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I’ve moved to a new website!

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Thank you for visiting my blog!  Please visit my new website version of Bandung 1955 at http://tamaranopper.com/ and check out my new article: 20 Years in the Making: George Zimmerman’s “Minority Defense” and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

Categories: Uncategorized

“Race, Illegality, and Detention”: My Remarks at Imprisoned, Forgotten, and Deported

December 18, 2011 Leave a comment

In October I presented on a panel that examined how race and notions of illegality intersected at the conference “Imprisoned, Forgotten, and Deported: Immigration Detention, Advocacy, and the Faith Community.”  Below are my remarks.

“Race, Illegality, and Detention”

October 13, 2011

The questions that we have been asked to explore are ones that I have thought about a great deal in the last decade, as a former activist in Asian American and immigration politics and as a scholar and educator who researches, writes about, and teaches about these issues.  These questions are:

  • How does race and racism operate in U.S. immigration and detention policy?
  • How is whiteness implicitly or explicitly operative in U.S. detention policy?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the criminalization of African Americans and newly arrived immigrants?  Why are some groups of immigrants welcomed and others criminalized?
  • How might the criminalization of particular racial others in U.S. detention policy be changed legally, politically, and culturally?
  • Given the social and political polarization of U.S. society, what are the limits and possibilities of changing the role of race in U.S. detention policy?

I want to explore how race and racism are conceptualized and the implications for how we consider criminalization, legality, and the similarities and differences between African Americans and immigrants of color.  While I and many of us here can discuss how white supremacy informs immigration policy, I think our point of departure for thinking about race cannot be whiteness or white supremacy.  And I say this as an Asian American who is all too well aware, from research, from observation, from shared stories, and from the lived experience that I take on my body every single day, that white supremacy is ubiquitous and banal.  White supremacy is the stench of dog shit left all over gentrified neighborhoods and the smiles of white children who, as babies, already have more power than the majority of grown people of color will ever possess.  But despite the mundane nature of white supremacy, I think a Black/non-Black divide framework is much more useful for analyzing racial realities as well as for pragmatically addressing the issues of criminalization, surveillance, policing, incarceration, and deportation.

The Black/non-Black divide framework posits that being Black in the world is much more significant in terms of shaping life chances and ontological realities than being non-white.  Sociologists, notably George Yancey, author of the book Who is White: Who is White?: Latinos, Asians, and the New Black/Nonblack Divide, have studied the social rejection and isolation of African Americans and the implications for how we understand assimilation.  As Yancey notes in his book, “A black/nonblack dichotomy produces more understanding about contemporary race relations.  It suggests that the informal rejection of African Americans, rather than a tendency by the majority to oppress all minority groups in a roughly equal manner, is the linchpin to the American contemporary racial hierarchy.”

Most social scientists of assimilation don’t generally address the issue of surveillance and incarceration and have focused on indicators such as interracial marriage rates, residential segregation, educational obtainment, and income, and increasingly wealth.  Instead, they tend to focus on how African Americans do not tend to empirically demonstrate the assimilation patterns of not only whites but also non-Black people of color, including the “new immigrants.”  But anti-Black racism cannot be simply identified at the level of individual cases of suffering, of which, a significant number becomes a social problem, according to the celebrated sociologist C. Wright Mills.  Rather, anti-Black racism is a political project, a generative force, and a logic of social organization.  As Jared Sexton puts it, there is a “fundamental social truth” and it is “not simply that antiblackness is longstanding and ongoing but also that it is unlike other forms of racial oppression in qualitative ways— differences of kind, rather than degree, a structural singularity rather than an empirical anomaly.”

Considering anti-Blackness as a logic of social organization gives greater clarity to the nature of the state, of which immigrant rights activists constantly engage and confront.  While scholars such as Michael Omi and Howard Winant argue that the state is a racial state, some have made it clear that the state is not only racial but racist and not only racist but specifically anti-Black.  For example, Anthony Monteiro describes the U.S. state as “the principal organizer of racialized power.  As an instrument of racialized power, i.e. the power of white people over non-whites, especially black people, it functions to mediate class conflict and fissures among whites and to exert primarily command-and-control functions with respect to blacks.”

