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Professor discusses Asian American race relations, tensions in lecture series

| Monday, November 1, 2021

The Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights hosted American political scientist Claire Jean Kim, who spoke about the Asian American race relations for its online lecture series, “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” on Friday. 

The series is led by Dory Mitros Durham, associate director of the Klau Center and leader of the Keough School of Global Affairs’s Racial Justice Initiative, as a response to the acts of police brutality against George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in 2020. Friday’s lecture was held in partnership with the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies.

The program’s goal is to provide “students, faculty, staff and alumni of the University of Notre Dame with sustained, critical engagement on interdisciplinary topics related to understanding systematic racism, and committing to the daily work of anti-racism.”

Kim is a professor of political science and Asian American studies at the University of California Irvine. She holds a BA from Havard and her MPhil and PhD from Yale. She’s written two award-winning books including “Bitter Fruit: the Politics of Black-Korean Conflict in New York City,” and “Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species and Nature in a Multicultural Age.”  Her writing also includes her peer-reviewed publications in the Los Angeles Times and other journals. Currently, she is finishing a book called “Asian Americans in an Anti-Black World” which was the focus of the lecture.

Kim discussed the current cultural context that informs and compounds racial tensions today. She mentioned the Jan. 6 insurrection, the pressures of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities and the Black Lives Matter movement as a result of George Floyd’s murder. 

The pandemic has highlighted the ways Asian Americans “may have the most precarious belonging in the category of people of color,” Kim noted. COVID has brought to the surface the “undercurrent of anti-Asian animus in US culture” with a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans

However, Asian Americans had a lower COVID-19 mortality rate than any other racial group while Black people have been disproportionately affected. Kim attributes the disparity to differences in socioeconomic status but questions why Asian Americans are experiencing more privilege than Black people. She claims Asian Americans have more advantages than other people of color in many ways including stronger socioeconomic well-beings, less redlining and housing discrimination, as well as less targeting from the police. 

Kim’s new book aims to explain this complicated racial dynamic. She wants to “look at how Asian Americans get positioned and repositioned over time as a sort of interstitial group between black and white.” Kim claims Asian Americans are a unique group that is both subjected to white supremacy and perpetuates anti-Blackness. 

Kim argues “the personality of Asian Americans is tied to their political functionality in the ongoing struggle between the U.S. state and the Black Freedom Movement.” She explains that the state has weaponized Asian Americans against the Black freedom struggle by invoking Asian Americans as a false alibi for American society.

Two examples of this weaponization include the model minority myth and the affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard. 

The model minority myth — a minority group with “the right cultural stuff to succeed” — often divides Asian Americans and Black people in their struggle against white supremacy. Structural anti-Blackness incentives Asian Americans to turn against Black people in order to succeed.

Kim claims Harvard’s affirmative action lawsuit was an example of Asian Americans being used as “a proxy for whites.” The Asian American fight against affirmative action was, as Kim claims, an action that’s discriminatory towards other minorities. 

Kim’s lecture and new book encourage her audience to learn more about the complex racial position of Asian Americans in the United States. The take-away from her lecture is that Asian Americans should stand in solidarity with Black people in order to create a more just society.

Anyone interested in hearing more from upcoming speakers at the “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” lecture series can register online at the Klau Center’s website.

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About Claire Lyons

Claire is a sophomore from Fort Worth, TX studying Political Science and English. Her #1 goal is to help other people. She loves Sufjan Stevens, sad indie movies and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Contact Claire