s incisive work, and others. Or just search: Anti-blackness and Asian Americans.
5. We provide this historical example (but we can offer more—how much time do you have?) to say that: Anti-blackness is something that Asian/Asian Americans in the United States have historically participated in. It is not a matter that we can collapse into our “expertise” on race, racialization, and racial violence. When we use our racialization as Asian/Asian Americans to obscure anti-black violence (epistemological, physical, social and otherwise), to be an alibi for the desires of white subject positions—we are aiding whiteness. We are offering ourselves as token voices to be utilized by whiteness in its maintenance for white supremacy.
In her article, Low expresses ambivalence about her perceived position, with a foot on each side of the love-hate “wall.” The article’s psychoanalytic (oedipalizing) language obscures the power relationships she partakes in as a model minority and token. But this is not about her individual emotional quandary. Or rather, such a display of emotional quandary only reflects the privilege that allows one to simultaneously enfold oneself in the pain (to cry for it) of violence against Black bodies while failing to interrogate one’s culpability in that very violence. Further, the structural role of tokens and model minorities is to obscure the way white supremacy offers benefits to those “in the middle,” in order to set some of us against those lower on the racial hierarchy. We say: Betray whiteness.
As Asian/Asian Americans, we recognize that our affective energies are already spread, and free intellectual, racialized labor is required of our existence—but on this issue, we need to push back. We need to push back because Low’s article was widely circulated (pretty exclusively by white poets), and we are asking that other non-black poets of color join us in explicitly calling out this kind of obscuring of anti-blackness by other white and non-black poets. There is important and pressing work that those pulled under the Asian/Asian American identity by the racializing structure of America must do in order to examine and dismantle their own anti-blackness. We must acknowledge our own roles in perpetrating anti-black violence. We must educate ourselves about the myriad instantiations of anti-black violence within the legal and artistic institutions in which we participate. And this will almost always involve betraying our own privilege, abandoning our honorary guard posts, and acknowledging our own participation in that violence.
And our statement isn’t for white people. Our statement is an affirmative declaration that we stand with Black poets who have spoken up on this issue. We will work with groups and coalitions committed to eradicating anti-blackness in all their forms. Signing this statement does not absolve us of our complicity in white supremacy. We must continue to decolonize and undo internalized anti-blackness. It is a continuous process that requires all of our work and attention.
Grace Shuyi Liew Eunsong Kim Ginger Ko
Ching-In Chen Chiwan Choi Michelle Lin
Kenji C. Liu Melissa R. Sipin Kazumi Chin
Jay Santa Cruz Muriel Leung Soleil Ho
This week’s Lonely Britchlist: This week was full of FEELS.
- Wednesday I had quality time with Jace Brittain. I kept him company while he packed and we listened to cool kid music after having lunch at Girasol. The pupusas were divine and I had horchata for the first time.
- Thursday started out very tearful but just became increasingly better. I had quality time with Nichole Riggs and got a chance to show off the studio where I work. She made a killer strawberry rhubarb pie with fresh fruit from the farmer’s market (and I helped!) and we talked about our celebrity crushes and played Mario Kart.
- Friday after a busy day in the studio I spent quality time with Alethea Tusher and despite her many reservations we went to see Mad Max: Fury Road. Alethea is a true champion. I needed to hold her hand as much as she did mine. The movie was gorgeous and I’m still enjoying my good cinema streak. Afterwards we enjoyed a little MFA shindig.
- Saturday I enjoyed a trip to the beach with the Notre Dame MFAs. It was glorious. I rode in the car with Dev and Katy and we had what has to be in the top three car rides of the year (up there with the trip to and from AWP with Nichole, Rachel and Paul and anytime I’m in a car with Katy). Our in car singalong to Beyoncé’s Halo was heaven sent. We went to the Indiana Dunes, the water was too cold to swim in but the weather was awe inspiring. This current cohort of MFAs is composed of some of the best people and friends I have made in a long time. I’m always happy for the time I get to spend with them. I’m going to miss the graduating class like whoa.
- I watched Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, a documentary on Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I finally caught up on Grey’s Anatomy, Law and Order: SVU and Scandal. And I started Tokyo Ghoul, which I promised to watch this summer with Rachel Zavecz. I’m only six episodes into the first season but I’m pretty confident that it’s going into my top five favorite anime of all time.
- My copy of Gabriel Ojeda Sague’s JOGS arrived in the mail. James Pate reviewed Dream Machine over at Entropy. I get very tearful about this review.
- I deep conditioned my hair with SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner and styled it with Miss Jessie’s Pillow Soft Curls. And I felt really good about how cute my hair was.
- I downloaded the game MOUNTAIN at the suggestion of Chris Holdaway and Jace. I know they thought I might find it boring after a while but they greatly underestimate my love of ambient procedural mountain games. I love being a mountain. This collaboration by David O’Reilly and Damien di Fede is hella tearful slut.
- Monday night a stranger, a man I didn’t know, forced himself on me. I say this because in the aftershock women that I love and admire held me together. They made sure that I took care of myself. That I didn’t succumb to my own darkening thoughts. Women are sacred and dangerous. Women are the protogrotesque. It saddens me to know so many women (women of color, transwomen, fat women, disabled women, queer women) who have experienced gendered violence. It infuriates me to live in fear of the designs of a creature so base it would mistake fear for consent, abuse for pleasure. I can’t shake the final words of Cassandra Troyan’s reading at Embawdied Lit during AWP. “Kill your rapists.” Women, thank you. Immeasurably.
Tata my lonely britches. MattCap this is for you.