This is not to suggest that African Americans are the only ones affected, targeted, or criminalized by the state.  One of the common strategies for not dealing with anti-Black racism is to claim that African Americans are not the only ones who experience racism or state violence, a sentiment that some could say animates this very gathering.  But the scholarship that has informed my thinking never contends as much and only a willful misreading could lead to that conclusion.  Instead, an emphasis on anti-Blackness brings into clearer view what Sexton describes as “the (repressed) truth of the political and economic system”: that Blacks serve as “the prototypical targets of the panoply of police practices and the juridical infrastructure built up around them”—what Monteiro termed the “command-and-control functions” of the state.

Explained by Sexton:

Every analysis that attempts to understand the complexities of racial rule and the machinations of the racial state without accounting for black existence within its framework—which does not mean simply listing it among a chain of equivalents or returning to it as an afterthought—is doomed to miss what is essential about the situation. Black existence does not represent the total reality of the racial formation—it is not the beginning and the end of the story—but it does relate to the totality; it indicates the (repressed) truth of the political and economic system.

What relevance does the anti-Black nature of the state have for immigrant detention, deportation, illegality, and criminalization?  Whereas I could give numerous examples, there is one major point I want to address here: immigrant rights advocates need to re-examine their beliefs about Black citizenship.

Under the racial state, there is no such thing as Black citizenship.  The myth of Black citizenship scaffolds immigrant rights activism as well as the academic scholarship that supports it.  Regarding the latter, in Asian American Studies, numerous scholars are quick to emphasize that African Americans gained citizenship before Asian Americans and their comparisons of Blacks and Asians tends to argue that the racial formation of which the latter is subject is civic ostracism and exclusion—as if the racial subjugation of African Americans is somehow unrelated to the practices and logic of civil society.  In Latino Studies, there is an evident animus to African Americans, expressed as concerns about Black xenophobia and Black insensitivity to illegality.  The thread that binds Asian American Studies and Latino Studies scholarship is a belief in Black American citizenship, a hostility to which actually demonstrates that the legal document, in the case of Blacks, does not actually matter. What both Asian American Studies and Latino Studies, as well as immigrant rights activism and non-Black liberals and progressives in general presume, is that Black people have citizenship but that spectacles of anti-Black racism—such as the recent Troy Davis execution, the Oscar Grant murder by a white police officer at the Bart station in the Bay, or hurricane Katrina—demonstrate the contingent and flexible nature of citizenship.  Such gestures attempt to re-imagine African Americans as akin to immigrants of color, whose status is tenuous, contingent, and flexible to the demands of the nation-state, capital, and whites.

But for Blacks, there is no such thing as circumstance, pretext, or even, to use the words of immigrant rights activists, legality or illegality.  To assume as much means that we can identify historical moments in which Blacks are not guilty.  Of course, Blacks are not always guilty of committing the criminal acts they are accused of and in some cases, the courts have affirmed as much.  But Black people are never not guilty of being Black and thus their experience of being criminalized—which is ontological and not behavioral—cannot be conflated with or subsumed under frameworks common among immigrant rights advocates.  Or, as Kenyon Farrow, in his remarks at the recently held New York City Troy Davis Memorial succinctly put it: “we must come to accept that to be Black and ‘innocent’ is an oxymoron in the world we live in.”

Barack Obama’s Community Organizing as New Black Politics

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

My new article “Barack Obama’s Community Organizing as New Black Politics” has recently been published in a special issue of Political Power and Social Theory titled “Rethinking Obama,” edited by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and Louise Seamster.

