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ASU Professor Explains 'Interracial Racism' And The History Between Asian And Black Americans

LAUREN GILGER: It might seem like a year ago at this point with the election in between, but just last week, a viral video out of Scottsdale highlighted the racial divide that can happen between minority groups. Scottsdale man Paul Ng approached a Black man, Andre Abram, as he was preparing to shoot a music video in Old Town Scottsdale, and he questioned what he was doing there. Ng told Abram, quote, "I am a racist." And he told him that he shouldn't be there. He was arrested after the incident for disorderly conduct. It brought to light what our next guest calls interracial racism and the long, complicated history of racial tensions between Asian Americans and African Americans. Karen Kuo is an associate professor of Asian Pacific American Studies in ASU's School of Social Transformation. And I spoke with her more about this. We began with some history. Through a lot of American history, there was actually solidarity between these two minority groups.

KAREN KUO: Yeah, I mean, I think that when we look at these videos and other media clips that sort of exploit, you know, this interracial conflict is that it really does hide the solidarity that has occurred historically between Asian Americans and African Americans. And we can even go so far as back as W.E.B. Dubois writing his book about the 'Dark Princess,' which is a South Asian woman married to a Black man. And of course, many of my students often don't have any idea that Asian Americans were hugely participatory, not only in the civil rights movement, but were active in the Black Power movement as well. Two very well-known activists, Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama, who were Black Panthers and part of the Black Power movement, as well. Yuri Kochiyama actually cradled Malcolm X's head when he was shot, even though the movie actually shows otherwise. So there is a very rich history of Asian Americans and African Americans. But I think the important thing to sort of understand, too, is that, you know, racism is, is endemic to every sector of our society. And in fact, white supremacy, rather than seeing the conflicts between ethnic minorities, is what sort of underscores, you know, these sort of behaviors and ideologies. And so when we think of it that way, we can sort of see how Asian Americans have been historically also been asked and in various ways to participate in white supremacy and anti-blackness. So that during the civil rights movement, while you had Asian Americans participating in it with Blacks and Native Americans and Latinx people, they were also being upheld as the racial model minorities. They had experienced a lot of racism because of immigration exclusion acts against them, taking away of their citizenship. A lot of these things people don't actually know about Asian Americans and immigrants. But they were told that they were, they somehow overcame all this and they became successful. And so they're asked in certain ways to sort of participate in upholding the sort of image that the U.S. is colorblind and a meritocracy and rewards them regardless of what has happened to them. And this also is a way to sort of chastise the so-called, quote unquote, "bad minorities" who are militant or who are not going to, you know, go along with the status quo. And so this is where this racial triangulation then between Blacks and whites and African and Asian Americans occurs, where one group, Asian Americans in this case, are given opportunities to participate in anti-blackness and white supremacy.

GILGER: So this is something that that's been a pattern and sort of exacerbated by white supremacy, it sounds like, a the same time that you also saw solidarity between these two groups. Does it still persist today?

KUO: Yeah, I think we see both of it. I think there's always been tensions throughout, you know, in every sort of decade. Right now, what we're seeing with the protests of Black Lives Matter, I know that a lot of Asian Americans sort of came out to speak about the participation of, you know, the Hmong police officer who just sort of stood by and watched George Floyd be beaten by the police. And many came out sort of to say, "You know, look, we're Asian Americans. We do not condone this. And yes, we admit there's, there's racism in our communities." And that, of course, is very real. And I like to also bring this up with my students. During the 1992 L.A. uprising, Korean Americans were asked, you know, "Why are you so racist towards African Americans? What are they doing?" And many of them gave a very surprising answer to a lot of white Americans, which is, "Well, we got a lot of American TV and every time we watched American TV, Back people were shown as criminals or thugs or, you know, militant. And so this is the impression we had — the U.S. exported its racism to us and this is what we came with."

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