STAFF LETTER: Statement of Solidarity with Black Liberation Struggles

Published in lieu of an editorial letter for Issue #16, “VERTEX 角”

What does “Yellow Peril supports Black Power” really mean? The sign was originally held by Japanese-American Black Panther Party member Richard Aoki at a late 1960s ‘Free Huey’ protest. The slogan, then, must be contextualised as part of a radical anti-capitalist and militantly communist tradition, born from revolutionary demands for material change that united people across race and class lines around the globe. At the same time, there is evidence that Aoki may have been an informant for the FBI, and this must also be a reminder that ‘Yellow’ people can easily be complicit with white supremacy and anti-Blackness.

In this electrifying moment of global resistance against fascism and for the abolition of the prison-industrial complex, the Sino diaspora must meaningfully and radically engage with Black liberation. Solidarity is hard work, a constantly evolving process — as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang stated in ‘Decolonisation is not a metaphor’ (2012), “Solidarity is an uneasy, reserved, and unsettled matter that neither reconciles present grievances nor forecloses future conflict.” In our community- and coalition-building, we must always remember that there is no true liberation of any kind without the destruction of capitalist exploitation!

Non-Black people of color have emphasised ‘having conversations with our communities’ during this period; but this entails fully understanding the role we play. ‘Yellow’ people have always occupied an ambiguous position within the colonial construct of race, and our shifting status in Western society highlights the very instability of Black/white binaries, as well as racial capitalism’s imperialist roots.

During Apartheid, South Africans descended from Chinese shopkeepers and miners were marginalised as ‘Colored’, whereas those who had recently arrived from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan were deemed ‘honorary whites’ and afforded all social privileges — why? Because the latter group were investors who furnished South Africa with a lucrative trade in luxury goods; they literally had higher value. Chinese-ness itself was peculiar throughout this period: the Chinese were a kind of model minority, wherein a sense of Confucian cultural richness served as political leverage over other ‘Colored’ populations. This meant that from 1985, Chinese South Africans were allowed to buy land in historically white areas without permits. But they never fully assimilated into whiteness, either: when, in the 1970s, the South African government proposed re-classifying the Chinese community as ‘white’, the group rejected it on the basis that it would force them to ‘lose’ that unique Chinese culture.

Indeed, what is whiteness? American historian Noel Ignatiev analysed this construct in How the Irish Became White (1995): “While their white skin made the Irish eligible for membership in the white race, it did not guarantee their admission; they had to earn it.” Irish-Americans ‘earned’ their whiteness by participating in anti-Blackness — exemplified in the 1863 New York City Draft Riots, when Irish workers who were subject to the Civil War draft attacked Black workers who they felt would steal their jobs. Modern racial dynamics operate on a ‘fulcrum’ of anti-Blackness. Otherized European migrants in the United States made a conscious decision to buy into the status of ‘white’. In doing so, they implicitly accepted the homogenisation (white-washing) of their diverse ethnic origins. As James Baldwin wrote in ‘On Being White… And Other Lies’ (1984), “America became white […] because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation. […] And in this debasement and definition of Black people, they debased and defined themselves.”

So could Sino people, one day, become white in this same way? As Ellen D. Wu examined, Sino-American identity in the 20th century operated on two intertwined levels: from ‘Yellow Peril’ (not-white) to ‘model minority’ (not-Black). But Sino-American communities actively shaped this latter patriotic identity in the postwar era by going to great lengths to prove that they held no allegiance to Chinese communism; their ability to straddle Western and Eastern affinities during the Cold War helped negotiate their entry into citizenship. Even today, as long as Western nations retain geopolitical interests in the Sinosphere, the Sino diaspora will always be marked as foreign. During a more radical time, Third Worldist anti-Vietnam war activists recognised the potency of foreign identity, with Patsy Chan announcing at the 1971 San Francisco Peace Rally that “the vicious imperialism which seeks to commit total genocide against the proud people of Indochina is the same imperialism which oppresses those of us here in the US by creating dehumanising conditions in our Asian communities, barrios, black ghettos and reservations.”

In the decades since, our world has gotten far more complex. ‘Internationalism’ now conjures up something more like neoliberal globalisation: World Bank/Coca-Cola; IMF/Airbnb; United Nations/Amazon; hyper-capitalist conglomerations playing friendly chess with each other on some galaxy-brain dimension while we squabble over who to vote for. No existing nation-state or international organ is here to save us; we can only help ourselves. The fight for Black liberation is the fight for collective liberation. The future is in our hands. Do we want to achieve ‘representation’ in an evil, white supremacist global system, an effort enthusiastically spearheaded by American diasporics via Peter Liang, Andrew Yang, and anti-Affirmative Action rhetoric?

Or do we want to dismantle it all?

— sin0 team