Abstract:

This chapter explores how discourse about Barack Obama’s community organizing background underscores his new Black politics. Whereas new Black politics is associated with a minimization of race, centrist and neoliberal policies, and an unwillingness to “speak truth to power,” Obama has been characterized as “different” due to his community organizing experience. As I show, Obama’s community organizing background is invoked by him and others in ways that amplify an opposition to Black racial solidarity associated with the tradition of old Black politics. The first section examines how Obama’s community organizing is depicted as a quest for racial acceptance from old guard Black activists but translates into a story of his political maturation. The second section considers how Obama’s relationship with his (now) former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright is symbolized as a struggle between old and new Black politics and thus serves as a commentary on the presumed ineffectiveness of racial solidarity for addressing the plight of working-class Blacks.

Why Obama’s ‘Black Job Plan’ Won’t Resolve Black Unemployment

September 25, 2011 4 comments

Why Obama’s ‘Black Job Plan’ Won’t Resolve Black Unemployment

Tamara K. Nopper

September 25, 2011

Recently, President Barack Obama addressed the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and concerns that he was ignoring the disproportionately high unemployment rate among African Americans.  Defending his American Jobs Act, Obama emphasized the measure that would provide tax cuts to businesses–and specifically mentioned 100,000 Black-owned firms–if they hired a new worker or gave workers a raise.  One CBC member was quoted as saying that Obama’s speech “showed he’s going to fight.”

Obama’s jobs act will not make a dent in Black unemployment, which is now at a staggering 16.7%.  And despite emphasizing in his  CBC speech Black unemployment and  Black-owned firms, his proposal demonstrates more his capitulation to white supremacy than a willingness to challenge it.

Here’s why:

Tax cuts will not address the financial disparities that already exist among firms by race.  Indeed, Obama’s proposed measures for helping all (and not just Black) business owners in his jobs act privilege those firms with more money, that are more likely to be considered “innovative,” (hence the plan’s emphasis on patents and going global), who have a significant number of employees, and who are in the overall financial position to take advantage of a tax plan.  Black-owned firms already trail behind most other firms in most indicators.  Shown in the  most recent (2007) Survey of Business Owners, which is administered by the United States Census Bureau every five years, Black-owned firms make up only 7% of all U.S.-located firms.  Whites are over-represented  as business owners with 83% of all firms. The amount of receipts differs among racial groups, with Blacks only having $135 billion, which comprises less than 1% (.005% to be exact) of the $30 trillion in receipts for all firms.  The disparity in receipts does not necessarily reflect the number of business owned among racial groups.  For example, at an estimated 1.9 million, Black-owned firms outnumber Asian-owned firms by about 400,000, but the latter have over three times the receipts at $506 billion.  And while Blacks have about 300,000 less firms than Hispanics–the majority (91%) of business owners who identify as white, by the way–Black firms have only 40% of the  former’s receipts.  As a racial group, Blacks even lag behind  some ethnic groups.  Mexican American-owned firms, for instance, total about 1 million–a little under half of the firms for all Hispanics, regardless of race–a figure that is about 900,000 less than the number of Black firms, yet their receipts are higher at $154 billion.

These disparities are underscored when considering businesses that have employees, with the ability to have employees often related to the finances of a firm.  Black-owned employer firms make up 2% of all firms with employees, and whites own 81%.  Numbering only a little over 100,000, Black employer firms have receipts of $97 billion, which, like their receipts for all firms, make up 0% of all employer firms.  Asian American-owned employer firms have almost four times the total number and almost five times the receipts than Black employer firms, despite Asians comprising only one third of the population size of African Americans.  Controlling for the race of the business owner, Black employer firms, employing a total of about 900,000 people, pay the smallest average pay per employee among all employer firms.  Given this data, it is highly unlikely that tax cuts will alleviate Black unemployment as Black employer firms are already lagging financially behind those among most other racial groups. Even if Black employer firms, again totaling around 100,000, were all to hire one Black person, it is unlikely to decrease Black unemployment.   Given that an overwhelming majority of Black businesses are non-employer firms, it is highly unlikely that they will be in the financial position to grow their businesses by hiring workers–or to get the capital to do so–and thus “take advantage” of the proposed tax cuts.

