Black/Non-Black Divide and The Anti-Blackness of Non-Black Minorities

Black/Non-Black Divide and The Anti-Blackness of Non-Black Minorities

Still Furious and Brave: Who’s Afraid of Persistent Blackness?

Robert Reece
Department of Sociology
Duke University

Last week, an Asian-American fraternity at the University of California Irvine posted a parody of a music video featuring one of their members in blackface. Blackface has become the go-to type of public racism for many types of white people across the political spectrum, and the internet is overflowing with analyses of why it’s racist so I won’t bother with that here. My concern is that an Asian-American fraternity is the culprit this time and what that may mean as we enter an era where our racial boundaries may be shifting as dramatically as the racial demographics.

I’m certainly not surprised that an Asian-American fraternity harbors racial stereotypes, both about themselves and other minorities. White supremacy is partially rule by consent, with subordinate groups believing in their own pathology (I’m looking at you Bill Cosby), but I think this incident, in this moment, deserves much more attention.

Proclamations by demographers about the coming white minority are used by both liberals and conservatives to promise inevitable political change. Liberals discuss how minorities outnumbering whites will signal as intense power shift in politics that will usher in an unprecedented age of progress and liberalism, and conservatives fear that they will lose their country to the brown hoards resting just over the horizon. But sociologist George Yancey, in Who is White?, questions the very demographers claiming that a white minority is certain. Yancey argues that demographers cannot account for shifting racial boundaries when making their predictions. So while their raw numbers may be correct, their racial predictions are probably incorrect because racial categories are always changing…

…This is the phenomenon at play when an Asian American fraternity implicitly approves of an act of anti-black racism. And this isn’t an isolated incident of negative black attitudes. In Racism Without Racists, sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva presents survey results showing that Asian American political attitudes, including those regarding stereotypes of blacks, are very similar to those of whites. On some items, Asian Americans even demonstrated stronger anti-black attitudes than whites. In this way, they are following in the footsteps of other formerly marginalized groups who demonized blackness on their way to whiteness.

In The Wages of Whiteness, historian David Roediger chronicles how the newly immigrated Irish of the 19th century made a strategic decision to pit themselves against blacks despite their acknowledgement of a common oppressor. They essentially built their case for inclusion into whiteness on the back of their anti-black attitudes. Anti-black racism was the glue that bound white ethnics to whiteness, and it may serve a similar purpose as our current racial project progresses. In the case of the Irish, their attitudes eventually manifested in an emulation of whiteness, in committing mob violence against blacks. But in 2013, popular violence against blacks doesn’t come in the form of gruesome beatings in the streets (police brutality notwithstanding); it comes in the form of YouTube videos of fraternity boys in blackface that, just like the mob violence of the 19th century, goes unpunished by authorities.

Read the entire article here.

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