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Beyond “Asian American”: Conceptualizing Racial Identity for the 21st Century

Sat, September 1, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Hynes, 111


In late 2014, Peter Liang, a Chinese American NYPD police officer, shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man. Some Asian Americans rallied to Liang’s defense, claiming he was being unjustly criticized and mistreated as compared to other white officers in similar circumstances. A few months passed, and another incident involving Asian Americans and law enforcement took place. This time, an elderly Indian man, Sureshbhai Patel, was slammed to the ground by Alabama police officers, leaving him paralyzed. The officers themselves were responding to a neighbor, calling and describing Patel as a “suspicious black man.” These two events suggest how Asian American politics are at a crossroads. In one instance, Asian Americans are siding with the status quo against other minorities, and yet, in another, they remain susceptible to racial profiling and harm. To examine this dynamic, I interviewed 11 different civic and social organizations serving the Asian American community. These in-depth interviews, which have already been completed, explored their politics, their constituencies, and their relationships with African Americans.

Interpreting my interview data in relation to insights from critical race and feminist scholarship, my analysis destabilizes the pan-ethnic/racial identity “Asian American” to reveal and elevate the experiences of its most marginalized members, including the poor and working class. Further, by illuminating the relationship of Asian Americans to anti-blackness, I illustrate how racial identities are implicated in reproducing hierarchies of unjust power. Through this analysis, I map the contours of an Asian American identity that challenges whiteness, class inequality and patriarchy.