One of the reasons why these statistics are so alarming is that a plethora of research, both from social scientists as well as just day to day observation and experience on the job market, demonstrates that African Americans are the least likely to be hired by non-Black firms.  And Black firms are already more likely to hire African Americans than non-Black firms.  Given the small number of Black employer firms, it is not surprising that unemployment rates for Black have generally surpassed all other racial groups, even when the economy was not in a financial crisis.   Non-Black firms, then, are not likely to hire a significant number of Blacks just to take advantage of tax measures (especially when there are growing numbers of non-Black unemployed to choose from) and Black firms, already lagging behind other racial groups by most indicators, cannot possibly be expected to resolve Black unemployment.  Nor could they if they wanted to as they don’t have the resources.

Some will say Obama did specifically deal with discrimination and Black unemployment in both his jobs act and his speech to the CBC.  For example, the proposal calls for challenging hiring discrimination against the unemployed.  However, how will he measure the unemployed in this policy?  Will it include the many Black people who are not even included in the Department of Labor statistic for unemployment?  Whatever the case, Obama’s jobs plan does not talk about racial discrimination.  Some may think it unnecessary for an act to do so given affirmative action policies.  Yet affirmative action policies have often been more commonly applied to corporate jobs and even then, corporate powers have largely determined what politically gets defined as affirmative action these days.  As the major source of new jobs, the overwhelming majority of small businesses are not subject to affirmative action policies due to the small number of people each firm employs.  And even if they were, the federal government has tended to be purposefully lax in enforcement and firms have also found ways to use what law professor Tanya K. Hernandez calls “the diversity defense” to hire non-whites but avoid having to account for discriminatory racial hiring practices.  In terms of talking about Black unemployment in his jobs act, the fact sheet–as well as his CBC speech–does cite the aforementioned Black unemployment rate.  More, the act mentions how Black youth are particularly affected so as propose a summer youth job program.  One purpose of the initiative, according to the jobs plan, is to help young people develop employment skills.  But many of these Black youth likely won’t be  hired  by non-Black businesses  so as to use and be paid for these skills, and again, Black firms  do not have the capacity to hire all of them.  Further, youth should not be in the position of financially supporting their communities and cannot be used to measure the financial health of their racial groups.  We would not expect whites dismayed about the financial crisis and their unemployment rate to focus simply on the employment prospects or summer job programs for white youth–indeed white youth are not even expected to work in the way Black youth are (nor  is employment promoted as an anti-incarceration initiative for white youth in the way it is for Black youth, but that’s another article). And summer programs are of course seasonal.  Finally,  summer youth programs do not resolve the fact that way too many Black adults cannot get jobs during any season.

Similar to some of his political predecessors, including Richard M. Nixon, Obama’s explicitly refers to Black unemployment and Black business in his CBC speech while promoting a Jim Crow economy–where Black people are largely left to their own devices to resolve a structural economic crisis with a little government support–in this case with the aid of a proposed tax plan for all firms that will  purportedly help 100,00 Black firms resolve Black unemployment or a summer jobs program in which Black youth can participate.  And similar to Nixon, who championed “Black capitalism” as a containment strategy to repress Black protest or criticism, Obama’s speech to a CBC increasingly and publicly frustrated with Obama’s response to Black unemployment, champions, albeit in a subtle way,  Black business owners as important social actors who he suggests will be “supported” (but not in a targeted way) through his proposed tax plan.  Like Nixon, Obama doesn’t challenge or address the larger political economy and anti-Black racism that is largely responsible for Black unemployment nor does he  purpose that non-Blacks have any responsibility in the economic life of African Americans, either in causing or resolving it.  Overall, an unwillingness to challenge racist hiring practices  towards Blacks among firms owned by non-Blacks–again 98% of all employer firms–can co-exist with Obama’s championing of Black firms in the name of addressing Black unemployment.

