Thursday, May 12th, 2005

Are Asians and Latinos Just A Different Kind of White?

Tamara Nopper reviews George Yancey’s sure-to-be-controversial new book. Much more on this to come…

UPDATE: Check comments below for more links and discussion.

posted by @ 9:20 am | 109 Comments

109 Responses to “Are Asians and Latinos Just A Different Kind of White?”

  1. Oliver says:


    You misread my comment. I didn’t say that Tamara’s question was either racist or stupid.

    What I said was that her question presumed that Asians into hip-hop were racist and stupid.

    And I’d be happy to post my question to my blog but seriously, I’d be a little scared as to the answers that most of them would float out. Jeff’s readership, from what I’ve seen, tends to be a bit smarter on race issues than my readers.

  2. ronnie brown says:

    The presumption that Asians (or any other white/non-black group)into Hip-Hop were racist and stupid was what i was referring to…sorry i didn’t make that clear.

    In regard to posing your question to your readership, your anxiety about the responses that may come forth would seem to prove the point i was trying to make; that it IS possible to indulge with great fervor the cultural phenomenon that is Hip-Hop (or jazz, blues, R&B for that matter) without having a corresponding respect for the people who brought it into existence.

    You may feel like your readership is not up to the challenge, but it’s a conversation that has to take place; the music conference, the clasroom, wherever…

    If not, any talk about forming “coalitions” is just spittin’ in the wind, no?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think that Oliver Wang’s interpretation of my question is hyperbolic at best and racist at worst. It attempts to treat the question as not a real or substantial question that is at best, misleading and confused. But it is a genuine question that is open to anyone to consider and one that of course Black people have been raising for a long time. The fact that many of these questions are indeed old questions, reveals not so much the trite nature of academic or intellectual work, but more so that they have yet to be substantially dealt with in real and meaningful ways from non-Blacks.

    More, I think that the way in which hip hop is talked about reveals in many ways the problematic ways in which people are willing to see anything Black consumed and will defend or “explain it” by saying that is the nature of cultural consumption/commodification, which is NOT a natural or inevitable process but becomes so when we treat it as such. However, why is it that when Asian Americans feel that their “culture” is being transgressed or disrespected, suddenly the boundaries of culture are real and should be respected? Why is it that anti-globalization movement activists can simultaneously defend boundaries and borders and the sanctity of culture AND use hip hop or appropriate slogans and slangs from Black people to do it and defend it by using a pro-capitalist and pro-globalization commentary? The rhetoric of pro-globalizationists and pro-capitalists is one in which no boundaries will deter consumption. This is not to suggest that everyone who has participated in this conversation on this blog is part of the anti-globalization movement but it is to point out some seeming contradictions that are common among the left.

    Kenyon Farrow, an activist and writer in NY, addresses these issues in his piece “We Real Cool?: On Hip-hop, Asian-Americans, Black Folks, and Appropriation”

    In Farrow’s piece, Oliver Wang is mentioned. In other spaces, Wang has attempted to discount what Farrow has said by arguing that Farrow is misrepresenting what he is saying or that he never said what Farrow said he did. It is problematic that a non-Black has to legitimize a Black person’s argument, but I was there at the event that Farrow writes about and what Farrow says happened indeed did.

    Tamara K. Nopper

  4. Oliver says:


    80% of what Kenyon had to say in that essay are either points that I completely agree with, or at least, think are valid for debate. However, the remainder of his essay was a blatant (and uncalled for) ad hominem attack on me.

    I never wrote a single disparaging thing about Kenyon prior to him writing the “We Real Cool” essay but in that piece, he goes after me on a level that belittling and unprofessional. After 13+ years at UC Berkeley, I know that many activists treat the concept of “civility” as so much bullshit, but Kenyon’s pettiness was hardly warranted.

    As for my reaction to your question: to ask a question that’s worded as, “why do [insert ethnic group here] do [insert activity here]?” is rather hyperbolic itself since it exaggerates the issue as to flatten any differences.

    At the very least, it’s not the kind of critically precise language which such an important question would demand. At worst, it’s makes troubling presumptions about entire communities, Asian or otherwise.

    As for whether cultural consumption is “natural” – I never used that term. “Inevitable” is more open to debate. Not to get all Adorno up in here, but within the logic of capitalism and a mercantile democracy, once any cultural form enters into the modern mediascape, it’s commodification is practically impossible to prevent so long as there is a desire out there for it. (See my next post, following this one).

    What we can do, however, is problematize it and I think you, I, Jeff, Ronnie, and many, many others have done our share to attempt to crtique the process in which commodification happens and the negative consequences as such.

    Now this is where I think we crucially differ and please correct me if I misrepresent your views here:

    Your priority seems to me to be to focus on naming the problem. I’m not just thinking about what you’ve written here, but also that essay you circulated about Asian American rapper and spoken word artists. Personally, I don’t agree with all the conclusions you draw in that essay, but I agree with some of the core points you’re trying to make clear, especially around the peril of what one might call “non-strategic anti-essentialism” though I’m fairly certain you didn’t use that term.

    I don’t think we need to rehash what those perils are (and believe it or not Tamara, but I’m probably far closer in agreement to many of your views than you might presume). Suffice to say though, uncritical appropriation and adoption of cultural forms can often times unwittingly replicate hierachies of power and social inequalities even though, on the surface, one might think the syncretism is wholly positive.

    I freely admit – in some of my previous writing and work, I could have stated this more clearly and perhaps my mistake is that I too easily presumed that everyone else out there knows that un-strategic anti-essentialism = bad.

    However, my main focus these days is still on what I wrote earlier: how do find ways to turn popular culture forms into transformative tools that help build meaningful (i.e. non-exploitative) relationships betwen communities.

