A couple weeks ago, African American boxer Floyd Mayweather posted a video rant full of ignorant, racist stereotypes against Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino boxer. Mayweather posted a fake apology (“I don’t have a racist bone in my body”) in response to criticism of these comments, along with another video intended to show his, ahem, “acceptance” of Asian people which is, unsurprisingly, full of even more racist nonsense (Racialicious).
Mayweather’s comments have been largely overlooked by mainstream news outlets, and the response even from anti-racist organizations has been tepid. Last week an Asian American friend of mine shared a column by ESPN’s Floyd Granderson, who is African American, questioning why there has been so little outcry over this, and specifically calling out the NAACP, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson for what he calls their “muted response,” suggesting that they are judging Mayweather ‘by the color of his skin” rather than by the content of his comments.
The truth is Mayweather’s being given a pass because he’s black . . . . he is being treated differently because he’s black.
And if he were being treated honestly, black man or not, we would be hearing denunciations from Jackson, Sharpton and the NAACP . . . I’m not playing devil’s advocate; I’m advocating for equality — but in the true sense of the word. Whites don’t hold the patent on being racially insensitive, just as blacks are not the only group of people to be discriminated against in this country . . . .
If we truly believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” then it is only fair that the boxing world punish Mayweather. I understand he’s the industry’s cash cow. But this kind of hypocrisy only fertilizes racial tension while simultaneously lining the pockets of people who make their living manipulating that tension [I’m not clear on who Granderson is talking about here. Does he mean Jackson and Sharpton? If so, FAIL.].
My reaction to Granderson’s argument was that it’s hugely problematic in a number of ways, not least because it’s an argument from total silence. And I found it unfortunate that Granderson chose Mayweather’s blackness as the angle for his article rather than the reality that anti-Asian bigotry is still widely accepted as “humor” in our society. It’s seriously problematic to argue that black leaders or the NAACP are required to comment on the situation just because Mayweather is black.
I left a comment to this effect on my friend’s post sharing this article; this started a discussion about the article and the degree to which the NAACP, etc., are obligated to comment on a situation like this. In my opinion, the way Granderson made his argument was racist, and actually detrimental to anti-racist work. My friend, on the other hand, saw the article as holding anti-racist activists accountable to do a better job, and thought Granderson was identifying a potential blind spot in the NAACP, Jackson, and Sharpton.
I emailed Nikki to get her thoughts on the situation and ask if my reaction to the article was off-base. We ended up having a really productive discussion about anti-Asian racism and what it means for anti-racist activists to be good allies to Asian-Americans. Parts of our conversation are posted below the jump, edited and cleaned up to make it easier to follow dialogue.
Tope: Mayweather isn’t getting a pass for being black; he’s getting a pass because anti-Asian bigotry isn’t taken seriously. And it’s not the job of the NAACP to speak out every time a black person says something racially prejudiced – not that I think they shouldn’t, since I believe in anti-racist solidarity – but it’s ludicrous to insist they have to call out prejudiced black people in order to not be hypocrites.
It was really egregious that Granderson made the column about his beef with the NAACP et al and only had ONE paragraph about the history of anti-Asian discrimination, and nothing at all about ongoing anti-Asian bigotry. And the arguments he’s making about them originated with white racism deniers who want to undermine the credibility of the NAACP, and some of his claims are just factually incorrect, so he’s either misinformed, disingenuous, or dealing with some internalized racism when he takes up these arguments against leaders and an organization who have worked for his and others’ civil rights.
I mean for me the bottom line is the argument that black leaders and orgs wouldn’t comment on a black person’s public display of racial prejudice BECAUSE HE IS BLACK is racist, period, no matter who makes it. Am I off base here?
