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Journal of Asian American Studies 5.1 (2002) 5-11
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Guest Editor's Introduction
A/A: African American-Asian American Cross-Identifications
Excavating the A/A Encounter
This special issue addresses Asian American/African American relationships but extends the topic into specific questions of cross-identification and dialogic construction. The field of Asian American Studies has been especially concerned with how the Asian American disrupts the Black-White binary and how political linkages across communities of color could open up new ways of thinking about race and ethnicity. Originally a panel at the annual meeting of the AAAS in Scottsdale, Arizona (in May 2000), these three essays offer a new look at an enduring and important issue within Asian American Studies: the interconstitutive nature of racialization in the U.S. All three of these essays are promising because they are aware of the risks of looking to the African American/Asian American encounter as inherently progressive: Yamamoto is painfully cognizant of the African American burden of serving as everyone's racial conscience, Ongiri gestures toward African American willingness to exoticize, and Northern's visit to Ladakh leads her to question Blackness as a visually (over)determined signifier. All three are informed by poststructuralist cautions: no unified Asian American subject meets a unified African American subject in these essays—rather, all three scholars steer us away from the easy encounter, from racialized pedagogies of encounter-as-salvation. All three get us beyond a space where the Asian American is merely an interpolation in the American racial imaginary. I [End Page 5] would like to offer some contextualizing remarks that will put the essays into a broader context and that draws out certain connections between them.
A brief genealogy of work on the African American/Asian American interface will help to draw these essays into a broader framework. General scholarship on Asian American/African American relations includes Gary Okihiro's "Is Yellow Black or White?," Lipsitz's The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, and Palumbo-Liu's Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier, and of course Omi and Winant's hugely influential and meticulously researched study of how, for example, the U.S. census is always already an exercise in relational racialization. 1
A large body of work addresses African American-Korean American relations in Los Angeles (E. Chang and Leong, E. Chang and Diaz-Veizades, Abelmann and Lie, K.C. Kim, E. Kim, Cho ). 2 Not surprisingly, much of this work focuses on conflict, though Edward T. Chang's work has consistently shown how interethnic coalition building is both necessary and possible. Some of this work, such as Jeff Chang's essay on the reception of Ice Cube's "Black Korea" in Los Angeles, 3 shows how deeply difficult multiethnic community-building can be. David Palumbo-Liu 4 considers a key photograph of a Korean American holding a gun and wearing a tee shirt of Malcolm X as a "twisted corollary" to images of Rodney King being beaten and a "fulcrum inserted between ethnic groups" (188). But, as Yamamoto points out in her essay here, taking the Los Angeles civil unrest as the defining moment in African American/Asian American relations delimits the matter and collapses complex historical and representational processes into one spectacular display of violence; we must be able to see past attempts to construct it as emblematic and instead to see such work as part of the on-going project of dialogic racialization.
Our origin myth describes the Asian American movement mainly as emerging out of the Black Power movement. This trenchant political connection and the debt that it entails have inspired both scholarship and performance. A special issue of Giant Robot magazine titled "Yellow Power" provided a detailed history of Asian American activists in the 1960s-70s [End Page 6] and their intimate relationships with African American political figures. Nobuko Miyamoto has memorialized her personal and political engagement with the Black Power movement in her performance art work, A Grain of Sand, and Yuri Kochiyama's...