    In my experience with scholars, critics, activists, etc., naming the problem is something we excel at (getting people to listen? Not so easy). But my question is: ok, what comes after naming the problem? These are, as Ronnie said, the $64,000 questions. Maybe that’s why I’m not really struck by Yancey’s points (well, that and I disagree with some of his basic assumptions): I’m far more interested to know what he thinks “we” should do with his ideas. Is he advocating for Black liberation movement people to treat Latinos and Asians are competitors rather than allies? Is he suggesting that we need greater outreach between communities to rebuild commonalities lost to the seduction of honorary white status?

    Back to hip-hop: I agree with you Tamara, there’s many Asian American youth out there who adopt hip-hop without also adopting a firm commitment to building relationships with African Americans. In simpler terms: they like the style, just not the people. And yes, this is incredibly problematic, not just morally speaking, but it does no service to help improve relations between communities have so much emnity already stored up.

    Can hip-hop become a tool that can transform this one way, one-sided relationship? And if so, how?


  5. Oliver says:

    One more thing about hip-hop and commodification:

    A colleague of mine who does ethnography on hip-hop artists pointed out to me that the actual PRODUCERS of hip-hop music almost never complain about hip-hop’s diverse appeal. The cliche (which isn’t to say that it isn’t true to them) is, “I want my music to be heard by everyone.”

    I’m not at all briging this up to negate the ways in which we can or should problematize some of what’s going on with that appeal (i.e. the fetishiziation of black masculinity, et. al.) nor its limitations (the oft-mentioned “I’ll buy your record but I won’t sit next to you on the bus”).

    What I think this points out though is that hip-hop’s complicity with capitalism happened the moment Sylvia Robinson decided to put out “Rapper’s Delight” – itself as blatant an attempt at “manufactured authenticity” as you could imagine – and hip-hop went from being a dying street culture on Bronx blocks to something people could actually put into physical form (i.e. commodities like records or cassettes or shoes, etc.) That crucial moment is when hip-hop didn’t begin so much as was reborn – but importantly, it was reborn THROUGH capital, not despite it.

    Therefore, if hip-hop’s commodification is “inevitable” then, maybe it’s because its public face was only made possible through capitalist modes of distribution, which, once entered, strikes a Faustian bargain that cannot be reneged on. The genie doesn’t move backwards, only to the east, blackwards (apologies to X-Clan).

    The legacy of that today is how, as I noted, even those rappers who rail against rampant consumerism and cultural co-optation: they still want their albums to sell. How can you hope to stop commodification in the face of those kinds of contradictions?

    Moreover, if hip-hop is seen as a repoistory and signifier of black public culture, that’s only come into our common awareness vis-a-vis the machinery of capital. When kids were throwing park jams alongside the Bronx River in ’76, it’s not as if hip-hop, as a cultural form, existed in other black communities simultaneously. That only happened when hip-hop became an object that other black youth – from the projects to the ‘burbs – were able to acquire and circulate – along with everyone else. And like I said, once that happened, it’s not as if you could selectively dictate who could “be down” and who couldn’t, not with any real authority at least.

    So, if we’re really going to name the problem, we can’t just point at the consumer and say, “wrong!” You’d also have to include, in that critique, every participant who abetted hip-hop’s distribution and proliferation: from Sylvia Robinson to DJ Red Alert to Crazy Legs to Russell Simmons as well as Martha Cooper, Rick Rubin, and Lyor Cohen (just to name a tiny, tiny handful).

    In other words, if it’s morally right to problematize the ways in which people consume hip-hop un-critically, it’s also necessary to include producers into that critique as well. And I think, in doing so, one would develop a far more nuanced understanding of how hip-hop functions in American society.

    I got one more thing to add about what the question of hip-hop and “deracialization” but the baby’s fussing. Gotta run.

    And hey – where did Jeff go? I want to hear his two cents on all this.

  6. Anonymous says:

    interesting… i’d like to hear more about this. debate on~!… gtg class.

  7. ronnie brown says:

    you’d think after all these posts there would be more individuals who would attempt to answer the question : “Are Asians and Latinos just a different kind of white?”

    well…are they?

  8. Oliver says:


    Answer = no.

  9. ronnie brown says:

    A question that has yet to go beyond the confines of this blog into the public discourse cannot be answered with such certainty…unless you are just referring to yourself, of course.

    it’s a hard question; cuts right to the bone.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Nopper says:

    “Contrary to the popular image of blacks as racially restrictive, Yancey discovers that black respondents are the most open to all other races.”


    “he labels a white racial identity, which, according to the sociologist, emphasizes individualism, color-blindness or an aversion to dealing with race, and a belief in European cultural normativity.”

    At first I thought there was some contradiction here, maybe not, could someone explain this to me?… Aren’t black people exhibiting these traits more and more often?

    Also, when did anti-capitalism become essential to being black? Sounds like pretty imaginative idealism to me.


  11. Anonymous says:

    speaking on the behalf of my asian people, more specifically Chinese people, I’d say no. Why, no? Having taken Chinese history courses (@ a UC), how historians took down history and deemed things as Chinese, one must adopt customs/culture to BE Chinese. Essentially, one can be of Chinese descent but one can be viewed as Non-Chinese because one is not actively BEing Chinese. From the Shang Dynasty to Qing Dynasty, there have been about only 5-6 ethnic Chinese Dynasty, the rest (about 12) where non-ethnic Chinese rule. But why did we (Chinese folks) take them down and deemed them (non-ethnic Chinese folks) as the ‘sons of Heaven’. It is because the conquerors adopted our culture/customs to the extend to be deemed as “Chinese”. Since I haven’t (nor do I now desire to read Yancey’s book cuz, as the kids say, “ain’t feelin it”) I do not know how he defines ‘whiteness’ but speaking for the people, being Chinese is the sh!t.
    my two cents

  12. Anonymous says:

    “how historians took down history “
    *Chinese Historians that is


  13. Anonymous says:

    Ronnie- “A question that has yet to go beyond the confines of this blog into the public discourse cannot be answered with such certainty…”
    Yet to go beyond this blog? The question of identity, the color line, and where to place oneself relative to it is CONSTANTLY in a state of being interpreted, and actualized for Asians and Latinos alike. In high school, in college, in the workplace, in the streets, in hip-hop, in prison.