Nikki: He’s getting a pass because anti-Asian bigotry isn’t taken seriously. Agree. It’s not because he’s black. If he had used a bunch of white “slurs” about a white opponent, or even slurs about a Latino opponent, I am just guessing someone would have made more of a stink about it. This is partly because, as you pointed out, anti-Asian prejudice is not taken seriously — and it’s also because Mayweather said things many people may not have been able to identify as “racist” at all, simply because many people (of all races) are quite ignorant about Asian Americans and probably assume what he was saying was true (as stupid and unbelievable as that may seem). Which is probably why the *only* outcry I’ve read about the Mayweather flap has been on anti-racist blogs.
I don’t know if I’d say it was a racist argument. But it seems like a strange claim to make. Even if *some* people are giving Mayweather a “pass” because he’s black, or because they agree with him, or both, it’s impossible to know who is doing that and who isn’t unless they say so explicitly. I would agree with you there is no way to know why the NAACP et al have been silent, other than the assumption that it’s outside their primary mission, which is to combat anti-black racism. And I’d want to give them the benefit of the doubt every time, and not assume their motives were less than pure.
I’ve heard people say that the “CP” in NAACP does stand for all ethnic minorities, but it’s a bit naive to expect them to care as much about anti-Asian racism when tackling anti-black racism is already an enormous and longstanding task. Anyway, I can see why that article and the ensuing discussion bugged you. I don’t think you can know the motive behind someone’s silence, only their words.
That said, I guess as an Asian person I can sympathize with your friend, even though I don’t agree. I found Mayweather’s comments incredibly gross, and wish the incident — and his lame apology — had been more talked about outside anti-racist circles. It’s disappointing to see such an obvious and unapologetic display of racism go mostly ignored, and I understand people asking why, though I do not agree with Granderson’s take on it.
Tope: People (of all races) are quite ignorant about Asian Americans and probably assume what he was saying was TRUE. Yea. Part of what bugged me about the article is that it felt like a missed opportunity to point all that out. It could very well be the case that the NAACP and black leaders need to be called out for not taking anti-Asian bigotry seriously.
I think you’re right that racist might be a overly strong word to use. It’s certainly hugely problematic to assume the reason they haven’t commented is that Mayweather is the same race as them, in the absence of evidence, and given the NAACP’s and even Jackson’s and Sharpton’s records on civil rights issues.
“The ‘CP’ DOES stand for all ethnic minorities . . .” I thought the CP was still in their name as a nod to their history. I mean, I know their mission has broadened, but I’d find it a little weird if they were saying the meaning of “colored people” is different now from what it’s historically meant. But that’s a fairly academic point. It is a black-led and as far as I know mostly black organization, and perceived as an organization focused on “black issues,” so yea, their focus is going to be mostly on issues that affect black communities.
I do think there’s an argument to be made here about the need for anti-racist orgs to express more solidarity with each other. And especially with anti-Asian bigotry, which I think even among anti-racist groups probably isn’t taken as seriously as prejudice against other groups. I get this sense that there’s the “serious” discrimination – against Latinos, Muslims, blacks, say – and anti-Asian bigotry has a kind of second class status :/
It’s disappointing to see such an obvious and unapologetic display of racism go mostly ignored, and I understand people asking why. Yea, and as crappy as Granderson’s argument was, it still made me think about what my reaction is to certain expressions of racism versus others – though that probably was more influenced by the fact that I had just read Kate’s Model Minority post and was already mulling over similar questions when I read the article. I think it is the case that I get more worked up and respond more actively to anti-black racism and other manifestations of prejudice that are more in the public awareness right now than I do about anti-Asian racism.
It also made me think more about how frustrating it must be to constantly deal with the fact that so many people don’t seem to register that anti-Asian racism is even possible. I mean, discussions of anti-black racism are difficult to have but at the very least the idea that someone could say or do something that’s racist against black people is not usually in question.
So I’m realizing that I need to cultivate more empathy for and awareness about the particular difficulties of experiencing and calling out anti-Asian racism, and that I need to work more on being a good anti-racist ally on these issues. Anti-Asian racism is more invisible than other kinds of racism, so that means that other POC allies need to be all the more in solidarity with Asians in calling it out.
