A few days ago, a manifesto purportedly written by the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof surfaced online, in essence a listicle of his opinions about various racial groups in the US. His rhetoric is a flat brew of old-timey racial pseudoscience, Stormfront blather, and adolescent burp-talking. It is worth parsing, not for its nuance but as a pure, unusually bald-faced demonstration of racist assumptions.
After reading through his gassy rants on blacks, Jews, and Hispanics, I got to the section labeled "East Asians," expecting to be perversely flattered by Roof's hatred. But instead:
"I have great respent [sic] for the East Asian races. Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races."
There was some interesting stuff for me to consider here—for instance, how Roof strangely implies that he cares more about the endurance of racism than of white people. Or why he would glaringly omit Southeast Asians, South Asians, and Middle Easterners (skin color, I'd bet). Or his calm assertion that Asians are "by nature very racist," which is true only in the sense that most people everywhere are.
But my first response was to cringe as hard my face would support: Possibly worse than hate speech is unequivocal endorsement by a white supremacist. Certainly it ranks high on the list of all-time Least Wanted Compliments.
Of course you can't take seriously someone whose grasp of Japanese culture amounts to "chopsticks, sliding doors, kimonos, and the koto." But still it seems sensible to consider what a mass-murdering white supremacist finds so honorable and useful in me. His praise illuminates how the pernicious Asian model-minority stereotype is entirely of a piece with hate crimes against black people—another hissing head on the hydra of racism. There's been enough writing on the model-minority stereotype to fill an internet, but the gist is that the existence of a model minority is one of the mechanisms on which white supremacy depends and thrives.
How so? For one thing, it not-so-subtly implies that if one minority can succeed (selectively, mind you), then racism must not exist in any form. Bill O'Reilly squirted out a fine specimen of this nonsense when he rhetorically asked whether the higher graduation rates, median incomes, and nuclear-family percentages were proof of "Asian privilege"—conveniently failing to distinguish between types of Asians (some of whom are below average on those cherry-picked metrics), nor pointing out that Asians are sorely underrepresented in media and leadership positions.
Believing in a model minority also reassures whites that they aren't truly racist, since they feel so positively about Asians—it's just those other people who're the problem. This also permits them to avoid confronting any latent and unexamined negative stereotypes they might have. And to tiringly repeat the achievements of Asians only obscures the history and ongoing existence of overt prejudice and hate crimes against Asians, from Japanese internment to the murder of Vincent Chin (today is the killing's 33rd anniversary), to the shooting of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill four months ago. Oh hey, does anyone remember how Mark Wahlberg severely beat two Asian men in 1988 while calling them "slant-eyed gooks"? No? All right, have fun at Ted 2.
To some extent the survival of a model minority depends on getting Asians themselves to buy into it, either out of misplaced flattery, misplaced resentment of other minorities, ethnic snobbery, or the simple acceptance of cliché. Naturally white supremacy loves to see non-white minorities rip each other apart, and any Asian person dumb enough to sign up for this kind of co-optation is also probably willing to see whites and Asians as allied against "lazier" minority groups—to take a recent example, there's Mindy Kaling's brother Vijay Chokalingam (the DeVito to Kaling's Schwarzenegger), who attempted to prove reverse racism with a lame, methodologically unsound hoax, and was nonetheless predictably lauded by conservatives.
But even if an Asian person is cynical/racist enough to try and get ahead by shitting on blacks and kissing white ass, it won't benefit them, since the same racial pecking order that supposedly elevates Asians above blacks also traps them under the so-called bamboo ceiling. So whenever anyone, white or Asian, extols the "smart" or "respectful" or "hard-working" Asian culture, I think of that Onion headline from Our Dumb Century about World War II: "Japan Forms Alliance With White Supremacists in Well-Thought-Out Scheme."
In making these points about Asians, I don't want to distract anyone from the crux of Roof's attack—far more than anything else, it's about the long history of white extremist terrorism against blacks. But the broader issue—what's to be done, who's to do it—is not a mere matter of Southern white conservatives furling up a hateful flag. Everyone's got to pivot. Racism against blacks depends, in some part, on Asian complicity, as much as it relies (to paraphrase the writer Frank Guan) on the willingness of self-satisfied middle-class white liberals to pass the buck to "white trash." Sexism, too: Right before the shooting, Roof announced, "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go." See how white supremacy validates itself in the notion of women as property to be defended, and how smoothly racism, patriarchy, and nationalism elide.
Roof is correct in one sense: Asians would make great allies. But he'll have to find his own.
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