    I’ve been harassed by LAPD, and when responding with my race (mixed Asian) the officers get confused… they wanted me to be what I looked like, Latino, in order to justify classifying me as a gangbanger and car thief right off the bat.

    My afghani friend is sometimes grouped with Chicanos while in the system. Is he ‘just a different kind of Chicano’ because of this? No. In fact that conclusion sounds almost infantile in its simplicity. The way classification is designed in many key points in our society (institutions – from prison to universities) force groups to either remain distinct or meld together based on convenience. My incarcerated friend is not Chicano, but looks more Chicano than Asian, White, or Black, so they put him with the Mexicans in the system. Conversely, at many universities, NYU to use an example, you have a whole office dedicated to the workings of the community of color, grouping Asians and Latinos with Blacks as ‘people of color’. In academia, it serves to keep Whiteness the status quo, and thus all of the minorities are given an office for their own affairs, collectively. (although frats and such remain completely distinct – the Latino frat, the Asian frat, the Black frat, and then the mostly white mixed frats – this hints at the different levels of racial grouping in academic / work life versus social / recreational life).

    Do whites seek to incorporate Asians and Latinos into their sphere of influence when it benefits them or when they see themselves as potentially isolated and vulnerable? yes. Do Asians and Latinos take advantage of the benefits of ‘extended whiteness’ whenever possible? Yes, oftentimes. Does this mean they are ‘just a different kind of white’? No. Stop being ridiculous. This theory is offensive to people like me.

  14. ronnie brown says:


    your question: “Do Asians and Latinos take advantage of the benefits of “extended whiteness” whenever possible?”

    your answer: “Yes, oftentimes.”

    Now, what’s more offensive or ridiculous, the theory of being considered a “different kind of white” or ACTUALLY TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE BENEFITS OF “EXTENDED WHITENESS”???…

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ronnie – You’re misunderstanding me. Racial naivety comes from equating all minorities together, not accepting that it is a reality that Latinos and Asians often enjoy some degree of preference / coddling by whites. Without EVEN REALIZING, at this VERY MOMENT I might be taking advantage of some ‘extended whiteness’, because oftentimes this extends from the side of whites, rather than Asians or Latinos, who have a more clear cut self-realized ethnic identity through socialization (as opposed to whites who are raised with a consciousness of simply being ‘the norm’). I am willing to accept that, despite how I categorize MYSELF, that the status of ‘a different kind of white’ is being applied to me without me even being aware. NOTABLY, IN THIS CASE it is being applied BY AN AFRICAN AMERICAN PROFESSOR. Is it unrealistic to assume that I might also be unknowingly categorized as ‘honorary white’ by whites as well (a phenomenon which Yancey supposedly writes about as an objective observor, rather than a person making his own judgments) and be treated preferentially? Shoot, I can give plenty examples of being labeled, Samoan, Light-Skinned black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and White, all with their own special consequences given the circumstance (believe me white was far from my favorite). I don’t know if you’ve ever sat in an interview and had some white guy physically cross out your name and say ‘we have to anglicize this’, but I for one have experienced that. But hey, I get the ‘honorary black’ thing applied to me too. So ‘call it what you want’.

  16. ronnie brown says:


    I don’t understand the misunderstanding…Acknowledging the fact that Asians and Latinos can and do take advantage of the social spoils “extended whiteness” offers automatically makes one the exception that proves the rule by virtue of the choice one makes.

    For the purposes of being complicit with white supremacy, “white is (honorary or otherwise) as white does”…

  17. Anonymous says:

    ‘white is as white does’ is NOT the protocol of white supremacy, White is something that comes STRICTLY with genetics and birthright in white supremacist doctrines.

    Whatever extending notion of whiteness beyond genetics is really taking place on the side of power structures outward, isn’t it? Isn’t that what defines racism from prejudice: the social power to enforce an attitude economically, socially, politically? Can we realistically say that it is indeed Asians and Latinos making political decisions to alienate Blacks? Really, Yancey is not objective at all about this issue, or he would take into account that Asians and Latinos mostly SEE THEMSELVES as distinct from Whites culturally. Instead he is telling us that Asians and Latinos, despite their cultural differences, are, to him, ‘another type of white’. To me, that’s like a white girl telling me I must be Puerto Rican because I’m too tall to actually be Asian. All types of problematic. It’s a conclusion that is drawn with too little contact made with either community, I feel.

  18. ronnie brown says:


    In an earlier post, i defined whiteness as real or imagined STATUS. When i use the phrase “white is as white does”, i’m sayin
    that anyone who chooses to accept provisional or honorary white status (which includes a conscious decision to not make any personal or political alliances with Black people) is, for all intents and purposes, acting as a white person.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Alright, all is well, then. I agree with you.

  20. Anonymous says:


    Are you suggesting that when Asians and Latinos accept their “honorary and provisional whiteness,” they will be ready to join forces with Black people and eliminate racism?


  21. ronnie brown says:

    Not in the least! It’s when Asians and Latinos can acknowledge that they have been offered and accepted from time to time honorary white status…and are ready to RENOUNCE it. When that becomes a reality, meaningful coalitions among people of color and principled whites won’t seem so far fetched.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I guess then it comes down to how one renounces white status.

    Alas, if only my own whiteness were merely honorary and provisional. 😉

    I guess I can settle for being “principled”.