Overall, Obama’s jobs act and his speech to the CBC are examples of what sociologist Charles Gallagher terms “new colorblind racism,” meaning, unlike traditional colorblind racism, the approach minimally acknowledges racial inequality, and in this case, Black unemployment, without addressing racial hierarchies.  Although openly discussing the issue of Black unemployment and proposing a tax measure that will “benefit” all firms–and presumably 100,000 Black businesses as noted in his CBC speech–Obama does not challenge the existing financial disparities among businesses–or the role of  government programs and the financial institutions he perversely protects in shaping these disparities.  Rather, Obama’s CBC speech, in a Nixonian gesture that “recognizes”–some could even say celebrates–Black-owned firms, speaks simultaneously to both Black  middle-class (pro-)capitalists and working-class Black nationalists who value Black business as a sign of community health.  And despite his acknowledgment of the high Black unemployment rate and Black businesses, he also, like Nixon, simultaneously reassures non-Blacks that we will not be affected by his jobs act or by his  directed overtures, at least in speech, to the Black community.  In the end, Obama expects African Americans, in this case Black business owners and Black youth, to  largely shoulder the burden of resolving the Black unemployment crisis.

What Obama’s speech to the CBC demonstrates is not only his neoliberal tendencies but also his clever strategy of appearing race-specific in his policies.  Obama is an expert at racial double-speak and has found a way to promote a white supremacist agenda while still acknowledging race at certain moments.  And he has also found a way to appear as if he is championing African Americans, in the case of his CBC speech, Black business owners, while still permitting business as usual, which includes an unwillingness of non-Black firms to hire African Americans, a lack of government intervention into these hiring practices, an over-emphasis on developing Black human capital, and a capitulation to the white supremacist claim that the state cannot legislate hearts and minds and thus cannot force (job) integration.  While Obama may not win hearts and minds, he doesn’t have to let Blacks suffer just because non-Blacks are racist and are unlikely to stop being so anytime soon.  Instead, he can work towards another version of truly race-specific policies or adopt those that have  already been proposed by African American advocates.  Such initiatives are more likely to address Blacks’ economic status by creating economic programs that specifically target African Americans as a whole instead of simply shifting the burden of resolving Black unemployment on to the Black community.

Black unemployment in the multiracial small business industry

January 13, 2011 3 comments

Black unemployment in the multiracial small business industry

Tamara K. Nopper

January 13, 2011

A while back, my colleague, an African American college professor, and I were discussing Black unemployment in conversation with one of my areas of research, immigrant and minority-owned business.  She recounted a recent visit to a Dunkin’ Donuts in which she was pleasantly surprised to encounter a middle-aged African American man working at the store.  As she described, she pointed to this man as she thanked the manager of the store, a South Asian American, “for hiring him.”  When I asked what the manager’s reaction was, she told me he beamed instantly in response as if he was paid the highest compliment.  She also mentioned that the African American worker later whispered to her the same reply as expressed by his manager—“thank you.”

This story may seem odd for several reasons.  For one, it is difficult to imagine a white person walking into a business and thanking a manager (of any race) for hiring a fellow white person.  Second, when conversations about race and employment are discussed, a job working at Dunkin’ Donuts is not generally treated as the ideal opportunity by policy makers and advocates.  But let’s consider the significance of this story in relation to several issues: the crisis of Black unemployment, the increasing reliance on small business as a source of employment, and the growing number of non-Black people of color and immigrants in positions to hire employees in small firms.

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Why I oppose repealing DADT & passage of the DREAM Act

September 19, 2010 9 comments

Why I oppose repealing DADT & passage of the Dream Act

Tamara K. Nopper

September 19, 2010

One of the first books I read about Asian American feminism was the anthology Dragon ladies: Asian American feminists breathe fire.  In one of the essays, author Juliana Pegues describes scenes from a “radical Asian women’s movement.”  One such scene involves lesbian and bisexual Asian and Pacific Islanders marching at Gay Pride with signs reading “Gay white soldiers in Asia?  Not my liberation!” and “ends with the absence of all soldiers, gay and straight, from any imperialist army.”

