our immigration struggle must center blackness

a few days ago i wrote a piece that elicited so many white tears, they could be used to provide the city of flint, michigan, with water. i have also appreciated the ways that people have engaged with and questioned the piece, so that sentence will be the only joke i make about white people in this post.

in reflecting on why some white people and nonblack people of color don’t think some of the behaviors i outlined are destructive, i truly believe it is because our traditional immigration narrative has been rooted in anti-blackness.

i am equipped to speak to the traditional immigration narrative because i am the most model of model minorities. my father received a scholarship to come study in the united states after completing his degree from the Harvard of China. my parents received WIC aid and worked themselves up from factory jobs to homeownership and sending their two children to top tier, ivy league universities. everyone in my nuclear family has citizenship and advanced degrees.

this doesn’t mean that we haven’t felt racism and discrimination along the way, or that we don’t know what to it’s like to survive through poverty. however, i think it does mean that we have rested on those experiences of suffering to not engage with solidarity efforts with black people in the united states, who also suffer racism, discrimination, poverty, and additional violences like police brutality and trauma from slavery.

this is ironic because black people have been at the forefront of fighting for our rights as immigrants in the united states. the civil rights movement fought for voting rights for immigrants, and martin luther king jr and malcolm x were vocal critics of the united states’ imperial war in vietnam. black people have done more in the united states for immigrants than white people, and we need to revise our immigrant narratives to acknowledge the role of blackness.

anti-blackness in the immigrant narrative starts happening when distinctions are created between “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants”, or “good minorities” and “bad minorities”. this is why i am vehemently opposed to narratives about”great” immigrants, because they are used to indict black people and people of color, especially undocumented people, who don’t fit into this mold. black people are criminalized in the united states according to stereotypes like “lazy” and “thuggish”, whereas immigrants are praised for being “hard working” and “upstanding”. donald trump is already perpetuating this good minority/bad minority divide with his order to publish a list of immigrants who commit crimes (funny how white people are suddenly silent about how  “we are all immigrants” on that front). focusing on “great” immigrants is just a white liberal way of doing exactly what donald trump is doing.

the good minority/bad minority distinction is perpetuated by paternalistic descriptions of peaceful, docile immigrants (asians!) in stark contrast to angry, divisive black folks. however, paternalism has always been a key justification for colonial wars. the submissive asian woman stereotype continues to sanction violence to this day, when asian women are killed by their white boyfriends because of a paternalistic narrative of submission. this violent history is at the root of attempts to persuade white people to let in “the peaceful and kind immigrant,” which is why i don’t fuck with appeals to how comfortable my existence is for white people.

lastly, it is important to understand that anti-blackness and colorism plays a role in the erasure of certain immigrant communities. i have often been told that asian americans are too wealthy to concern themselves with the struggle. this may be true of some east asians, but it not true of darker southeast asians, many of whom are refugees, and who live in some of the highest poverty in the united states. anti-blackness and colorism within white communities and our own communities erase immigrants who are systemically disenfranchised because of anti-black discrimination across the globe.

in having conversations over the past few days, i’ve come to realize that the mass narrative of immigration is not accustomed to being challenged at this profound level (though these arguments are nothing new amongst immigration organizers). we’re in a moment of transformation where i think we should question and challenge many of the prevailing ideologies that got us to this moment—including our ideologies about immigrants. i point out these fallacies in the immigration narrative not to be divisive but precisely because we can never come together under an ideology that commits violence against some of the most vulnerable in our society. it is this violence against black communities and people of color latent in white liberalism that divides, not the voices of people of color who point it out.


2 thoughts on “our immigration struggle must center blackness

  1. Thank you for the revised version. I did appreciate the first one also. As one of the newly arrived to the movement I did not expect cookies and and warm embraces. I did expect to be rebuked for my failure and unwillingness to see outside my bubble sooner but am looking to educate myself and seek knowledge from the strong who have been fighting this fight longer and know the pitfalls. The tone at which you “inspire” people to move forward is so important and I would think the frustration you have at us is a bitter taste in your mouth but bring us along- don’t run us off. Remember something woke you up, lite your fire, you came to this movement uneducated and new at one time also. Be the beacon that I sense in your words and I am drawn to. Make sure your sharp stick prods not skews your audience.


  2. Whiteness, so ingrained into our society, was established almost entirely so that “blackness” was the antithesis to its supposed goodness and “superiority,” even though all it gives one who is poor and white is a sense of that false pride.

    Many immigrant groups indeed traded their perceived otherness to be white or, what would be considered, in the “model minority” fashion, white enough.

    When you have nothing, false pride is a mighty mirage. And giving the masses false pride in exchange for actual power is too often the currency of politics. The brand of Liberalism, with its inherent classism, loves everybody up until the point that they’re a mess that is prickly to an investment in classist, racist ideals — or, more simply, a human being who wasn’t lucky in a gauntlet of a world with all of its various hierarchies, in addition to the human condition, but still won’t drink the premium coffee. This broad kind of liberalism also, just like its non-socially progressive counterpart, either demonizes or blindly puts on an appropriating kind of pedestal.

    When it comes to race, our society — and most of ’em really (the ones that argue otherwise are often just quite homogeneous) — really is quite screwed up. It’s hard to know how there can be genuine solidarity that doesn’t have a privileged bent. Many, if not most poor people of color are simply not going to be protesting anything ’cause their lives are too much of a struggle as is, and they’re not steeped in the various esoteric worlds of academia or social consciousness — many poor people of color are social conservatives, for instance, so it’s all complicated and I suppose that an occasional base level of solidarity is, well, something — and it should be able to include “hey, I don’t like your privileged, domineering approach, but here we are.”

    The world that isn’t tailored to privilege is often one where just walking around in it means you’re going to get a “hey, go screw yourself,” after all.


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