As the Republican presidential candidate race heated up, Donald Trump's electioneering veered ever nearer to the kind of populist illiberal democratic politicians that have begun cropping up all over Eastern Europe. His most recent affront was to Muslims, but because his rhetoric has become so polarizing and inflammatory, it seems to have been forgotten that Trump started on this path with hostility to China even going so far as to use a mocking Asian accent at one of his rallies. Not wanting to be outdone, Jeb Bush jumped onto the bandwagon by clarifying that Asian anchor babies are less desirable than Hispanic ones - a sentiment which I took as a major disavowal (a.k.a "go fuck yourself") of the legitimacy and sensibilities of the Asian vote.
Of course, Trump and Bush received the most attention for their comments, but other candidates have also veered into xenophobia-tinged campaigning. Starting with democratic presidential hopeful, Hilary Clinton - who initiated this election season's sinophobic rhetoric with her outburst about Chinese hackers, and Carly Fiorina who seems to just dislike Asians and views them as cognitively deficient. All of this is unsurprising to me since I have come to expect a rise in anti-Asian rhetoric at election time, and was not surprised by the cynical and unapologetic use of it by presidential hopefuls on all sides of the political spectrum.
From the perspective of Asian-American progressivism, Trump's words especially are of particular interest. Criticizing companies that hire through H-1B visas, he argues that wages should be raised for those employed in these jobs so as to discourage companies from hiring from overseas and, in so doing, boost opportunities for American workers in the field - particularly blacks and Hispanics. The key point here is that the H-1B visa program has opened the door for many Asian immigrants to gain a foothold in America and go on to apply for residency and ultimately citizenship. Thus, encouraging companies to hire Americans implicitly closes a key avenue of immigration for Asians. To me, this is obviously an attempt to pit minorities against one another.
As I have pointed out in a couple of previous posts - here and here - there seems to be a correlatİon between Asian-American progressive discourse and conservative racist posturing, in which conservatives, coincidentally, come up with ideas about Asians that are remarkably similar to those invented and propagated by Asian progressives. In a too-good-to-be-true series of coincidences, white conservative commentators have taken to adopting language remarkably similar to that used by grandstanding Asian progressives who decry "Asian privilege" and make wild, unsubstantiated accusations of racism committed by their own community.
White conservatives have borrowed the claims of grandstanding Asian progressives as a means to defend against charges of white racism - reasoning that, surely, if Asians have privilege then white racism is exaggerated! Even more troubling is that liberals are beginning to adopt a similar practice as evidenced by Bill Maher's recent claim that Hollywood racism can be explained by Asian racism - a claim echoing by the Asian progressive accusations via the liberal media of rampant "anti-blackness" in Asian communities.
Trump's racially polemic scheming on the H-1B visa program voices similar sentiments to those voiced by Asian progressives who view Asian success in education and the tech industry as an act of complicity in anti-black racism. According to these commentators, it is out of unadulterated anti-black racist spite that Asian-Americans pursue higher education and careers in tech. By merely participating in things like the pursuit of a degree, or a job in a field that interests you - like in the tech industry - Asians are upholding white supremacy, and are, thus, complicit in it. Likewise, Trump is also implying that Asian immigration disadvantages blacks and Hispanics.
It follows as a matter of common sense that if - as Asian progressives insist - Asian success in tech is implicitly disadvantageous to blacks, and that Asians are consciously colluding in a process of racial discrimination against blacks, then barriers should be put up that discourage Asian participation in tech and stop the H-1B visa avenue of Asian immigration. After all, who wants to let a bunch of rampant Asian racists into the country whose career choices are implicitly racist?
It could be a mere coincidence that Trump's bizarre and specific focus on the tech industry coincides with Asian progressive condemnations of the Asian presence in the field - yet the very fact that Trump was so specific about the tech industry gives me reason for pause. It strikes me as extremely unreasonably fortuitous that a presidential candidate would draw attention to the hiring practices of the tech industry - it is so out of left field (no pun) that I am left asking why the specific focus on tech? The only other people making any political issue about Asians in tech are Asian progressives. Trump is expressing pretty much the exact sentiments of "unfairness" that Asian progressives claim, but he is taking it to its logical conclusion - exclude immigrants (many of whom are Asian) from the industry.