  23. ronnie brown says:


    some tips from a friend of mine:

  24. Oliver says:


    I was being tongue-in-cheek with my curt reply. I don’t think that, as a whole, the Asian and Latino communities are a different kind of white. Not that I don’t appreciate the nuances to Yancey’s argument but his definition of what “whiteness” entails isn’t the same as mine.

    I’ll try to expound on this more when I have some time.

    But quick Q: while I think we can all agree that the whole of the Black community cannot have honorary whiteness conferred upon it, are there sufficient exceptions to such a rule? In other words, are there any Blacks who possess a “different kind of white” privilege? BTW, I’m not asking in order to say that the exception proves the rule. I just want to know what the rules of whiteness are in this construction.

  25. ronnie brown says:

    Firstly, I would say Asians and Latinos aren’t a “different kind of white” only to the degree that they choose to reject any offers of “honorary white” status.

    Secondly, under this present racist economy, Black people are viewed as PERMANENT opposition. What we are offered is a type of conditional freedom as a OVERSEER, a colonial middleman; a buffer between the Anglo-American ruling class and the Black masses…this is the purpose of the Black elite/”Black Leadership.

    This “leadership” is given one mandate. To discourage the Black masses from seeking any remedy apart from a integration/assimilation model.

    The history of our people in America is written in blood. Those of us who encouraged Black folk to INDEPENDENT struggle with or without allies were marginalized or MURDERED…Marcus Garvey-marginalized, Robert Williams-marginalized, Medgar Evers-murdered, Malcolm X-murdered, Martin Luther King-murdered, Nat Turner-murdered, John Brown-murdered, etc., etc., etc.

    Black leadership/elites for the most part are only interested in “better treatment or opportunity” under the status quo. You will certainly live longer than most.

    I liken it to the family dog chained to a tree in your backyard. You at some point in time may allow more slack in the chain so the dog can move with more freedom in the yard…but the dog is still chained!…the dog is not free!!

  26. ronnie brown says:

    and one more thing Oliver, I finally got around to reading the “We Real Cool?” piece by Kenyon Farrow and your rebuttal. If i had been at that “Changing the Face of The Game, Asian Americans in Hip-Hop” panel discussion, i would have jumped in with both feet just for the title alone…but that’s a discussion for another time…

  27. Oliver says:


    I understand where Kenyon was coming from in regards to the title, but that seems classically mountain-from-molehill. The problem there is that the planners were trying to be too clever (IMO) with some kind of phrase that conveyed “hip hop” yet could also address the issues at hand.

    What I think is worth noting is that if you simply switch the position of a few words and go from “Changing the Face of the Game” to “The Changing Face of the Game” you get two entirely different interpretations. The former is open to Kenyon’s critique: that it expresses a desire (though truly, I don’t think that’s what it was meant to convey). The latter is an observation, presumably value free.

  28. Tracey says:

    What is so funny and depressing about this rich debate is how very limited the range of your discussion. Just like hip-hop polarized itself with east coast/west coast battles, so has this discussion.

    I would strongly suggest to Oliver, Tamara, and Ronnie to come take a trip down south, i.e. NC, SC, TN, AL, GA, etc…in the near future. The issue of race in the South is still clearly defined as strictly black/white, leaving other minority groups scrambling to choose one side or the other.

    As a native Californian living in North Carolina, it’s been my experience and observation that Asians and Latinos in North Carolina, clearly do not view building relationships or coalitions with African Americans as a postive position.

    In fact, the popular positions as impossible as they seem to be are “passing”, “mute neutrality” (no matter how racist or stereotypical the discussion or the action, I pretend not to see it or have an opinion about it) or “quiet invisibility” (as long as no one points out I’m Asian or Latino, I’ll just blend in with the Whites).

    In the southern ivory tower of academia where all minorities are few and far between anyway, this is a devastating stance. I have witnessed my fellow Asian and Latino doctoral and masters students skip classes or remain mute when the classroom discussion or assigned reading were directed as their particular racial group. Yet, when discussions or readings where about African Americans, suddenly voices were regained and everyone had an opinion. Leaving black students, angry, confused, betrayed, and the singular other.

    Recently, at a panel discussion, our campus chapter of Young Republicians spoke out against scholar Cornel West’s on-campus appearance to support his new book “Democracy Matters.” Who was leading the young republians in this protest? Their Latino president with a significant number of Asian students among their membership ranks.

    As a panelist, I found myself wanting to shout to the minorities within this group – “DUDE YOU’RE NOT WHITE and THIS IS THE SOUTH”, but having to remember, I am an instructor and I must support their right to a different opinion. Instead, I asked had they read Dr. West’s book and the none had read the book!!! As a black professor, I was sitting there thinking, you have the nerve to protest one of the leading black public intellectuals without reading his work and you’re an underrepresented minority yourself? I don’t know if this was being “a different kind of white”, but I do know the experience was a different kind of scary.

    I’m not sure if Asians and Latinos want to be white or a diffrent kind of white. In my heart of hearts, such statements are unfair, but I am
    not convinced that these minorities groups don’t view abandoning blacks to stand alone in debates and issues about race as a bad thing.

  29. Tracey says:

    And a special shout-out to Oliver and Jeff, I would love to know your opinion on Jin’s recent “I Quit” mea cupla. Quite frankly, Jin pisses me off. He was down with HOT 97 when they made fun of him for being Asian when he thought it would sell records, then he wanted to be down for his “peeps” when the racist Tsunami song business jumped off. Very contradictory in my book.

    Now he wants to quit hip-hop and become the Asian Mark Walberg? Talk about when the going gets tough the tough get going. Does he really think that the acting business is going to be any different than the music business?

  30. Anonymous says:

    I’m reading the discussion, and I must say I am confused by Oliver’s comments.