Although it has been over a decade since I read this passage, I return to this “scene” as I watch far too many liberals and progressives praise the possible repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) as well as the possible passage of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act).

In some ways, I understand why people are supportive of such gestures.  The idea that certain identities and status categories, such as gay or lesbian or (undocumented) immigrants are either outlawed or treated as social problems has rightfully generated a great deal of sympathy.  And the very real ways that people experience marginalization or discrimination—ranging from a lack of certain rights to violence, including death—certainly indicates that solutions are needed. Further, far too many non-whites have experienced disproportionate disadvantages, surveillance, and discipline from both DADT and anti-immigrant legislation.  For example, Black women, some of whom are not lesbians, have been disproportionately discharged from the U.S. military under DADT.  And anti-immigrant legislation, policing measures, and vigilante xenophobic racism is motivated by and reinforces white supremacy and white nationalism.

Yet both the repeal of DADT and the passage of the DREAM Act will increase the size and power of the U.S. military and the Department of Defense, which is already the largest U.S. employer. Repealing DADT will make it easier for gays and lesbians to openly serve and the Dream Act in its present incarnation may provide a pathway to  legal residency and possibly citizenship for some undocumented immigrant young people if they serve two years in the U.S. military or spend an equal amount of time in college.

Unsurprisingly, the latter, being pushed by Democrats, is getting support from “many with close ties to the military and higher education.”  As the Wall Street Times reports:

Pentagon officials support the Dream Act. In its strategic plan for fiscal years 2010-2012, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness cited the Dream Act as a ‘smart’ way to attract quality recruits to the all-volunteer force…

‘Passage of the Dream Act would be extremely beneficial to the U.S. military and the country as a whole,’ said Margaret Stock, a retired West Point professor who studies immigrants in the military. She said it made ‘perfect’ sense to attach it to the defense-authorization bill.

Louis Caldera, secretary of the Army under President Bill Clinton, said that as they struggled to meet recruiting goals, ‘recruiters at stations were telling me it would be extremely valuable for these patriotic people to be allowed to serve our country.’

Additionally, in a 2009 Department of Defense strategic plan report, the second strategic goal, “Shape and maintain a mission-ready All Volunteer Force,”  lists the DREAM Act as a possible recruitment tool under one of the “performance objectives”:

Recruit the All-Volunteer Force by finding smart ways to sustain quality assurance even as we expand markets to fill manning at controlled costs as demonstrated by achieving quarterly recruiting quality and quantity goals, and through expansion of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program and the once-medically restricted populations, as well as the DREAM initiative.

What concerns me is that far too many liberals and progressives, including those who serve as professional commentators on cable news and/or progressive publications (and some with a seemingly deep affinity for the Democratic Party) have been praising the passage of the DREAM Act.  Unsurprising is that many of the same people support the repeal of DADT.  While a  sincere concern about discrimination may unite both gestures, so too does a lack of critical perspective regarding the U.S. military as one of the main vehicles in the expansion and enforcement of U.S. imperialism, heterosexuality, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and repression against political dissent and people’s movements in the United States and abroad. Far too many liberals and progressives, including those critical of policies or the squashing of political dissent, take an ambivalent stance on the U.S. military.  It is unclear what makes some of these folks unwilling to openly oppose the military state.  Perhaps it’s easier than dealing with the backlash from a variety of people, including the many people of color and/or women who are now building long-term careers in the military.  Or maybe it’s more amenable to building careers as pundits in both corporate and progressive media,  both of which may be critical of some defense spending or “wasted” (read unsuccessful) military efforts but not necessarily of U.S. militarism.

