pulling the threads of white supremacy together
November 30, 2014
nica linked me to a blog post about Asian anti-Blackness and its historical roots, where it states:
This idea that Asians are just stuck in hierarchies set by white supremacy and not just independently hostile to fungible black bodies on the global scene is ahistorical in some fundamental ways. White supremacy does organize the world around antiblackness. But you can state that and still be remarkably wrong in your assessment of its significance. One of the things we must do is to utilize basic chronological analysis. Before the transatlantic slave trade that made white supremacy the dominant world order there was an Arab slave trade.
The bodies of Africans sold into large parts of Asia established antiblackness independent of white supremacy. We must keep in mind this was happening for centuries before the transatlantic slave trade. Historians like John Henrik Clarke tell us that not only did this slave trade inform the transatlantic but actually made it possible because Africa was too weak to defend itself from what was really the first world war… What is clear is that the whole world has agreed that Africa was the land of slaves or undeclared property, lost, waiting nonblack purchase.
So any black-asian solidarity must account for antiblackness within AAPI black communities independent of white supremacy.
I hope people will forgive the long quotation, but I really want (especially) non-Black Asians to read and internalize this.
nica linked me to this post because of an earlier post on tumblr where I note that some people conceptualize their oppression as racism, even though it predates racism/white supremacy. After that post butchrobot asked me if I meant anti-semitism, which I said might be the case but I”m too ignorant about the issue to really want to comment more on it. Butchrobot then asked what I did have in mind and I said it was stuff like anti-Blackness and Orientalism, which also predate white supremacy (as a globally structuring and oppressive force). Then, bad-dominicana tweeted a thing about how anyone who didn”t look white ever became ‘white” after 1492. I”ve been saying the reverse for quite some time, that white ethnics have always been white.
I”m putting all of this out here so that people can undertand where my following ideas/comments are coming from. They are the context for what i”m about to write.
i guess the question that was going around in my head was: if anti-Blackness and Orientalism existed before the rise of global white supremacy, how do we understand how white supremacy has become one of the dominant organizing principles of today?
It is actually bad-dominincana”s tweet that gave me the final clue… Settler colonialism. Now, if ppl recall Andrea Smith”s three logics of white supremacy: settler colonialism, orientalism, and anti-Blackness are the three logics of white supremacy. And the beginning of (modern) settler colonialism in 1492 provided the final leg for the stool upon which white supremacy sits.
in other words: white supremacy provided the organizing principle that took three (seemingly) distinct oppressive logics and created a global structure that continues to frame all modern relations between peoples and states.
this also explains to me why the four race system emerged as the dominant one over the five race system. one logic of white supremacy per subjugated race, with white ppl sitting atop the entire structure. Within this global framework, there wasn”t any real room (or need) to have a fifth race of Malays (brown). Instead we were subsumed underneath Asian (yellow).
the other motivation for having a four vs five race system is that white supremacy/racism is a reductive logic and organizing principle. By its very nature and intent, it is purposefully designed to reduce individuals peoples to discrete and non-overlapping racial categories, such that as bad-dominicana and i point out, people who were designated as white 500+ years ago have always been white. And those who are not-white have always been not white. Yes, as this little explanation shows, there is some mobility and shifting between those who aren”t white, but they don”t become white.
One of the interesting liminal points for what is described in the above category is West Asia and/or North Africa, essentially the ‘Arabic” parts of the world1. In the US census peoples from West Asia (eg, the Middle East/Gulf) and North Africa are supposed to mark themselves as white… In the case of North Africa, this is clearly a ridiculous notion and not something that manages to make a material difference outside of the US census. But the re-imagining of the Gulf/West Asia/Middle East as ‘white” has had some material impact… despite the very real facts that a lot of people from that area aren”t white and are not treated as such under white supremacy.
this is an especially important thing to keep in mind when you read Smith”s comments on Orientalism:
Consequently, orientalism serves as the anchor of war, because it allows the United States to justify being in a constant state of war to protect itself from its enemies. Orientalism allows the United States to defend the logics of slavery and genocide as these practices enable it to stay “strong enough” to fight these constant wars. What becomes clear, then, is what Sora Han declares: the United States is not at war; the United States is war.5 For the system of white supremacy to stay in place, the United States must always be at war.