But that is the natural consequence of pushing the idea that high Asian participation in higher education and the tech industry are acts of flagrant anti-black racism - following this flawed reasoning to its logical conclusion, any achievements made by Asian-Americans, by definition, disadvantage blacks. That is as clear of an anti-immigrant sentiment as it can get - and it is Asian progressives who are pushing the idea on American society.
That is not only dangerous it actually echoes the anti-Asian rhetoric of eras past, that brought about a decades-long campaign of anti-Asian pogroms and attempts to expel Asian communities from America both through legal or violent means. Our progressive friends have seemingly laid the foundation for a new era of Asian exclusion and even - if Trump has his way - expulsion of some immigrants amidst the closing down of a major avenue of Asian immigration.
The question is though, is it reasonable to wonder whether self-righteous Asian progressive rhetoric is informing white America's defence of its own racist attitudes? I think that the evidence is compelling that white America - particularly conservatives are appropriating Asian progressive rhetoric to stigmatize the Asian community, stereotype their attitudes, and use progressives' claims about Asians to defend their own racist attitudes and deflect attention away from it.
For instance, the term "Asian privilege" seems to have been coined by Asian progressives over the past few years and was never - as far as I know - part of conservative America's lexicon. Yet, such luminaries as Gavin McInnes, Bill O'Reilly, and Adam Corrolla have all borrowed the term and concept to defend against charges of white racism. The idea of a culture of rampant Asian racism is another (unsubstantiated) claim made by Asian progressives and recently we have seen Dylan Roof adopting this concept, and Bill Maher using the idea to defend Hollywood against the charge of racism.
Where on earth could these guys be getting the idea of Asian privilege and the notion of an attitude of rampant, identity-defining anti-black racism? As far as I know, there are no reasons to view Asians - particularly Asian-Americans - as especially racist such that their characters and cultures can be defined by it, and the notion of Asian privilege is merely a philosophical generalization. That leaves the anti-Asian rhetoric spewed out by Asian progressives as the likely source of these white attitudes, that enables defenders of the racial status quo to make reasonable arguments to support their claims.
These ideas were never part of America's political dialogue, yet suddenly, after five or so years of Asian progressives making repeated assertions about Asian privilege, and Asian anti-blackness we now see a commonplace adoption of this rhetoric by white commentators to defend white racism. Most importantly, the specific notion that Asian success carries with it an implicit disadvantage to blacks - and that Asians enter the tech industry or seek higher education out of racist spite - is an invention of Asian progressives.
Anil Dash writing on the "Medium" platform has this to say...
...one conclusion that is inescapable: Asian American men who work in tech are benefitting from tech’s systematic exclusion of women and non-Asian minorities.He continues....
One of the most destructive tropes about Asian Americans is the pervasive myth of the “model minority”.......And this myth is all too often embraced within Asian American communities, making us complicit in systems of exclusion, even though we know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of those same systems.The problems in these two snippets are manifold. Dash provides no evidence that this "exclusion" is "systematic" nor that it is even real - the statistics that he cites could reflect the availability of potential recruits, meaning that hiring could be a reflection of the make-up of those who actually apply as opposed to any deliberate policy of exclusion. Given the lack of meaningful evidence for any kind of conspiracy that excludes non-Asians and women, and the lack of evidence for the existence of a policy of discrimination against these groups, Dash's accusation that Asian men "benefit" from this unsubstantiated inequality has no merit. Furthermore, one would have to also answer the question of why Asian men are so privileged that these white racists tech companies would prefer them over other white men. It just makes no sense.