    A while back, Oliver you wrote:

    “I’m more open to Yancey’s idea that, as whites do fall back, it’s more likely to be Asians and Latinos taking their spots – whether in physical spaces (housing patterns, business ownership) or a more abstract social/cultural sense. But to me, this doesn’t make them white. I think what I would have wnated to see from an analysis like Yancey’s is a more nuanced and complex discussion of race that doens’t reduce it (as it always seems to be) to Black/White.”

    Um……yes it does…and you just contradicted yourself. From a positional standpoint, people who take over white people’s positions as oppressor to Black people do become…white. Not in a cultural or phenotypical sense, but in a political, social, and economic sense they do. If your actions toward the Black community are identical to those actions of the White community, then for all intents and purposes, your relationship to Black ppl is that of a white relationship.

    To put it in Yancey’s terms, as I read it through the review, it’s less a question of how pro-white, or how assimilated to white culture you become that makes you white, it’s how ANTI-BLACK you become that makes you white…being that whiteness as a racial category was created, and is still maintained, in total opposition to blackness, or what whites perceive as blackness.

    The question to me for Asians is not really how much Asian people have accepted white culture. Nor is it how much white culture has accepted Asians. Both have happened, and we can argue to what extent each has happened. But it would be missing the point entirely. The question should be how ANTI-BLACK have Asian people become? Specifically, borrowing a question from Kenyon Farrow’s article on Asian’s appropriation of hip-hop and expanding it a little, how are the actions by Asians toward Blacks any different from the actions by Whites toward Blacks, politically, socially, economically, and culturally? How are the justifications for those actions by Asians toward Blacks any different from the racist justifications whites gave for their oppression of Blacks?

    If you can’t find a way to differentiate Asian ppl’s actions from White ppl’s actions, then, by-golly, you are white.

    Before anyone jumps and says that I’m succumbing to the black/white paradigm, and that race relations are actually more complicated and occur on multiple fronts, I would say, yes, race relations are more complicated and they do occur on multiple fronts. It just so happens that currently those multiple fronts are all against the Black community. As groups of non-Black people begin aligning themselves politically, socially, and economically with whites in exploiting the Black community, that’s just more folks that Black folks have to fight. Race relations have gotten more complicated than white vs Blacks. It’s now Whites, Asians and Latinos vs. Blacks.

    Isaac Lai
    Philadelphia, PA

  31. Isaac Lai says:

    One more thing….

    For the ppl who want unity above all else. If Asians are aligned with Whites in oppressing and exploiting the Black community, why would Black people want to ally with Asians? How would it be beneficial for Blacks to ally themselves with their oppressors?

    Isaac Lai
    Philadelphia, PA

  32. Anonymous says:

    Tracey… thanks for the elaboration. I find such anecdotes are the best way to get a deeper understanding of the situation.

    Isaac… I agree that we should examine the extent to which Latinos and Asians are part of oppression and racism against Blacks. But I don’t think it is helpful to reduce racism to “all groups against blacks”. Nor do I think that is a reality… yet.

    As I mentioned before, we need anecdotes and specific examples. Prop 187 is a good example of racism-backed legislation that did not target Black people. Latinos, not Blacks, continue to be seen as dragging California down economically. Need I argue there is racism flying in all directions? Long live oppression olympics!

    The labeling thing is helpful… to a point. But where does the abstraction end… and the agenda begin? Does anyone here have a sense for what level and type of consensus we are seeking? Race Traitor posits that consensus as the elimination of whiteness. I would concur, but how do we get there?

    Do people really think there will be a magical Asian / Latino / Black / principled-whites consensus? Let’s say we agree that Asians and Latinos are picking up the yoke of oppression and racism? Is there anything we can do about it?


  33. ronnie brown says:

    I’m also a native Californian with roots in Alabama, Georgia AND North Carolina (Huntersville); so i’m in total agreement in regard to the long-standing Black/White racial dynamic. The point that i’ve been tryin’ to make in my posts is that racism/white supremacy has NEVER been limited by region. This thing is global in scope and the only difference now is that there is a greater influx of people of color putting their finger to the wind to see where the racial winds are blowin’; to determine whom they are going to make an alliance with.

    As you stated, in academia, some Asians and Latinos, both teacher and student alike are using the classroom to “pledge allegiance” so to speak, to curry political favor from the Anglo-American ruling class. It’s a hard pill for some to swallow, but your experiences on your campus mirror simliar scenarios in colleges across this country…

    Issac Lai,
    I second your emotion. As a stated in a previous post…”white IS as white DOES”…

  34. Oliver says:


    I just want to say – I went back and re-read everything in this thread plus the OG essay again, and your distillation of Yancey’s argument was probably the most cogent thing I’ve read so far.

    More to follow later

  35. Isaac Lai says:

    …which is a sad thing because the point I made was the exact same point Ronnie Brown was making over and over again (white is as white does) and yet it takes an Asian person to say it for you to understand…

    Why was it that when Ronnie Brown was making the points, that there were all these attempts to subvert his argument’s legitimacy, yet when an Asian person makes the same exact points, he is understood to have clarity?

    Also, I read your response to Kenyon Farrow’s piece. The same question applies. Why the undermining of Farrow’s arguments and not the undermining of mine, when all I did was restate, almost verbatim, Farrow’s question (the one he posed to the panel as well as in his article)?

    Isaac Lai
    Philadelphia, PA

  36. ronnie brown says:

    “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”

    -William Faulkner

    Issac, good lookin’ out, man.

  37. Oliver says:


    1) I didn’t say that your point was the ONLY cogent one made. I said it was the MOST cogent. That wasn’t a slap at Ronnie, who I’ve given dues to throughout this conversation.

    2) While “white is as white does” is a simpler way of stating things, I found your distillation of the main talking points to be more articulate and informative. In fact, why would you have bothered to say anything if you thought that what was said already did the job? By virtue of you adding .02, one would assume you thought you were actually ADDING something rather than retreading what had already been said. Did I get that wrong?