Nikki: I’ve only read a little about specific anti-Asian racism, but I tend to think it’s not seen as an issue in part because of the “model minority” viewpoint, and in part because it’s just not very well understood. Asians deal with “perpetual foreigner” syndrome; some white people are so ignorant about South/East Asians and other groups that they just don’t think much about us, or can’t even recognize the racism when they see it.
I also think some racism against Asians is obviously way more harmful than others. I am annoyed by racebending and the almost total absence of Asians in popular culture, and their marginalization/stereotyping when they ARE present. But the more harmful stuff, the stuff that really gets under my skin, would be the gross stereotypes of Asian women as “exotic”/submissive/childlike/demure/”traditional”/fill-in-the-blank (racist AND horribly sexist) and the general emasculation of Asian men. And the perpetual foreigner stuff also means that a large group of people will just never see me as “American enough” — being asked where I’m from or told my English is “really good!” irritates me every time.
I also think it’s important to note that anti-Asian prejudice is hard to track because it waxes and wanes depending on the era. You have people who might hate the Japanese because of WWII and will never get over it, and since many white people can’t tell Asians apart, we all get lumped together in their ire. I remember in the early ’90s there was a lot of anti-Japan, anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. because of our dueling commercial interests. And of course, we’ve seen the backlash against Muslims of all nationalities (and anyone with a certain type of last name or certain skin tone) since 9/11.
I have often felt that Asians, no matter how many of us are seen as “successful” in the U.S., have never quite succeeded in gaining the kind of strong foothold here that so many other groups have, even still-marginalized groups. We are never quite seen as “belonging here,” for whatever reason, and so when something bad happens, at home or abroad, we’re always going to be “outsiders” and therefore easy to scapegoat. I feel we’re not very well understood or trusted as a group in America, and could be turned on easily (and historically we have been).
I don’t know that this is so true in places with extremely high Asian American populations, as I have not really lived in a place like Seattle or San Francisco. But it has been the case almost everywhere I’ve lived.
Tope: I have a little personal experience of the perpetual foreigner treatment. When people guess from my name or whatever that I’m not originally American, I often get the where are you really from question. Or if I mention that my family is African/Nigerian, I get congratulated for my English. But it’s interesting – even though African Americans in their own way are not really coded as “real Americans,” there’s a sense in which I can pass as “American enough” because of my blackness in a way that an Asian American can’t.
I feel we’re not very well understood or trusted as a group in America, and could be turned on easily (and historically we have been).
Yes, I definitely see how this would be the case. Model minority is basically a euphemism for “still other, but in our good books” – which is a very dangerous place to be, because it doesn’t take much for a group seen as “other” go from being coded as good to being coded as threatening. And I also think a big part of the model minority image is the perception that Asians “don’t make an issue out of their race” – “tolerance” of Asians often is conditional on upholding the fantasy that anti-Asian racism and racism in general don’t exist anymore.
Nikki: You bring up a good point in that the “model minority” thing is house of cards that falls down as soon as anti-Asian racism is actually brought up in a serious way. I mean, I’m just guessing that people no longer think of me as a “model minority” as soon as I actually start talking about prejudice and racism.
I wouldn’t presume to say anything definite about the African American experience, but you know, even *I* have an easier time seeing most black Americans as “American” than I do some other immigrant groups, including Asians! It’s hard to explain, but part of it is just that African Americans have been here for so long; they have a long, rich history in the U.S.; they were here, fighting wars and fighting for their own freedom, way before Koreans got here, for example. They were naturalized as citizens before most Asian immigrants, even if that citizenship did not automatically come with the rights it should have. Of course I know that they still face enormous prejudice, but in spite of that I do think of them as just as “American” as white people, if not more so, and now I’m wondering if a lot of other white people — even prejudiced ones — feel the same? That black and white Americans are real Americans, and many other people of color are not, somehow?