Sadly, Dash falls back on the blandly overused, but under substantiated assertion that Asian-Americans embrace the idea of the model minority and that this shows their complicity in anti-blackness. A previous post shows that this is not necessarily the case. As I wrote here, there is good evidence that shows that white people who believe the model minority stereotype also hold corresponding positive attitudes towards other minorities. Why, then, should I believe that Asians would adopt (or implicitly adopt) negative attitudes towards other minorities if they embrace the model minority stereotype?
The problem here is that Dash presumes that all Asians are familiar with the one or two articles that were published in the 1960's that made comparisons between Asians and black minorities and he also presumes that in the present when white people refer to Asians as a model minority, that they are by definition being anti-black. To most Asians the model minority myth may well mean only that Asians are a hard-working community and not necessarily that this implicitly denigrates blacks. That is merely an inflammatory progressive invention. Unfortunately, Dash is not the only one casting aspersions on Asian-Americans.
Writing on the African-American blog "BlackGirlDangerous", another Asian anti-anti-blackness-Messiah-hopeful (Ally Ang) adds fuel to the anti-Asian-sentiment-fire with this unsubstantiated gem....
The harsh truth is that even though we experience racism in deeply painful and traumatic ways, we are settlers on stolen land just like white people. This nation would not exist without the enslavement and subjugation of black people, and we as Asian Americans have often been complicit in the continuation of their oppression..............In two of the earliest Supreme Court cases regarding the citizenship of people of color, the plaintiffs argued that as Japanese and Indian Americans respectively, they were both closer to whiteness than Black or Indigenous people, and they were therefore more suited to be American citizens than other racial minorities. For many years, Asian Americans have attempted to claim whiteness and “model minority” status, often throwing black people under the bus along the way.Ang's self-righteous indignation and moral grandstanding is cloying, not to mention morally suspect. The first issue is that Ang suggests that the very presence of Asians in the US is an implicit reinforcement of white racism - which is silly. I could argue the point, but since Ang does not bother making a meaningful argument and merely asserts her claims, that would give her charges more credence than they deserve. It is the sentiment that is important here - Asians are complicit merely because of the fact of their presence.
The second issue - and this is slightly off topic - is that she looks down her self-righteous nose at the actions of people who lived at a time when everyone (even those with black heritage) was trying to pass for white. Her moral condemnation of people who lived under circumstances that we cannot even come close to imagining is simply sickening because it is so obviously a self-serving attempt to elevate her own delusion of moral superiority.
Another piece written by jazz musician Vijay Iyer, implies a similar embrace of white supremacy by Asians merely via the act of succeeding...
Whether you attribute it to some mysterious triple package or to your own Horatio Alger story, to succeed in America is, somehow, to be complicit with the idea of America—which means that at some level you’ve made peace with its rather ugly past.I grant that Iyer's piece is more sophisticated and nuanced than some others that I have read, but even in this case, the theme of an implicit disadvantage for blacks when Asians succeed creeps in. It should be mentioned that everyone has to make peace with America's ugly past - if they did not, they would leave or withdraw from the game - the problem with Iyer's claim is that he conflates America's past with the "idea of America", and concludes, nonsensically, that to embrace one is to accept the other.
Over and over again, we see Asian progressives asserting or implying that Asians succeed at the expense of blacks and, worse, that this success is achieved with sneaky complicity and collusion with white racism. Of course, none of these assertions are ever supported by evidence of any kind, and at best, Asian progressives will gift us with a personal anecdote to buttress their claims.
Given the ubiquity of these kinds of articles, it is far from unreasonable to consider the adoption of similar rhetoric by white conservatives and right-wingers as connected in some way, after all, they didn't start bringing all of these ideas into their dialogue until Asian progressives started spewing it first. The problem is that if our Asian advocates are correct in their claims, then Donald Trump is justified in seeking to limit Asians in tech by abolishing the H-1B visa program and Jeb Bush is correct to question things like Asian anchor babies as being specifically detrimental to America - after all, even though Hispanic anchor babies are more numerous, no one is claiming that the mere presence of Hispanics in this country is implicitly disadvantageous to blacks.