Whatever the case, the inclusion of more gays and lesbians and/or undocumented immigrant youth in the U.S. military is not an ethical project given that both gestures are willing to have our communities serve as mercenaries in exchange for certain rights, some of which are never fully guaranteed in a homophobic and white supremacist country.  Nor is it pragmatic.  By supporting the diversification of the U.S. military we undermine radical democratic possibilities by giving the military state more people, many of whom will ultimately die in combat or develop PTSD and health issues and/or continue nurturing long-term relationships with the U.S. military, including a political affinity with its culture and goals.  We will also have a more difficult time challenging projects of privatization, the incurring of huge amounts of debt, and the erosion of rights and protections in other countries—efforts buttressed by the threat of military action—which ultimately affects people in the United States.

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On progressive “red-baiting”

September 4, 2010 3 comments

This is a slightly more extensive version of the essay featured in Black Agenda Report on September 8, 2010.

On progressive “red-baiting”

Tamara K. Nopper

September 4, 2010

In response to a critic, a popular progressive figure commented, “I’m defender of republican democracy, US Constitution and liberty and justice for all.  I’m progressive dem, not authoritarian leftist.”  While perhaps correct in the self-description,  such comments hint at an intellectualized version of red-baiting.

Red-baiting of course is not new and today many people throw the word leftist as well as radical, revolutionary, Socialist, Communist, or Anarchist, around like they are accusations rather than developed albeit  perhaps diverging  positions regarding capitalism, the state, and for some of  us, white supremacy.  Most of the people who are the most vociferous in publicly denouncing leftists are white conservatives, including corporate news personalities and members of the inherently racist and white nationalist Tea Party.  Yet progressives critical of racism, poverty, corporations, and government officials have their own ways of red-baiting.

Not all of the targets of this red-baiting of which I speak are associated with Marxist organizations or have specific organizational affiliations.  Nor do most progressives publicly use pejoratives such as “Commie” or “Pinko.”  Yet  some will strategically use terms such as “authoritarian leftist,” “radicals” or “revolutionaries”  or “Marxist” when trying to deflect questions posed by people unimpressed with their political positions but whose opposition cannot easily be dismissed as driven by white supremacy or conservatism.  Such gestures are consistent with red-baiting; individuals can simply shut down inquiry or interrogation of their political positions by strategically using labels unpopular among a general public trained to hate such terms; the strategic use of these labels plays upon white nationalist fears and pan-racial bourgeois sentiments by invoking the specter of revolutionary and liberation movements, armed struggle or armed resistance or rioting (as opposed to pacifism or non-violent resistance), militant Black power, and  a classless society.  In the process, such gestures take advantage of, and implicitly condone  the aggressive campaigns by the mainstream press, most academics, and the state to demonize and criminalize stances that are too oppositional against white supremacy or capitalism or state violence.  The use of such labels, while sometimes correct in their assertion (since there are many who proudly identify as having certain affiliations), often work to insulate progressives  from having to explicitly articulate their positions and why they are committed to the ones they take, thus situating their stances, as undefined as they may be, as logical or natural as opposed to ideological and  up for debate.

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White men under attack: Reverse “yellow fever” from “just an (Asian) girl in the world”

June 7, 2010 2 comments

White men under attack: Reverse “yellow fever” from “just an (Asian) girl in the world”

Tamara K. Nopper

June 7, 2010

One of my guilty pleasures is the show Law & Order.  I say guilty pleasure because its premise—a cop show—is nothing short of repulsive as are the requisite story lines, characters, and narratives regarding the state and criminality.

While I can deconstruct the racial, gender, sexual, and class politics of every Law & Order show I have ever watched, a particular one stands out to me because its main suspect was, like me, an Asian American woman.  The episode, “Just a girl in the world” (season 20, episode 2), featured the character Emma Kim, an Asian American journalist who reports being attacked by a cab driver.  It is later revealed that Kim reported a false claim in order to throw off detectives from their investigation into the murder of Daisy Chao, an Asian American Crime Scene Unit investigator whose dead body (discovered by her white fiancé) is shown in the opening scenes.

