AA101: A series presenting the quick bullet points of Asian American Studies


What is race?

  • Race is an idea that people on each of the different continents have a different skin color.
  • Race is a modern concept.  
      • During the Enlightenment, people began to categorize human beings into generally three races: Europeans, Africans and Asians.
      • In the nineteenth century, race crystalized as a concept to define people.
  • Race vs. Class
      • Race is about the body, about bodily characteristics that translate into a culture.  It is mainly about skin color.
      • Class is about status.
          • In a capitalist society, status is determined by wealth accumulation, and so “class” is sometimes linked with wealth, but it is really about one’s standing in a society.
  • Hierarchies of race
      • Top:  light skin, heterosexual male
      • Bottom: dark skin, female
      • Yellow people are thus somewhere in between.


What is race in America?

  • Race in America is a white-black thing.
      • Top: white male property owners (who get to vote)
      • Bottom: black women
  • Other people don’t fit in this black-white framework.
      • Indigenous peoples have not been traditionally viewed as American.
      • Asians are not American either.  Asians are people we trade or compete with.
  • This racial continuum persists to this day.


What does race mean for Asian Americans?

  • Asian Americans do not fit into racial conventions in America.
      • With American racial thinking being about white-black, people try to figure out if Asian Americans are white or black?
      • Yellow? What is that?  What to do with that?
          • It has been theorized as between black and white, which is problematic.
      • Asian American Studies scholars believe that this ideology of race structures society in unjust ways.
  • Asian Americans, however, are subject to racial realities in America. We are racialized.
      • Race has material effects.  How we are racially viewed effects where we live and where we work
      • If you deny this racial reality, if you like David Holliger say you are “color-blind” or we live in a post-racial society:
          • You erase the history of abuses.
          • You are saying in effect that we started out on an equal playing field, when we actually did not.
          • While the Civil Rights Movement gave us equal protection of the law, legal equality does not mean de facto political or social equality.
  • Asian Americans describe ourselves as “Asian Americans” because of this racial reality in America.  
      • Like Chicano Americans and Native Americans, we need to unite in solidarity in America to push back against the racist categories that have been applied to us.   We don’t want to be seen within the white-black rubric at all!


Key readings:

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (1994, update coming July 2013)
Race is something that needs to be created and honed in one's consciousness, via a "racial projects." While these racial projects have been dismantled by Civil Rights legislation,their fundamental racial effects have yet to be obliterated.
Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (1996)
Asian American studies has become a tool for universities to brag about how multicultural and diverse they are. This means that the discipline has gotten far from its original mandate. Instead of trying to support the university's agenda of helping students accumulate individual wealth after they graduate, Asian American scholars must point their students and readers to see Asians whose labor is being exploited all over the world. We will do this by remembering our own history of immigrant exploitation in the United States and channeling those experiences into global solidarity with those who are racialized and exploited.

Vijay Prashad, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity (2002)
For more than five centuries Asians and Black around the world have been interacting, collaborating, exchanging cultural and ideas, even working together towards political change.

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ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG primarily asks how we are to be, think and respond to being Asian, American and Christian in Christ. Towards this end, we are extremely interested to learn from others and hear viewpoints different from our own. Please note that the views represented here are not necessarily those of ASIANAMERICANCHRISTIAN.ORG.

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