Black Militants and Asian American Model Minorities: Contesting Oppositional Representations; or, On Afro-Asian Solidarities

  • Diane C. Fujino


There is a longstanding assumption that Asian Americans gain mobility through nonpolitical means. This is usually explained through reference to cultural values or historical experiences. From a cultural perspective, Asian values are posited to coincide with American middle-class values, such as respect for authority, diligence, self-discipline, and high motivation for achievement, thus facilitating Asian American success. 

I contend that the invisibility of Asian American political activism is not primarily the result of cultural values, but rather of differential racialization, or ways that particular kinds of racial meanings are imputed to different groups. That in the first half of the twentieth century Japanese Americans were viewed as hyperpolitical and hyperaggressive yellow-peril threats points to the ways that racialized images change over time. They have been influenced by transformations in the political economy and international political alliances, rather than remaining a static feature of culture. Moreover, the fact that the images of Japanese Americans and African Americans were historically inverted suggests the social constructedness of the representations themselves. This difference speaks not only to the way racism operates but also to the very construction of US society. 

By the late 1960s, Asian American activists were creating self-images: promoting community empowerment rather than individual mobility, they drew heavily from Black Power politics and consciously forged Afro-Asian solidarities. I examine the writings of a leading Asian American Movement (AAM) organization, the Asian American Political Alliance, to explore the ways the AAM worked to create this new racial paradigm. I conclude with a focus on the recycling of assimilationist theories to discuss race and politics in today’s age of multiculturalism and so-called “postracial” politics.