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Watching what we’re up against: Challenges facing anti-militarization activism in the post-civil rights era

April 14, 2010 1 comment

Watching what we’re up against: Challenges facing anti-militarization activism in the post-civil rights era

Tamara K. Nopper

April 14, 2010

At the end of February of this year I had the opportunity to participate in a panel called “Beyond 28 days: Testimonies of Black resistance and war.”  As panelists, we were asked to comment on two films that had been shown at the event, both of which explored the impact of war on communities.  The first, No Vietnamese ever called me n****r, is a documentary released in 1968 that flows back and forth between interviewing African Americans who are either participating in or observing an anti-war feeder march of Harlem residents toward the United Nations office in New York and an interview with three young Black male veterans who discuss their experiences in the military, the unfulfilled promises of military service, their concern for the Vietnamese people affected by the war, and their commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and Black humanity.  The second was a 2006 youth-created film titled A military education: Youth and the cost of war, which explores contemporary military recruitment strategies and youth resistance.

The request to relate our comments to the film fit perfectly with what I had wanted to talk about that evening: the challenges facing those of us who are both anti-war and anti-military in the post-civil rights era.  Specifically, I am interested in what obstacles we face as a movement seeking to counter the appeal of military service.    I am not the first, of course, to think about this issue, as several anti-war organizations, whether defunct or still operating, have emphasized and challenged the U.S. military’s promise of “good” jobs and educational benefits after the tour of duty is completed.  Along with simply being moved by the footage of resistance, what stood out to me the most about the two films was how they represented two extremely different approaches to military resistance.  While No Vietnamese showed political opposition to the Vietnam War—as well as to the U.S. government and the socially enforced racial hierarchy— A military education was a film typical to today’s political culture.  No Vietnamese expressed raw political opposition whereas the second one was trapped in the professionalization of political critique, with no one taking too explicit of a stand against military enlistment.  Additionally, No Vietnamese’s footage involved people literally being asked on the street what they thought of the war and the anti-war march that they were either participating in or observing whereas A military education allowed for a diversity of voices, including one white college professor who emphasized the potential of military service for civic engagement and a Black woman military recruiter who discussed the purpose of her work.  This is not to suggest that A military education was pro-war, per se, as scenes of the military recruiter in action talking to a young person considering enlistment were juxtaposed with commentary by anti-war activists, including one of my former colleagues from The Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), an organization for which I had volunteered and that was kind enough to give me an activist home for several years.

A military education, while inherently a valuable project, nevertheless illustrates the current obstacles facing anti-military activists.  While some might think it unfair to critically engage a youth-made project, I think it is useful to consider how A military education represents the current political environment in which anti-militarization activists attempt to voice opposition to the military state.  More, the approach to military resistance shown in the film is similar to that found in most documentaries and short films made by both established and neophyte filmmakers.  Specifically, the popularity of this approach to anti-military work is indicative of what we’re up against.

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Model minorities versus Black (reverse) racists: Blacks, Asian Americans, & South Philadelphia High

December 21, 2009 9 comments

Model minorities versus Black (reverse) racists: Blacks, Asian Americans, & South Philadelphia High

Tamara K. Nopper

December 18, 2009

As a resident of Philadelphia and an Asian American concerned with and engaged in research and writing about Black-Asian relations, I have been following Asian American students’ recent boycott of South Philadelphia High School after almost 30 of them were purportedly physically attacked by a group of Black and Asian students on December 3, 2009. The whole situation makes me sad.  Yet I’m concerned with how Black people are being implicated by some of the media reporting and political support for the students.  Specifically, I am concerned with how some are taking advantage of the situation to promote the all too popular and white supremacist charge of Black reverse racism, even when some of the alleged perpetrators have been identified as Asian American.  In the following I explore the image of Black reverse racism and how some non-Blacks have used this to marshal support for their causes.  I also consider how the Asian American students at South Philadelphia High are being depicted by some of the media and supporters as model minorities in opposition to Black criminals and reverse racists.

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