1Future Directions in the Racial Justice Movement
In our previous report, Left or Right of the Color Line, we explored what we
heard from nationwide interviews with racial justice leaders, organizers,
scholars, and artists about Asian Americans and the racial justice movement.
The vast majority of the 57 interviewees who ended up in our analysis were
Asian Americans, except for three African Americans whose work cuts across
communities of color. While Left or Right focused on Asian American racial
identity and behavior, this report looks at the challenges that Asian
American racial justice activists face, and strategies for moving forward.
As we reported previously, several informants said that many Asian Americans
embraced “honorary whiteness” and, therefore, any kind of Asian American
organizing must be anti-racist. If that’s true, then what does it look like
to assert Asian American-ness authentically, expansively, and progressively
? It should come as no surprise that this work is already happening. After
all, no amount of model minority framing can erase the fact that “Asian
American” began as a political identity. The historical basis for being
Asian American is twofold — a rejection of labels like “Oriental”, “gook
”, “Jap”, etc., and their roots in war and imperialism, and a fundamental
commitment to interracial solidarity. In reality, there were no Asian
Americans before the Civil Rights, Black Power and antiwar movements. And
those of us who dedicate our lives to combating white supremacy today are
authentically Asian American.
This might seem like an academic argument given how many people, including
Asian Americans, are unaware of this history. Idealizing those movements of
the ‘60s and ‘70s dangerously masks the problems within them, and the
important lessons to be learned. Still, there are both hope and affirmation
to be found in the radical roots of Asian American identity for those of us
committed to racial justice. That’s why being Asian American matters.