AFRO-ASIAN CULTURAL IMAGINARIES



TEXTS


  • Vijay Prashad, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity. Read "Forethought;" "Strange Career of Xenophobia" "Coolie Purana," "Kung Fusion" .
  • Crystal S. Anderson, Beyond the Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production (Introduction; Chapter 1; Chapter 4)


INTRODUCTION & PROBLEMATIC


This week's readings focused on the Afro-Asian polyculturalism, with a particular focus on formations in media and cultural productions such as film and literature, and offer an alternative political imaginary throughout history. Both Prashad and Anderson root their study of cultural and political formations of identity, solidarity, and relationality in the testimonies of those within the Afro-Asian diasporas themselves, Anderson in published works such as Bruce Lee's kung fu movies and Paul Beatty's White Boy Shuffle, and Prashad through the histories of events such as Hossay, organizations and movements such as the TWA, Garveyism, and Gandhism, and individuals such as Bob Marley and his Chinese Caribbean produces and Bruce Lee. Anderson writes in the wake of the Los Angeles riots, locating White Boy Shuffle and the Matrix trilogy as meditations on the ensuing anxieties. She lauds both works for the ways in which they undermine media-manufactured narratives that pit Black Americans and Korean Americans against one another. Indeed, Anderson notes Beatty's emphasis on moments of cultural exchange and compassion in Afro-Asian character pairings. Through the Matrix trilogy, she critiques the link between science fiction and whiteness/colorblindness and locates the trilogy as a thoughtful depiction of "interethnic cooperation against forces represented as white and male," (Anderson 168). Additionally, Prashad challenges presumptions of racial formations throughout history by reimagining racialization as a product of European imperialism and changing capitalist modes of production that pit groups of people against one another on the basis of race and connects fascism to racism. Furthermore, racial solidarity work is being read inaccurately as "masculine" in kung-fu films because of the absence of substantial female discourse and representation, despite women actually playing a large role.


KEY INTERVENTIONS


  • Xenophobia, social phenotypic and geographic aesthetic desirability, and differentiation based on ethnic identity all existed prior to European contact; however, the classification and institutionalization of xenophobia through biological formations of race in the service of capitalism represented by Europeans represented a departure from previous history. This disrupts 1) the conceptualization that African and Asian peoples did not interact prior to European contact and 2) that Europeans were universally bad and colonized people were uniformly good.
  • Historical interventions about how ppl were interconnected: Historical links between Asian and Black radicalism, including through overlapping influences of Communism + Third Worldism + liberation movements during the Cold War and Vietnam era.
  • The onset of race as an explanation for differences in power and status leads certain intellectuals and nations of the Third World to embrace raciology as an explanation for both past prejudices and the move towards fascism and unanimism predicated along racial belonging. These movements, as they are founded on an exclusionary framework, can be unsuccessful in achieving the goals that they set out.
  • Countries such as Ethiopia and Japan have been romanticized as anti-imperialist sites where people-of-color can challenge white supremacy. This creates an imaginary through example of how a successful effort against white supremacy may carve out a place for people of color either in geopolitics or culture. However, both Japan and Ethiopia have their own history of imperialism and political self-interests. Similarly, Bruce Lee acted as a common symbol between racial groups; as proof that a person-of-color could be heroic and kick-ass through "fearless confrontations with white power" (Anderson, 15).
  • Polyculturalism, the main intervention of Prashad's work, refers to a denial of liberal ideals of multiculturalism that employ colorblind ideologies that propagate inequities and explain it through the lens of culture. Acknowledging this, Prashad instead offers a framework of imagining coherent human beings that live culturally dynamic lives, interacting and conflicting with racial structures. These form "defiant skins" that reject
  • Cultural emulsion is when cultures come together but do not mix. Cultural translation uses one ethnic culture to interpret another ethnic culture and often relies on a hybridized perception of ethnic culture or national identity
  • White Boy Shuffle interrogates the aftermath and anxieties of post LA riot despair among contemporary Black youths, exploring the shared nihilism between Black and Japanese American contemporaries, in light of 'post segregation' / 'post Civil Rights Movement America.'
  • Anderson lauds the Matrix for its preponderance of Afro-Asian character pairings, its emphasis on womanist philosophy, and its engagement in "the metaphor of ethnic conflict that emerges from the Los Angeles riots," distancing it from other science-fiction productions that purported to be racially diverse like Planet of the Apes or Star Trek but actually reinforce racist and sexist stereotypes.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS


  • This week's readings were more wedded to a reparative hermeneutic of seeking out solidarity than were the readings of previous weeks. Prashad's work, in particular, seems to display what Helen Jun calls "a teleological investment in 'interracial solidarity.'" Our class has expressed skepticism of such an investment before. Reading Prashad and Anderson, however, what do we come away with? What are the uses of a reparative hermeneutics of interracial solidarity, and how might Prashad and Anderson encourage us to revise our skepticism of this approach?