    3) Frankly, it’s presumptuous on your part to assume that it’d take someone with an Asian surname to get my attention. I’m not even hostile to Ronnie or Tamara’s opinions. And even if I were, it wouldn’t be because he was Black or she’s a woman. Likewise, my disagreement with Kenyon has nothing to do with who he is or what he does for a lving whereas who I am and what I do is at the center of his critique of my opinions.

    4) Lastly, I didn’t get a chance to post this last time b/c I was short on time but I find your analysis to be well-stated.

    I didn’t say I agreed with it.

  38. ronnie brown says:

    I must admit, i’m slightly perplexed. The nature of your disagreement is rooted in what? It seems to me that your desire for a more “nuanced and complex” discussion of race is looking more and more like scholarly form of denial…

  39. Oliver says:


    Been working on that explanation for the last few hours, literally. I’m currently at 1500 words and still counting.

    In the meantime, it’s funny that you would say that “my desire for a more “nuanced and complex” discussion of race is looking more and more like scholarly form of denial…” since I’ve felt that way about other people’s arguments throughout this thread only that they were using their own brands of scholarly discourse as a form of denial. Not you however – you’ve been a straight shooter the whole way through even if I’m not always feeling your one line summations (but hey, different strokes, different folks).

    Anyways, back to this behemoth post.

  40. Oliver says:

    …to continue.


    I’ll try to address what you call a contradiction in my thinking: at risk of splitting hairs, what one might call “conditional Whiteness” is not the same as “a different kind of white.” Perhaps this is my turn to make a semantic mountain from a molehill but the idea that “white supremacy” = “anti-Blackness,” at least in the way you interpreted it from Yancey, doesn’t work for me since Whiteness is not simply an opposition to Blackness but an opposition to Otherness writ large. That would, historically speaking, certainly include many moments where Latinos and Asians have also been “Other-ed” as a way of shoring up White Supremacy (WS).

    This does NOT mean that different racialized groups have all had the pay the same cost. As stated before, I very much agree with Ronnie that America’s racial hierarchy is vertical, not horizontal and as such, where different communities of color are plotted is not just under the yoke of White Supremacy but also in unequal competition with one another.

    But throughout American history, “who’s on bottom” has shifted depending on context. Privilege/power, however you want to describe it, is conferred upon different racial communities at different times as part of larger strategies to perpetuate WS, no? Wouldn’t it hold that interracial strife and oppression dynamically reflect the changing face of WS rather than being a static model?

    It’s not like anti-Blackness ever fades away. But at the risk of sounding too Third World College, isn’t the ultimate goal of WS anti-Other?

    That’s why I keep insisting that conditional/honorary Whiteness is not really a “privilege” insofar as no real power is being shared or delegated. It’s simply a way of shuffling targets and breeding infighting but no one is really being rewarded in the process. I could be wrong about that and really, I need to sit down and read Yancey’s empirical findings.

    Moreover, I don’t know what Yancey would say to this, but if the 20th century was all about fear of a Black planet (or at least, Black America), then the 21st century seems to be focused on a fear of a Brown America/planet, or, if you believe the Atlantic Monthly, fear of a Yellow planet (the Red Scare + Yellow Peril = two great tastes, now combined). It’s not as if WS fears are some zero sum game. Anti-Blackness is still in full effect, but couldn’t you say that it’s also been conjoined (however equally or unequally) with other crises of racialized paranoia?

    I disagree with the presumption that what we’re going to see this century is a coalition of different multiracial communities lined up on an anti-Black agenda, as if WS doesn’t have any other targets to direct its hatred and paranoia at. Look at the Minutemen, look at the INS vigorous policy to deport any alien convicted of a felony under the auspices of “national security,” look at the effects of environment racism on multiracial neighborhoods like Richmond, CA, or Globeville, CO.

    If there’s a core basis for much of my skepticism of Yancey’s argument it comes from this: for the last 15 years, I’ve lived in the Bay Area and during that time, I’ve come to know an entire community of social justice organizers, many of whom work for multiracial organizations with either explicitly or implicitly anti-racist agendas. These include, but are not limited to the Center for Third World Organizing, the Applied Research Center, Californians for Justice, various chapters of SEIU, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, etc. Some of my closest friends have dedicated their lives to this work and for them, their focus is on addressing the myriad social ills facing multiracial neighborhoods all over the Bay Area – not just Asian ones or Latino ones or Black ones because neighborhoods in Vallejo, East Oakland, south San Francisco, etc. find residents facing many of the same problems associated with the police, the environment, education, health care, poverty, etc.

    Could one sit down and quantify who is oppressed more, Laotians or Chicanos or African Americans in Richmond? I suppose one could. But what is both the most moral and most effective way of addressing these shared problems – even if there is a difference in how “shared” they are?

    I’ve said this many times in this conversation but to me, the frustration with naming the problem, is what Ronnie has called “the $64,000 question,” i.e. what comes next? Even if we accepted (and I don’t) the idea that everyone but Blacks are turning white, what does that realization do for social justice efforts? Does that mean Black liberation movement activists suddenly stop trying to build coalitions with other ethnic groups? Does it mean those multiracial social justice advocates currently trying to enact interracial justice should abandon their efforts until they pass a litmus test for potential anti-Black bias?

    Naming the problem, from what I’ve seen, more or less builds in a kind of fatalism that doesn’t seem to encourage a proactive agenda. I did actually throw out a few suggestions I had heard, such as Jared Sexton’s suggestion of a “dictatorship of the black masses” but no one responded to that.

