my ongoing thoughts about 'poc', anti-Blackness, and identity
March 12, 2013
That Kil Ja Kim article is going around tumblr again, the one that discusses one Asian’s mobilization of the term ‘people of colour’ as a means to be anti-Black.
This has been going around in head. Mostly because it contrasts in some important ways with this video discussing the origins of ‘woman of colour’ (and, by extension, ‘people of colour’).
How do we reconcile these two things? What does it mean when a term for political unity created by Black people has become weaponized against them? That it becomes a means to decentre their needs and interests and to silence them? What does it mean to listen to an elder like Loretta Ross when she says that reducing ourselves to primitive ethnic categories is a step backwards?
On a very personal level: how do I recognize the understanding that my presence as a white passing Tagalog in PoC spaces (real or conceptual) would be threatening to at least one Black woman? How do I reconcile this with the pride I have in being Tagalog while understanding that white supremacy has already reduced me to ‘Asian’? Or even that being able to name my history and ethnicity in this way is also a privilege not enjoyed by many Black people?
Loretta Ross is pretty clear that to be a person of colour is political. But it is a conscious politicizing of yourself. And being a person of colour is more clearly defined by what you do rather than what you claim. That unlike other markers of identity self-identification cannot be considered primary in this instance. That we must somehow locate this identity in the space between the two maxims of how identity functions in marginalized communities [1. I’m talking about the two contradictory maxims of identity: a) that self-identification trumps all (for things like gender) and b) That your community must recognize you (something you often hear from Indigenous people is that your community must also recognize you for your ID to have truth)].
Because for all that Loretta Ross is clear about how working in solidarity with other marginalized races elevates you to a new level of being, Kil Ja Kim’s article serves as a cautionary point about this. Because it is pretty clear that when she was operating in that PoC-identifying but anti-Black space she was most certainly not working in solidarity. And this is also something that comes from a place where people have ‘forgotten’ (in air quotes because this sort of thing is systematic and done purposefully) that anti-Blackness is the fulcrum of white supremacy. That actual solidarity must necessarily work with the understanding that Black interests, experiences, lives, and people must be centred in any decolonization/anti-racist ‘movement’ if it wishes to have any hope of achieving its aims [2. in much the same way that any ‘movement’ claiming to aim for gender justice or whatever that doesn’t centre trans feminine people, particularly those of colour, will never achieve its goals].
More to the point, it is pretty clear from Kil Ja Kim’s later comments about joining Asian American organizations to pursue her own interests, again at the expense of Black people, that Loretta Ross’s claim that falling back onto ‘primitive ethnic’ identities is clearly not the answer [3. which, interestingly or not, was the path I took once I realized that my presence in PoC spaces would be threatening to some Black people. except that I’m coming to realize that this doesn’t actually solve anything. and may even be a way of dodging accountability. since, the onus is on me to look into the mirror and see why and how we’ve come to this place where Black people literally have zero reason to give me the benefit of the doubt. or the ways that ‘PoC’ spaces have become filled with people who look like me, but as blackgirldangerous wrote only have a distant and tenuous connections to their history – something I fault giving too much credence to one of the maxims for identification and not enough to the other]. Because many of those who are involved in Asian organizations are not necessarily conceiving of themselves as people of colour. More to the point, they (because of anti-Blackness) often operate with an implicit notion that ‘Asian’ concerns are not ‘Black people’ concerns. And you can see this with the way that very few of these organizations do any effective outreach the the Black parts of our communities (and, since even before this became a globalized world, Black and Asian were never mutually exclusive categories). And so these organizations pursue their goals and purposes in ways that are anti-Black, invoking exactly the problem Loretta Ross highlights [4. Although, what doesn’t invoke this problem are people who disavow being PoC for other reasons. For example, I know at least on Latina trans woman who has an iffy relationship with ‘WoC’ because of the ways that this identity has often been constructed in transmisogynist ways. this is a different situation entirely].
Where does this leave me, though? Or what is the solution out of the dilemma presented by Kil Ja Kim’s article?
One immediate take-away is this: you cannot be a person of colour and anti-Black at the same time. It is literally contradictory. And if the way you construct your identity as a person of colour depends on supporting anti-Blackness you’ve failed to understand that ‘being’ a person of colour is about the actions you take. Another take-away, means that all Black people are, thus, people of colour by default. And that they are the only default people of colour. Because if anti-Blackness is the fulcrum and Black people must be centred, then anything that Black people are doing for their own communities is, in fact, not only working in solidarity with other people of colour but also directly benefiting all people of colour. It also means that, insofar as there are gatekeepers, that these gatekeepers are Black people. That Black people (this is the usual logic applied to allies) are the only ones who can decide whether or not you are behaving in ways that are beneficial to their community or oppressive.
Of course… none of this is really helping me feel out a position between what Loretta Ross says and what blackgirldangerous says[5. although, I do also recognize that blackgirldangerous’s post isn’t really about me. as one of the key nuances lost in the discussion of her post – that of the very distant PoC ancestry – doesn’t apply to me at all]. I think in this case… I will defer to the second maxim of identity: community recognition, since it is the only one that really makes any sense to me. This also means accepting that this ID is unstable for me, since Black people are not a monolith. Thinking on it… I suppose I’ve already been operating in a space like this (since some Black people do recognize me as a member of the poc community).
yikes. my brain has become ultra super fuzzy and i don’t even know what i’m talking about anymore. so. yeah. anyway.