Take a moment to think about how many wars the US has fought (and is currently fighting) in the Middle East… it becomes pretty clear that despite the US trying to reclassify this geographic region as ‘white”, it is still very much the Orient — as classically defined by Said. And since it is the Orient, it isn”t functionally white, regardless of what the States tries to claim.2
what i”m trying to communicate here is that race as a global organizing conceptual framework is pretty fucking stable. especially if we do as Smith suggests and look towards how it organizes and mobilizes power, rather than focusing on specific geographies or state policies like the US census. the reality and impact of white supremacy is best observed in the consequences it has for the peoples it subjugates. so long as white supremacy itself is stable, the people who are unhappy with being called ‘white” despite the very real existence of their oppression (pre or post global white supremacy) and the people who are unhappy with being non-white really just have to deal. or dismantle white supremacy.
however… what should also be clear from this discussion of how certain kinds of oppression pre-date white supremacy, even if they are race-based (like anti-Blackness), is that dismantling white supremacy should always be seen as the first step. part of my current argument is causal. it is the logics of white supremacy which created a context and space that allowed white supremacy to emerge, rather than white supremacy constructing these three logics as a means to subjugate ‘inferior” races. this means that dismantling white supremacy will still leave us with the realities of settler colonialism, anti-Blackness, and orientalism.
if white supremacy were to disappear tomorrow, this would not change the fact that I am a settler on stolen land. the removal of the organizing principle that allowed this land to be stolen and allowed me to settle here, won”t actually mean that i magically disappear from the land either. nor would the disappearance of white supremacy suddenly mean that my anti-Blackness magically disappears either. how could it when anti-Blackness is the structural principal of the modern world?3
Of course… one wonders if the path forward then, ought to be dismantling the individual logics of white supremacy rather than white supremacy itself. If we borrow my stool metaphor from earlier, if we knock out all three legs, then white supremacy will have nothing to sit on…
Maybe. Maybe. i”m hesistant to say that this is the ‘right” way mainly because white supremcy is very much about power, force, and violence. it uses the logics to justify and contextaulize the violence and its right to power, but it isn”t clear to me that removing the ability for power to justify itself equals dismantling the power itself.
in many things, it is likely that the answer is ‘both”. As in, we both need to dismantle white supremacy while working to dismantle the individual logics.
I think this latter is pretty crucial in explaining why calls for solidarity from Asians so frequently falls flat. Both via our denial of responsibility for constructing the logic of anti-Blackness separate from white supremacy and via our denial that it is something we need to actually address. Asking for solidarity from Black and/or Indigenous peoples by saying “we are all subjugated under white supremacy” is asking them to ignore how we contribute to their oppression of our own volition and as a distinct force outside of white supremacy.
And if any Asians who aren”t Arabic are thinking to themselves “well, I”m not Arabic, how can I be held responsible for the Arabic slave trade?”… We can because we both benefit from the anti-Black logic that informed the slave trade but also because we perpetuate it today. Also… if you don”t like the reductive logic of white supremacy, I suggest you take it up with white ppl. The way this works is that if all Black ppl lives are impacted by anti-Blackness (regardless of whether or not they had ancestors who were enslaved), then all Asians are responsible for creating and maintaining anti-Blackness. The only way out of this bind caused by the reductive logic of racism is to, well, dismantle white supremacy and its logics. Only then might we have the luxury of saying “well, it wasn”t my ancestors who did this”. We don”t accept this excuse from white ppl and it isn”t acceptable from us.
And while Smith is specifically talking about the States in the quotation, the reason i"ve been claiming that orientalism pre-dates global white supremacy is because these wars with the orient have been continuous and ongoing long before there even was an america. just as anti-Blackness in the form of the Arabic/Asian slave trade pre-dates global white supremacy.↩
I don"t have a link handy, but I do want to credit so_treu for this turn of phrase and for being the person who really got me to understand what it means. Her words and thoughts have left an indelible mark on how I understand anti-Blackness and I want to acknowledge this here.↩</fn></footnotes>