Last Friday, February 19, 2016, marked the 74th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. The anniversary of Executive Order 9066 is the anniversary of the internment of my father’s Japanese family (and the anniversary of their expulsion from Los Angeles, a topic which I am especially sore about during the long Chicago winter). I jest, reflexively, because that is how painful it is to think about families–my family–being jettisoned from their homes and communities, and incarcerated because of race hysteria.
The Friday before last was the, “first massive, nationwide Asian-American protest in years,” and it was held, “in defense of a police officer who shot and killed an innocent black man.” These two events are strongly linked in my mind as a Japanese Asian-American working in a profession dedicated to increasing police accountability. In the article I cite above, “How Should Asian-Americans Feel About the Peter Liang Protests?” author Jay Caspian Kang discusses the complicity of Asian-Americans in our nation’s racial hierarchies, a complicity that he argues was demonstrated when Asian-Americans protested en masse at the manslaughter conviction of Asian-American N.Y.P.D. police officer Peter Liang for his role in the 2014 on-duty murder of a young Black man. The conviction was the first handed down in a New York line-of-duty shooting in over a decade. (And for anyone tuning in from outer space, it was not, however, the first suspicious N.Y. line-of-duty shooting of a young Black man that decade.) Caspian Kang asks, “If Liang (and by extension, all Asian-Americans) enjoyed the protections of whiteness, then how do you explain his conviction?”
I offer no opinion on whether or not Peter Liang is the Asian-American ‘sacrificial lamb’ offered up to those protesting police violence in the wake of Ferguson, Mo. I don’t find the question especially interesting. Not because identity politics aren’t interesting: I’m a half-Japanese woman whose grandparents met in an internment camp–I’m interested in identity politics. The question that Caspian Kang poses is not interesting to me at this moment in time because I believe that talking about policing in America is to talk about blackness, and it is not enough to skirt around relationships to blackness. Caspian Kang’s article does the important work of expanding consciousness and the political imagination without doing the essential work of saying that policing and mass incarceration is at its core the most lethal manifestation of anti-blackness.
To go back to the anniversary of my family’s internment, an experience that has centered my own thoughts on whiteness, policing, and incarceration, it is important to recognize moments when racial hierarchies become so pronounced that they are elevated to a topic of national conversation and outrage. These moments are called opportunities. The internment of Japanese Americans reached one of those moments…long after the internment of Japanese Americans. The fever pitch of national outcry post-Ferguson is another. It is important to interrogate our relationships to whiteness and privilege, but to be on the right side of justice we must also acknowledge the immediacy of problems such as policing not only as an important and ticklish racial problem, but as a time-sensitive moral imperative.
Caspian Kang closes by acknowledging a point I wish to emphasize (a point that mirrors my own difficulties in criticizing Caspian Kang). He situates his Asian-American otherness, saying, “I know the lifeblood of my conditional whiteness as an educated, upwardly mobile Asian-American lies somewhere in those conflicts. And because it’s historically been in the best interests of people like me to never discuss these things, even in private, I lack the vocabulary to discuss it.” He opens an important door of conversation, and I hope we can all step into that door. For me–and I really like Caspian Kang, so I am going to say probably for him, too–the essential vocabulary is there: #AkaiGurley #EricGarner #MichaelBrown #TamirRice #WalterScott #FreddieGray #LaQuanMcDonald…