A Complicated History of Han Chinese Anti-Blackness
August 2, 2020 1:27 PM   Subscribe

A Complicated History of Han Chinese Anti-Blackness. (Medium) Frankie Huang reflects on the relationship between Han chauvinism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. Previously, Eileen Huang (no relationship) calls out the Asian-American community to reflect on the contributions of Black activists to Asian-American civil rights.
I used to attribute the desire for White adjacency as what causes Han Chinese people to side with White Americans in denouncing escalated Black Lives Matter protests. But in context with Han chauvinism, which continues to influence the Chinese government’s policies more and more, it must be easy for them to see reason in defending the status quo in order to uphold peace and order, even at the expense of a marginalized group’s dignity and rights. As of this year in China, 1 million Uyghurs (a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority) are in concentration camps, Hong Kong has just been stripped of its political independence, and Taiwan is regularly intimidated with the threat of military offensive, all justified in the name of the greater good… for the Han majority. (Both Taiwan and Hong Kong have Han-majority populations, but their political deviation from the CCP is what causes them to be labeled as threats to a harmonic Han-led reign by the Chinese government.) The thing that so disturbs me is the way so many Han Chinese people in China and in the United States support these actions, or regard them as necessary sacrifices for the good of a Han majority-dominated nation.

Such acquiescence for the Chinese government’s cruel actions does not exist in a vacuum; it is a powerful sentiment that makes it feel reasonable to support the American government’s cruelty against Black people, particularly when it seemingly has no negative impact on the success of the Han Chinese community, or may even help it. This isn’t White adjacency so much as a confluence of kindred beliefs.
posted by Anonymous (10 comments total)
I can think of a couple more reasons for some of the generational divide: just like in the US, racism was more acceptable in the past, just ask a random Chinese grandma what she thinks of white people and it may not be much better than the response for a question about black folk; you might get a rant on "ghosts". Secondly is the difference in the relationship to the government, a lot of Chinese citizens think their government is on their side and works to protect them, whereas most Americans are at best suspicious of their government.
posted by 445supermag at 2:41 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Why in the world does the author accept and legitimize the term Han Chauvinism. I opened Wikipedia and it says the term was invented by Mao Zedong, obviously for his government's supposedly "multi-cultural" social policies. There needs to be some sort of nuanced analysis of this, if the point is to draw an equivalence (n.b. the SAT word "confluence") between Mainland Chinese historical racism versus White post-slavery racism.

It's true from my personal observations that middle-aged ethnically-Han Chinese Americans range from ignorant/apathetic to "fearful"/disapproving of BLM. The latter kind seems rare, which is not to say that the former kind could be improved a lot. But here's the thing. The author is faulting her parents and traditional Chinese society in general for their racism against blacks. But the barrier to cultural assimilation is itself because of overarching white American racism; it's their kids with a Western upbringing who are more likely to get different values through Western education.

Maybe I'm lucky but in my Chinese Canadian community, I do not know a single older boomer-aged+ person who supports the various things the mainland Chinese government is being critical of, in particular re. Uighur and HK.
posted by polymodus at 4:09 PM on August 2, 2020 [9 favorites]

I don't want to call you out for other-ing Chinese people! just wanting to note to be careful

Well, maybe you should because I did make sweeping statements. In reality, rather than my own conclusions, what I said was a near exact quote from a Chinese citizen who was remarking on my criticism of the US government, explaining why it was so strange to hear.
posted by 445supermag at 4:11 PM on August 2, 2020

I agree, the previous generation(s) of emigrants from China/ HK/ Taiwan could be hideously racist (qv. HK racism against Indian, Filipino, etc. immigrants in HK. Mostly along economic lines, though.

Among emigrants into Caucasian majority areas, I feel that a large part of the anti-white racism stems from bitterness and self-defense (at being discriminated against by some/ many in the new community).

The anti-black (and anti-indigenous) seems to mostly be "picked up" or "herd instinct" rather than actual racism against blacks and indigenous people.

As a counterpoint, Eddie Huang's 'Fresh Off the Boat' sitcom challenges and acknowledges the complicatedness of the situation, but not without difficulties - where Asian immigrants might latch onto African American culture, and AA culture being sympathetic to some parts of the Asian immigrant experience (qv. Bruce Lee, Wu Tang Clan).

I think that the author is unable or unwilling to acknowledge the economic aspect of racism.
posted by porpoise at 6:08 PM on August 2, 2020

The anti-black (and anti-indigenous) seems to mostly be "picked up" or "herd instinct" rather than actual racism against blacks and indigenous people.

