#15: The Beijing of America.

San Francisco - Chinatown

Immigration, both internally and internationally, has always played a huge role in the construction of whiteness in America --- which groups eventually are folded into whiteness, and which are kept out. San Francisco's Chinatown was created and sustained in part by discriminatory housing policies similar to those that created America's ghettos.

Last week, Jamelle, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Channing Kennedy of ColorLines got into a provocative exchange (across several blogs) about the evolving ways Americans think about themselves in relation to racial categories. (The initial post by Jamelle was sparked by a New York Times article that cited a growing number of young Americans eschewing starkly delineated racial classifications to self-identify as “mixed race.”) We had Channing on to flesh this out some more, and he posed a few big questions we’ve been turning over since.

But because we wanted to go to a really treacherous place, we had Tracy  (aka the hilarious BrokeyMcPoverty) on to discuss the politics of natural hair — specifically, a video making the rounds in which a woman decides to end her brief excursion into the land of the perm-less. (Choice line: “F*** rap, y’all can have it back!”)

Suffice it to say: we’re going to  really need your help this week, commenters.

PostBourgie: The Podcast – #15: The Beijing of America.


Verizon’s iPhone ad
Death of the Tiger: Sri Lanka’s Brutal Victory Over the Tamil Tigers,” The New Yorker
We Have No Bananas: Scientists Fight a Devastating Banana Blight,”The New Yorker
Tools Never Die,” NPR
Finding Emilie,” RadioLab
Trailer for Bigger, Stronger, Faster

  • The point i was trying to make, but made rather shittily, is that there’s a point at which our racial classifications blunt a lot of the nuances of our lived experiences. At that brunch, I was the only person who was African-American. All four of the women at brunch with me were Canadian, two were second-gen immigrants (via Antigua and Eritrea) and the other two weren’t born in North America (Jamaica and Guyana). I wasn’t objecting to calling us all “black,” but to the idea that that designation tells us anything useful about the way we all grew up or any kind of presumed common culture. I got a lot of pushback on this, tho.

  • BTW, Monica asked me about move-away rates of college grads in immigrant communities of color. Had I read my own employer’s publication more closely that day, I would have sen this: http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/02/race_and_education.html
    There’s a few different ways to interpret this, but it seems to indicate an interesting “second wave” of internal migration happening some number of generations after cross-border immigration — when people get a degree, they get the means to move where they want (or to move where the job market takes them). And the same pattern holds for blacks! So the mechanics of poverty as a segregator are holding across races. And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the vast majority of interracial couples have college degrees, and met at college. (And as the post notes, Asians aren’t in these maps because Asian data is so notoriously poorly parsed.)

    Jamelle mentions on the podcast that the stigma of descendants of slaves may never be shaken, and I won’t argue against this. But I think it’s interesting to examine other instances of ethnic stigma.

    Chinese immigrant men were forced into the laundry business, since it was “women’s work” — and then they were stigmatized for that, as illustrated by this home laundry advertisement that outdoes any Superbowl ad: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_d-f5Fyep9jI/Su_4waLlpXI/AAAAAAAAAIM/aQL6hdrWBJs/s1600-h/12-1882-MagicWasherAd.jpg

    (and on the old race cartoon tip: http://www.csub.edu/~gsantos/img0051.html )

    And ‘honky’ itself has a complicated and poorly-dcoumented history, but it has at least partial origins in the term ‘hun’ — poor Slavic immigrants to America around WWI, who worked mining and steel jobs. http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/715/Honky.html
    But they benefitted from the New Deal and union jobs in ways that blacks were left out of, and by the time blacks were able to move to cities to follow good jobs, most cities’ infrastructure was underfunded and in disrepair, so poverty was much more difficult to escape from.

    In general, I really think ‘whiteness’ is more about which side of systemic racism, or systemic perpetual poverty, your community is on. And all inductions into or out of whiteness have been spurned by events external to race — the impact that racebaiting post-9/11 laws had on poor South Asian communities in NYC, for example, or changing business laws creating a pull for educated South Asian immigrants to move to San Jose for tech-sector jobs — and all of these actions have measurable economic and policy repercussions.

    And that’s why I get so frustrated by academic race analyses without an economic or policy frame. What’s the point? Just as there is no O.J. prize (to continue Nicole’s run of Chris Rock references), there is no ‘considered-white’ prize in and of itself. I suspect this is also why it’s so hard for some white people to grasp systemic racism — because our chosen language does such a poor job of discussing race and money and political power and health all in the same breath, as it should be.

    Also, why didn’t I yell GUCCI as I hung up? The rest of my Brick Squad fan club is never going to let me live that down.

    • i’ll have a smarter, lengthier response in a hot minute, but i just wanted to say that i’m not actually all that sure that you wouldn’t find more black/white pairings lower down on the economic scale. (there’ve gotta be stats out there somewhere.)

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  • quadmoniker

    I’ve been meaning to add, and I will now, that when I said ethnic whites could stop speaking whatever language or practicing whatever religion, I didn’t mean that they should do those things. just that assimilation is diffeerent when you’re talking about cultural markers than physical ones.