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In places near the ocean where merchants sell live crabs, they display their wares in open barrels without tops. When the crabs try to escape by climbing up the sides of the barrel they always fail. As soon as one starts to climb up, the others who are also trying to escape pull it back down. When we try to overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, or class oppression, we often find ourselves in the position of crabs in a barrel. We work as hard as we can, but all our efforts fail to free us. We cannot get at the people who really have power, but we can reach someone from our own group or someone from another group no more powerful than our own. Instead of pulling ourselves up, we only pull someone else down. It is not hard to figure out why this happens. People with power want those they rule to be divided and to fight each other so they will not unite and fight side by side against their true enemy. If forced to make concessions to aggrieved groups, the powerful want the gains of one group to come at the expense of another, instead of acceding to a fundamental redistribution of resources and power. This “divide and conquer” strategy has been used more and more in recent years. Unlike the relatively simple segregation and onedimensional white supremacy of the past that produced a relatively 117 C H A P T E R 5 Like Crabs in a Barrel Why Interethnic Anti-Racism Matters Now You know, the hardest thing about pan-Asian solidarity is the “pan” part. It forces us outside of our comfort zones, whether they are constructed by ethnicity, class, home city, identity, whatever. —Naomi Iwasaki, “Pan-Asian What?” uniform and unified system of exclusion, the racism of today proceeds through practices that produce differentiation rather than uniformity, that give excluded groups decisively different relations to the same oppression. Yet these new divisions can also produce unexpected affiliations and alliances. Attacks on bilingual education and immigrant rights harm both Latinos and Asian Americans. Irrational and alarmist policies about AIDS stigmatize both homosexuals and Haitians. Puerto Ricans on the mainland are Spanish speakers from a colonized homeland like Mexicans and suppressed second-class U.S. citizens like Blacks. Filipino Americans may be noncitizen immigrants from Asia like Korean Americans, but they are also like Mexicans in that they are immigrants from a Catholic nation colonized by Spain whose patron saint is the Virgin of Guadalupe. For scholars in ethnic studies, the prospect of alliances among groups with similar but nonidentical experiences holds special import. In a world that produces a seemingly infinite amount of differentiation and division, interethnic antiracist alliances emerge as a crucial site for the generation of new forms of affiliation, identification, and social mobilization . Researchers specializing in the study of race and ethnicity have been producing significant new works every year. Ethnic studies programs and departments are proliferating at an accelerated pace. At every level of instruction, lesson plans and curricula reflect an unprecedented attention to issues of identity and power. Yet while ethnic studies is doing very well, ethnic people are faring very badly. It has proven easier to desegregate libraries and reading lists than to desegregate college classrooms or corporate boardrooms. Images of ethnic people (and ideas about them) circulate widely, but many of the people themselves remained confined in ghettos, barrios, and prisons. The literature, art, and music created in communities of color frequently command more respect than the communities that created them. Businesses seem more interested in managing diversity than in diversifying management. The dominant institutions of our society may be willing to make room for some version of “multiculturalism,” but they remain unwilling to give members of aggrieved racial groups fair and equal 118 – LIKE CRABS IN A BARREL access to jobs and justice, to housing and health care, to education and opportunities for asset accumulation. The contrast between the successes of ethnic studies and the crises facing ethnic communities is especially galling because academic Ethnic Studies emerged as a field precisely because of movements for social justice during the 1960s and 1970s. The institutional spaces we occupy exist because community activists and organizations won them through sustained collective struggle. Poor people burned down their neighborhoods thirty years ago to protest intolerable inequalities and injustices . They won little for themselves through their efforts, but among the concessions granted in response to their anger were departments of ethnic...


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MARC Record
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