What is the difference between "picked up" racism and "actual" racism, materially?
posted by Anonymous at 6:25 PM on August 2, 2020

Also, I do think the author touches on the economic aspect--she points out the economic and social hardships that her parents' generation went through and how that may have helped shape their current attitudes.
posted by Anonymous at 6:27 PM on August 2, 2020

What is the difference between "picked up" racism and "actual" racism, materially?

From my perspective, the difference is the connection with the term "herd instinct" that schroedinger used to connect to "picked up". One is a behaviour used as a way to fit in better with the dominant culture that somebody is trying to survive in as an outsider without necessarily the internalized belief that black and indigenous people are inferior. I see it related to the behaviour of most bullies when they are young: by finding people to oppress in a way that's acceptable to the people around you, you are kept safer from that oppression yourself. I believe that adults should be aware enough to stop perpetuating this sort of behaviour, though.
posted by WaylandSmith at 6:58 PM on August 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I found this piece problematic because it conflates "Han chauvanism" with white supremacy. Ironically, given its title, that conflation erases Chinese history and its own rhetoric about its current rise and power as a direct rebuke to "the century of humiliation" that China suffered from the West. White supremacy and Black Lives Matters are VERY different from what is happening in Xinjiang to the Uyghur people and the crackdown on Hong Kong and to map them onto each other is, I think, very American-centric.

These things are not ahistorical. The very existence of Hong Kong is only because it was a concession during the Opium Wars. That's why you have pro-China elements in Hong Kong rooting for the police, because to support the police is to support China becoming whole again after its humiliations. And what we are seeing in Xinjiang and the persecution of the Uyghur people is actually part of a longer history of expansion and imperialism from China that literally dates back centuries.

That's why it's problematic to conflate something that is uniquely American with something that is uniquely Chinese.

I don't disagree that anti-Blackness is a real issue in Chinese and Asian American immigrant communities. There's a long history there that comes from minorities fighting over the scraps of what we can get in the U.S. Lower-income immigrants often move to where they could afford to live or places they were redlined into. They were often Black neighborhoods, and the tension that arises when minorities don't connect with each to her. You can see this now with George Floyd, and the Arab immigrant owner of Cup Foods who called the police on him, or with Latasha Harlins, who was shot by a Korean shop owner.

(As an aside, I can point to my own mother, over how complicated all of this is. We are both first generation immigrants [I suppose I'm more 1.5]. She supports Black Lives Matters and hates Donald Trump. She also strongly supports police actions in Hong Kong precisely because it is about reunifying Hong Kong with China. The amazing thing about it, at least to me, is that my grandfather, her father, was a Nationalist official! The entire reason my maternal side of the family lives in Taiwan now is because we were on the losing side of the Chinese Civil War. When we argue about Hong Kong, she always says that I don't know Chinese history LOL)

The piece also erases Chinese Americans who are NOT immigrants or not from China. For instance, what do Chinese folks who have been here for way longer than one or two generations have anything to do with China or the CCP today? Or Chinese people who are from say, SE Asia? Some of the folks who have been here for generations even became activists in the civil rights, like Grace Lee Boggs, or took part in the movement to legitimize ethnic studies in the 1960s.

This shit is complicated. Let's not flatten it.
posted by so much modern time at 9:42 PM on August 2, 2020 [30 favorites]

She also strongly supports police actions in Hong Kong precisely because it is about reunifying Hong Kong with China.

This dynamic you describe is also very common amongst Chinese diaspora in SE Asia, even the anglophones who would be more partial to western attitudes (and certainly when they're racist, their anti-black attitudes are informed very much by this western predisposition, and is expressed locally in anti-indian and anti-native/indigenous racism. ETA: but it's not just Western-derived. Chinese cultural imperial superiority is real in this part of the world). This is of course juxtaposed by their legit feelings against state discrimination as a minority (certainly in Malaysia), so they don't see a conflict in holding both views.

Only in the younger generation I am seeing more of a realignment with regards to China and institutionalised racism, the way more young Jewish Americans take a more critical view of Israel.
posted by cendawanita at 5:36 AM on August 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

I don't see the piece as *conflating* Chinese racism and American anti-Black racism, so much as pointing out where there are parallel currents that feed and amplify anti-Black racism in Chinese-Americans. It's not "mapping;" these aren't parallel situations being analogized to each other; they're things happening simultaneously that affect the lives and worldviews of Chinese-Americans.
posted by pykrete jungle at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2020

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