    Instead, the main thrust seems to be about making Latinos and Asians be accountable to their anti-Blackness (which itself rests on the shaky assumption that there is a uniformity to any of these communities that would allow “them” to act as a single unit – but hey, why beat that dead horse again?) but if that’s the first step that needs to happen, what comes next? I know the sentiment exists out there that other communities of color (that is, other than African American) should subordinate their social justice agendas to the cause of Black Liberation and honestly? I’m not even that mad at the idea because, theoretically speaking, if we, as a society, actualized Black Liberation, that would surely lift all our boats, so to say. Flipping the logic of James Baldwin’s letter to Angela Davis, if Blacks found liberation in the morning, would it not follow that other racial communities might also find liberation by evening? (Though if the history of interracial justice efforts is any indication, I know more than a few people that would be wary of that logic).

    Maybe others don’t find these questions as interesting or pertinent, ok, that’s cool. But personally, after finally completing 8.5 years in an Ethnic Studies PhD program, I’ve heard the nature of the problem stated and restated more times than I care to remember – often in completely contradictory ways. What I struggle with, as many do, is the gap between theory and praxis.

    So hey, just for kicks and giggles, why don’t we try batting around some potential answers to that $64K? Let’s talk about the feasibility of a dictatorship of black masses. Or new formations of multiracial social liberation movements. Or how we’re all going to go to hell in a handbasket.

    What I find telling – and Isaac will have to forgive me for cribbing this from his blog (btw: sorry about the Sixers season, but yeah man, Webber was not The Truth) – is that what he says he is committed to is, “to study and analyze a situation, and to understand it fully, without making any pretense nor plans for any future actions.”

    I think this, more than anything, explains whatever distance may exist between people who share his view and the people with whom I feel like I share my views. I respect where Isaac is coming from, especially since, as he points out, “organizing hastily, without self-study, without an analysis of anti-Blackness and how empowerment for individual races can still lead to the oppression of Black people in an anti-Black world, can be very damaging for Black people politically.” I wholly agree: self-analysis of one’s potential bias is essential to the cause of social justice.

    But personally, while I respect what he’s saying, I can’t agree with the idea that what we need to do is analyze in lieu of planning. To me, a phrase like “analyze a situation…fully” doesn’t exactly set a time table for action. And frankly, it’s incredibly easy to criticize any organization – regardless of its make up – for shortcomings in its mission/agenda/accomplishments. All the groups I mentioned above have been rife, from time to time, with everything from misguidance, infighting, general dysfunction, poor planning and whatever else occurs in the course of trying to organize people around common causes. However, if it was the case that the fight for social justice could only move forward once the study groups of the world gave their blessing, I’m skeptical that the world would have ever seen bodies such as the SCLC, SNCC, UFW, Young Lords, I-Hotel Tenants Association, etc. form or accomplish anything.

    One last thing, many of my ideas on social justice have most profoundly been shaped by people like James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Yuri Kochiyama, the late June Jordan, et. al. What I think all these people share in common are their deeply humanist ideals about the liberation of people everywhere. I obviously can’t and wont’ speak for them but based on my understanding of their teachings and beliefs, there’s just nothing in Yancey’s argument (as we’ve discussed) that I find useful (let alone accurate).

    But you know what? I still need to read the book (yeah, yeah, I know, I know). I’m supposed to be finishing an anthology essay on hip-hop as a site for Afro-Asian connections (and tension) and yet, I’ve managed to spin out far more words here than for that essay. *sigh* Go figure.

  41. ronnie brown says:

    “But throughout American history, “who’s on bottom” has shifted depending on context.”

    really?…must have happened when i wasn’t lookin’…

    On one hand you acknowledge that “different racialized groups” (huh?…no more euphemisms, please)
    have not had to pay the same cost under white supremacy and yet you insist that anti- “the Other” and anti-Blackness are one in the same…

  42. Oliver says:


    “different racialized groups” isn’t a euphemism. I just meant other people of color.

    I say “racialized” group instead of “racial” because the latter presumes a fixed, static identity, the former argues that the category of race changes over time.

    Anyways, I think what you meant to say is that, “you insist that anti- “the Other” and anti-Blackness are NOT one in the same.”

    My point was simple: “the Other” includes other people of color. When WS looks over at “the Other” they don’t just see Yellow, or Brown, or Black, as if any single group has a solid monopoly on Otherness.

  43. ronnie brown says:

    The hazy nature of my early morning post notwithstanding, i meant what i said. I maintain that a chief component of white supremacy is “divide and conquer” with confusion following hard after. White supremacy does in my estimation, make clear distinctions between “The Other” (non-black people of color) and Black folk. That’s the central theme in all my posts. There’s a two-track oppression goin’ on. You wouldn’t have “honorary whiteness without it.

    Also, in regard to multiracial coalitions; history is replete with examples, co-existing side by side with the two-tracked oppression that i spoke of…but i’m not interested in the extraordinary effort of some. A caste systems strength is based on its appeal the average Joe, the regular guy/woman, the ordinary individual who goes along to get along. That’s what the world is mostly made of. Every Basketball player doesn’t make the NBA and every NBA player doesn’t make the all-star team.

    “Honorary” whiteness to some, may be nothing more than a psychological salve…to be included in “top tier”…but it’s real as real can be. multiracial coalitions are built on a perceived self-interest, a commonality, they don’t form out of thin air. Like i say, make this topic the subject of your next panel dicussion and then watch the fir fly….

  44. Anonymous says:

    Not to take away from the legitimacy of the White/Black oppression dynamic, but let me just introduce the idea that Blacks, from the eyes of Latinos and Asians, are coddled in their own way by White America. It’s a common notion that ‘nobody is more American than Blacks’, and this plays a part in solidifying Black folks’ unique but seemingly fixed place in American society.

