Contemporary And (C&): The racial triangulation between Blacks, Asians, and others (whites) is something that occupies you. Among other things, this was instigated by the work of Claire J. Kim, who has related the experience of Asian American and African American communities. Could you talk a bit about this approach?
kate-hers RHEE: While I was a graduate student I took a class with political scientist Claire J. Kim at the University of California, Irvine. For me this was a profound moment as I drew upon my confounding experiences growing up as a non-white, non-Black person, in a severely racially segregated Detroit suburb and attending college in the similar racially tense city of Chicago. In her theory of racial triangulation, Kim argues that, Asian-Americans “… have been racialized relative to and through interaction with whites and blacks. As such, the respective racialization trajectories of these groups are profoundly interrelated.”
Racial triangulation materializes through two processes which ultimately serve to reinforce white power and privilege. The mainstream valorizes Asians over Blacks, citing Asians’ hard work ethic and material successes and implying deficiencies in the latter. Yet unlike Blacks, Asians continue to be inherently alien, apolitical, and unassimilable to mainstream culture, and never perceived as true Americans. In the 1960s, Asian-Americans were dubbed “the model minority” and since then, this myth has plagued the relationship between Asian-Americans, the “good minority,” and Blacks and Latinos, the “deficient minorities.” As I encountered the perception of Blackness by the white German mainstream, I couldn’t help but consider what impact that had on perceptions of Asianness.
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