"Asian privilege."


Even very vehement anti-racists on Tumblr deny Asian racism or consider it benign; and even many Asian folks who are open to anti-racism but have never deconstructed thoroughly their own experience being an Asian will make half-arsed remarks that reek of self-flagellation and internalized racism. I’ve even been told that there are privileges to being Asian like there are privileges to being white and that’s why I shouldn’t get offended at people being called ‘white identifiers,’ cos most Asians are.

I include myself in these critiques because I am only recently starting to understand the turmoil of being Asian in America. Note that I never deny relative privileges afforded to different populations but think you shouldn’t boil down the oppression of one group to their relative privileges. Whites have pretty absolute privileges so this doesn’t open up an ‘anti-whiteness’ discussion.

But the point I want to briefly make is that ‘ASIAN PRIVILEGE’ is the same thing as ‘WOMAN PRIVILEGE’.

When those misandrists like ryking blew up at feminists a few months ago, many touted a ‘WOMAN PRIVILEGE’ checklist. This included things like ‘lesser chance of being murdered, assaulted, exposed to direct violence, lesser likelihood that you will go to jail for things, be removed from your children,etc.’

We shouldn’t boil down the experience of being a woman to these extremely finite and relative privileges. In fact, we should try to understand how these things end up being framed as privileges in the first place.

Taking a page from Angela Davis’ analysis in, Are Prison Obsolete, the problem with women privilege is that we assume the same model of civil liberties, tendency towards civil engagement, and mode of civil participation for women and men.

Davis discusses how imprisonment arose as a mode of punishment geared towards men because only men were (and still are) understood as people who should be punished by the state directly. Why? Because men are understood to have full civil liberties and are fully afforded the opportunities to participate in civil society. This means they are more likely to violate the law because only they are understood as fully participating in the arenas of life that the law regulates.

Meanwhile, while imprisonment was being used as a tactic primarily against men, women were relegated to the domestic sphere and faced their own types of punishments vis a vi abuse, torture, rape, etc. These punishments are more ‘private’ whereas men’s are more ‘public’ because they are understood as whole citizens. So just like men are more likely to die through random assault and murder, more women are likely to die during the period of time they break up with a partner.

This is the same problem with ‘Asian privilege’. Society and most people- including poc and Asians themselves- do not regard Asians as full members of civil society. Their participation is erased and they are relegated to a very narrow professional field; they are interpellated as passive political beings and many Asians act accordingly.

So if Asians are not understood as whole citizens (which is certainly the case if you consider the very Asian dilemma of being a perpetual foreigner in the US), I have to scoff at ‘Asian privilege’. Asians are less likely to be systemically brutalized through the prison-industrial complex- a relative privilege for sure that Asians must recognize as their fellow brown and black poc are being slaughtered by the police.

But it’s also worth pointing out, in discussions that have devolve to ‘Asians don’t have any problems and only experience benign racism’ that they will not be systematically brutalized by the police because they are not recognized as full citizens.

If you accept this as a relative privilege constituting a lack of racism, then you have to also accept women as privileged because the state does not systematically kill them via imprisonment the same way it does men. Even in an age where everyone and their mama in the US is in jail, women make up a small percent of the imprisoned population. Think about how this population rose dramatically in the 1980s and after, when America became entrenched in post-race and post-gender rhetoric and thus at least falsely considered women to be equal to men.

There has been much written on the subject of women in civil rights’ movements, and this has been a point of conflict within groups like the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers. It has given rise to a mythology within many poc activist groups that men are the only ones targeted by the state and women need to acknowledge this burden that men shoulder. This is often used to minimize domestic or partner abuse, or other types of gendered violence, though. It might be statistically true but there is always a reason behind it.

This is a fantastic post. I’m too tired to write a full response to it right now, but I just wanted to reblog it. And another thing that really bothers me is the way in which the term “Asian” is mobilized — as though all Asian groups and experiences are exactly the same. As though we can somehow group together Southeast Asians with South Asians and East Asians and Pacific Islanders. 

As though migrant workers from Asia or undocumented Asian workers working in illegal sweatshop factories and restaurants and laundromats in America somehow experience the same exact kind of racial tensions that middle-class east Asians living in Southern California experience. 

This is just another way in which non-Asians manage to erase us and our experiences by homogenizing us and undermining our experience and struggle, and denying the history and reality of our people and ancestors. 

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