Adele H. Stamp Student Union - Center for Campus Life

Not Your Model Minority
Pandemic, Proximity, and Power
 

Wall 3 - Power x Privilege / anti-Blackness + Asian Positionality

anti-Blackness and Asian Positionality

The tragic killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others led to a “resurgence” of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, and sparked mass mobilizations of interracial and inter-ethnic solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down. These murders are not isolated incidents, but rather a part of the continued systemic oppression of the Black community.

While this exhibition does not speak for the experience of Black Asians, the following works by non-Black Asian American artists engage in critiquing the influences of white supremacy and anti-Blackness within the artists’ experiences, communities and beyond. Akireddy’s Blue challenges white standards of beauty by presenting the histories of anti-Blackness as the grotesque while huang’s white vegetable series considers the white vegetable as a poetic vehicle for exclusion, the American West, and whiteness. Lastly, kumar’s work white supremacy is a weapon of mass destruction (after james baldwin and toni morrison) elucidates whiteness as a historical category, tied to violence, and weaponized as a “divide and conquer” method to form deep resentment and tension between minority groups. 

The title “Not Your Model Minority” does not hold weight without further addressing how Asian American presence and supposed success are inextricably tied to the existence and marginalization of Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour. As expanded upon by payal kumar’s work, anti-Blackness is a result of white supremacy, and the system of whiteness in itself has pitted minority groups, such as Asian Americans, against each other. Asian American liberation from systemic racism and violence cannot exist without collective liberation from white supremacy and unlearning anti-Blackness. 

If you would like to learn more about the Black Lives Matter Movement, anti-Blackness, and positionality of Asian Americans within spheres of privilege, power, and oppression in race, as well as opportunities to discuss these topics, please refer to our RESOURCES AND FURTHER READINGS page. 


 

white vegetable i from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, white vegetable i, 2020. 16mm converted to digital, 3 minutes

Camera by Erica Sheu

   

 

white vegetable ii from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, white vegetable ii, 2020. 16mm converted to digital, 3 minutes

 

 

white vegetable iii from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, white vegetable iii, 2020. 16mm converted to digital, 3 minutes

Camera by Erica Sheu

 

In considering Freudian melancholia, Freud details how melancholia is pathological, and the melancholic cannot “get over” loss, and in turn, melancholia exists as a type of consumption. Freud writes: “the ego wishes to incorporate this object into itself, and the method by which it would do so, in this oral or cannibalistic stage, is by devouring it.”
If we consider the white vegetable as a poetic vehicle for exclusion, the American West, and for whiteness, what is the melancholic’s relationship with its lost object?


Nibha Akireddy, Blue, diptych of two 12” x 12” pieces, oil on wood panel, 2020

This diptych is inspired by “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. Carrying the novel into the world around me, all this historical hatred against Black people manifests itself as these grotesque white beauty standards that affect cultures across the world. A beauty standard is so superficial and can feel so individual but holds so much underlying hatred and anti-Blackness and repulsive sentiment within it. The eyes are pulled from side to side, bloodshot and stretched and frantic as they transition from dark brown to blue. The blue eyes are piercing in their artificial iciness, anything but beautiful.


payal kumar, white supremacy is a weapon of mass destruction (after james baldwin and toni morrison). acrylic and ink, 2020.

Whiteness as a point of departure is taken as a norm, with discussions around race focusing on Black and brown bodies as the "other"- this assumption obscures how whiteness is socially constructed just as much as anything else, and has very real and violent material consequences. We can't undo the violence of white supremacy without first unpacking whiteness itself as a historical category. It's not just about skin color- many European immigrants coming to America were not considered white at various points in history (the Irish, Jews, Italians, etc) to justify their exploitation. As a political category, it has always been conveniently fluid within the United States (reflected in the Census over the years) and intentionally made invisible to those who benefit from it. "Whiteness" as a racially significant category has largely been defined in opposition to the inferior "other"- whether it was the Indigenous folks who colonizers sought to wipe out of the Americas, enslaved Africans who had become "property" for slave-owners to brutalize while maintaining "moral" superiority, or emancipated Black workers excluded from white labour movements during industrialization. Whiteness is relational, oppositional, parasitic. Why are we so invested in maintaining a system that exists entirely to justify dehumanization and violence? That historically has and continues to pit minority groups (like us Asian Americans) against each other? That only values us conditionally? Who is this for, really?