    Interestingly enough, this protection or preservation is shown in a trend we see all the time: Whites protecting the exclusive use of the word ‘nigga’. Now there was a recent diatribe in some local independent news source, written by a white guy, regarding his displeasure at being called a ‘nigga’ (as in ‘you could say excuse me, nigga’) at a hot dog stand by a Puerto Rican individual. Now we all know Latinos in NYC and all over use the word ‘nigga’, and you can hate that or accept it. But the author of the article says, upon hearing himself be called ‘nigga’ by a Puerto Rican, he immediately turned to the Black patronage of the hot dog stand and wondered ‘why don’t they say something?’. Feeling threatened, I guess, by the Latino individual, he turns to the Black patronage and says “Are you guys gonna let him say that?”, similar to the lone white kid in elementary school that initiates playground fights between Mexicans and Blacks so that he won’t get picked on. (I know a guy who admits to doing this as a youth survival tactic in South LA) My point is this, do whites even have a say in who gets to use this word anymore?

    It’s not new that phrases like black nigga, white nigga, asian nigga, spanish nigga are used to determine race, and not the word nigga itself. But yet mainstream white culture, as well as mainstream black culture, (people who are afraid of the word) HATE when non-black minorities use this word. Why is this? Both parties have become so familiar with eachother’s histories and identities, that when another group steps in and uses the term out of familiarity / accessibility and osmosis, they unite against them. I’m not saying the word should be taken lightly, I’m just showing that a shared black-white American history is present and can be drawn upon to alienate or ‘other’ non-black minority groups (as seen after 9-11).

    It is not rare to see Whites encouraging Blacks to discriminate against Arab or Asian employees in the workplace. White and Blacks have their own united front as ‘the Real Americans’, and unite in xenophobia to Latinos crossing the border, Asians coming off the boat.

    The ‘two-track system of oppression’ as Ronnie calls it, protects Black America’s identity as much as it does separate Latinos and Asians into ‘another kind of white’. This protection is a double edged sword, and yes Blacks enjoy it too.

  45. Anonymous says:

    If White people are “coddling” and “protecting” Black people… they got a funny way of showing it.

    Sure, Blacks and Whites might gang up in these sorts of mild acts of discrimination against Asians and Latinos. But it’s doesn’t necessarily reflect broader, long term racial dynamics, particularly with regard to politics and economics.

    When all is said and done, it’s still White people at the top, Asians rapidly gaining, while Latinos and Blacks continue to bear the brunt of discrimination and disparities.

    In the USC office where I work, it is maybe 42% white, 33% asian, 15% latino, 10% black. I don’t know if this is representative of the larger picture, but statistic do suggest that Asians and Latinos — especially in Los Angeles area — have much greater access to traditionally white environments.

    Whether you face discrimination on the job — I think — is much less significant than simply being able to get the job in the first place. That said, racially-speaking, things seem pretty chill in this office.


  46. Anonymous says:

    I’m saying they are protecting the identity of black america, keeping it familiar and static in a lot of ways (relegating high paying Black employment to entertainment, in sports / music). so you see it and watch it, but do not necessarily encounter it. I mean protecting like preserving.

    In both cases, it is an honorary status that is false, or a half-truth. Blacks calling Asians and Latinos the sell-outs of the minority world, and Asians and Latinos still not ‘American enough’, ‘cultured’ enough, ‘talented’ enough, compared with Blacks. I’m saying point the finger where it needs to be pointed (white power structures).

    And also, ‘mild discrimination’? F that.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Because of the universal and ingrained nature of “black = bottom” — as discussed by Ronnie — I don’t think white people spend much time figuring out how to oppress Black people. I think the system does it out of habit. And I think people of all races play into it.

    In many ways, white people are unwitting conspirators. They don’t view themselves as racist, and thus are unable or unwilling to “renounce” and work towards a solution.

    White people don’t sit around saying, “we gotta keep black people in entertainment/sports, and keep them out of other areas.” The success of Black people in entertainment/sports is a response to white dominance of other fields. There are also a lot gay people and Jews in entertainment.

    As for “mild discrimination”, I was simply pointing out that there are different levels of discrimination. Maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words. I am not suggesting we tolerate certain types of discrimination. I am merely suggesting that use of the word “nigga” and schoolyard race relations are not a microcosm for racism in all areas/levels of society.


  48. Anonymous says:

    My examples can be construed as oversimplified and maybe naive, but I’m trying to look at race relations at a more tangible level, just as you did with your specific workplace, which is not like mine but worthy of taking into consideration nonetheless. The fact that you view race-relations at your office as ‘chill’ does not affect or indicate anything about the big picture, but it could be worthy of comment.

    You can’t ignore ‘playground politics’ or how whites may view the word ‘nigga’, they are aspects and indicators of how race is socialized and ingrained into the mind.

    Also you are kind of depersonalizing racism and saying the ‘system’ oppresses out of habit. What does it accomplish to approach racism like something floating in the air, or something that is in the brick of a building.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Your make some good points.

    I definitely don’t want to imply that my workplace is representative, either of workplaces in general, or of racially-diverse workplaces. I was merely noting that my workplace is consistent with the theory that Asians and Latinos have greater access to economic resources and enjoy less racial antagonism with whites.

    I definitely concur that ultimately the “system” is comprised of people and their behavior. I wasn’t writing off your example, only the conclusion. That said, I guess my own conclusions are just as unfounded.


  50. Anonymous says:

    since most of us here hasn’t (or will never) read Yancey’s book, what is everyone’s definition of ‘whiteness’? anti-black? anti-other, acessibility to material entities, etc…?

    i’m going off on a limb and proportiate (is that a word?) ‘whiteness’ (~) to the suburban culture. Suburban as not a place outside the city but as a community which main reason for existence is to avoid the ills of “the ghetto”. Clearly this is broad statement, but my skills in this subject matter is not great, so I’d rather make broad statements instead of acting like I know something about it.


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