  • The Afro-Asian solidarities that Prashad and Anderson delineate sometimes entail a certain degree of captivation with East Asian imperial powers: Prashad's enthusiasm for people-of-color resistance occasionally leads him to gloss non-European, non-U.S. fascisms; Anderson's analysis of Lee's The Big Boss subsumes the fact of Chinese supremacy in Thailand (the Thai prostitute becomes a subaltern figure in the film and in her reading). How might we retain Goffe and Kramer's level of attention to empire in the context of other imperialisms?
  • Anderson's reading of "cultural translation" articulates how the cultural production of one group serves as an epistemological framework through which to imagine the experiences, capacities, and subjectivities of a second group. Although this theorization pushes against a vertical understanding of racial relationality, in which the white subject is the central mediator, the 'translation' method still operates through a heteropatriarchal lens that empowers only male Afro-Asian subjects and actors. What are the ways in which Anderson, and other scholars, push back on these limitations and expand Afro-Asian relationalities vis-à-vis gender and woman of color critique? How can we expand Anderson's conceptions of "cultural translation," into what Sandra Kumamoto Stanley understands as "multiple consciousness," (184), through analyses of African American womanism as a mediator of Afro-Asian relationality?
  • Space and place, on multiple fronts, act as mediators to Afro-Asian formations and solidarities. Anderson, for instance, reads the "racialized urban landscape" in Way of the Dragon as the backdrop through which kung fu culture is made legible to African American youth. Reflecting on her analysis, how are space and culture intertwined to construct national identities and/or relational identifications? Furthermore, what is the role of space-as material, or as imagined constructions-in either reifying moments of solidarity or establishing cultural oppositionality?
  • Can cultural translation be understood as a kind of interpellation solely mediated by ethnic vs. national distinctions reified by colonial histories?


PRIMARY DOCUMENTS/MULTIMEDIA



RAPPORTEUR REPORT


One theme of our discussion this week was how words like "solidarity" and "appropriation" fail to explain the complexity of the Afro-Asian encounters and cultural productions we have been discussing. For example, one group pointed out how "solidarity" implies an active alignment of people, perhaps around a single cause, while phrases like "accompaniment" and "collectivity" might not carry this same connotation. In addition, we spoke about how a show like The Boondocks complicates extant ideas of cultural "appropriation," because cultural objects can be co-produced and influenced by multiple groups. In addition, "appropriation" is tied to a capitalist context and renders invisible the way that art forms are already resultant of cultural exchanges, outside of commercial, Western, or contemporary contexts.

On this idea of cultural exchanges and appropriation, we further discussed the products of cultural proximity through Prashad's theory of polyculturalism, which "assumes that people live coherent lives that are made up of a host of lineages." Through Professor HoSang's recapitulation of Professor Geoff's discussion, we focused on the entanglement of cultural lineages in the making of reggae music for example (how Asian individuals are intricately involved in the development and proliferation this music, from small stars to Bob Marley), but more crucially used Professor Geoff's work as a touchstone for understanding the divide that Prashad draws between polyculturalism and multiculturalism. While our understanding of polyculturalism is somewhat complicated by our familiarity with multiculturalism, it's helpful to think of the former as a tool for dynamic bottom-up culture-making. Polyculturalism stands in opposition to the kind of "food group" ethnicities embodied by multiculturalism (at least in Prashad's understanding of multiculturalism), and the implications of this delineation suggest that "ethnic" communities are not only able to transgress such static conceptions of identity, but actively do so in their daily lives.

A frustration which arose throughout our conversation was the lack of connection and inclusion of feminist of color and queer of color analysis in the readings and discussion this week. This initially arose in discussion of potential capstone ideas and was applied to the readings this week by questioning how the emphasis of masculinity in kung fu movies are what made them legible. Additionally, there was questioning of how relationality in this framework has primarily been seen through the site of the heteronormative family. It was concluded that rather than attempting to fill this gap, it is best to think of the ways this is a symptom of the limitations of the framework.