Today’s New Yorker of Color
E. Tammy Kim, New Yorker, Racial Politics
E. Tammy Kim, Yale 2002.
There was a time when the New Yorker viewed itself as the voice of an imaginary top-hatted and monocled urban sophisticate of impeccable White Anglo-Saxon pedigree, whimsically named Eustace Tilley, whose costume hinted at residence in an imaginary Regency Manhattan, drawn scrutinizing skeptically a passing butterfly, evidently attempting to determine if its quality rises to a level worthy of his recognition and acquaintance.
Today’s New Yorker of almost a century later, like the American Establishment it speaks to, and for, has changed most remarkably.
Its authors are still dyed-in-the-wool representatives of the community of fashion, channeling the Zeitgeist and delivering up the intellectual results of educations at the finest universities in the land, like Yale, just for instance. But, where the old New Yorker was devoted to the eternal quest for top quality writing and exhibitions of high intelligence, today’s New Yorker is an angry, self-righteous fanatic, a Savanarola or Robespierre, devoted to the Revolution in which the likes of Eustace Tilley will be indicted for limitless historical crimes against a constellation of Identity Groups, convicted and guillotined in Manhattan’s version of the Place de la Concorde.
The magazine’s pages will, henceforth, be devoted to organizing and agitating on behalf of all officially-recognized Oppressed Categories; denouncing and destroying Eustace, everything he stands for, and all his relations; and negotiating the precise future status and power relations of every category of victim in the new Majority.
E. Tammy Kim, in the latest New Yorker, is endeavoring to book some advantageous accommodations on Karl Marx’s Arc for Koreans like herself, when the Rising Tide of Color in the imminent future sweeps away the white American majority, the Founding Fathers, God, apple pie, and the entire former canon of Western History and Culture.
The most recent time I was mistaken for white was a few weeks ago, on that most ignoble medium of Zoom. This time, it was a virtual organizing meeting for a tenant-rights group in New York. The handful of people on the call were mostly friends, all of us concerned about protecting neighbors from eviction, particularly during the pandemic. As we discussed the welfare of longtime renters, and as Black Lives Matter protests erupted a few blocks away, a new member of the group tried to thoughtfully turn the lens.
â€œWeâ€™re talking gentrification, but everyone on this call is white,â€ she said.
â€œActually, Iâ€™m not white,â€ I replied.
â€œOh, I just meant that we have no people of color,â€ she said. â€œNo Black or brown people.â€
I nodded to clear the air and because I found the exchange more intriguing than discomfiting. Though our organizing group included people of all races, it was true that this particular meeting was overwhelmingly white. The woman had thus invoked â€œpeople of colorâ€ and â€œBlack and brownâ€ to mean renters who were Black or Latinx, older and lower-income. I wondered if she would have said the same thing if younger, wealthier newcomers who happened to have dark skin had been on the call. Would they qualify as â€œpeople of colorâ€?
I want to clarify that I do not look white. I am Korean-American and appear very much the part. So the womanâ€™s mistake was not centered in her visual cortex but, rather, in whatever organs of intellect and affect tell us that one thing is not like the other. It was a short, mundane encounter of the kind Iâ€™ve had many times before, with both Black and white people.
E. Tammy Kim, strangely enough to my own mind, emerged from dear old Yale, Philosophy degree in hand, apparently astonishingly well versed on the opinions of every minor communist academic crackpot at every cow college in the country. She can quote chapter and verse concerning every real and suppositious grievance for every malcontent identity group, but she somehow overlooks entirely the sunny side of life.
Personally, I think she might forgive America its 19th Century Ban on Chinese Immigration and our insufficient wage payments to migrant labor and poor whites when she considers that America also saved half of her ancestral homeland from Communist despotism and slavery and, despite all our racism and White Supremacy, let her family come here, where instead of digging ditches and eating turnips like the typical North Korean, she got to revel in the luxury of Yale’s Trumbull College and publish regularly in the Times and the New Yorker.
One asks oneself: What does it take to satisfy this chick?
[A] growing number of activists and commentators say that â€œpeople of colorâ€ no longer works. The central point of Black Lives Matter, after all, has been to condemn the mortal threat of anti-Black racism and name the particular experiences of the Black community. â€œPeople of color,â€ by grouping all non-whites in the United States, if not the world, fails to capture the disproportionate per-capita harm to Blacks at the hands of the state. The practical use of â€œpeople of colorâ€ has also devolved into â€œdiversityâ€ rhetoric, invoked by a white managerial class that may be willing to hire fair-skinned Latinx or Asian expats but not Black people, or by non-Black minorities who lean on the term only when itâ€™s convenient. Say Black if you mean Black. S. Neyooxet Greymorning, a professor of anthropology and Native American studies at the University of Montana, told me that â€œpeople of colorâ€ tends to blot out the concerns of not only Black people but those who claim the â€œpolitical,â€ non-racial category of indigenous. â€œThe problem is, even when you have those kinds of alliances, normally one group will rise to the top and dominate the other groups,â€ he said.
To be clear, Greymorning did not mean to contest the present focus on Black lives. He applauded it and noted that every mobilization needs a definable aim; ending all discriminatory violence would be too large and blurry a goal to structure a movement. But itâ€™s also the case thatâ€”since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, in 2013â€”some intellectuals and activists have contended that anti-Blackness alone can explain U.S. history, and that all other campaigns for racial and social justice are tributaries of the Black liberation struggle. Rejecting the term â€œpeople of colorâ€ may be of little consequence, but rejecting the solidarity it implies can result in an inaccurate and unduly limiting world view.
As Margo Okazawa-Rey, a professor emerita at San Francisco State University who participated in the Black feminist Combahee River Collective of the nineteen-seventies, put it, â€œThe history of this country is told from the East Coast,â€ thereby privileging the Black-white binary. This lens is foundational, and central to our racial imaginary, but it should not be the only one. The enslavement of Black people on this continentâ€”and the caste system devised to maintain itâ€”cannot fully explain the attempted genocide of indigenous peoples, a decades-long ban on Chinese immigration, the mass deportations and lynching of Mexican migrant workers, the crackdown on Arab and Muslim communities after 9/11, or our wars in the Philippines and Iraq. The wealth of the United States owes not only to slavery but also the exploitation of migrant workers and poor whites, and the theft of land and natural resources here and abroad. And although it is now common to attribute the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 solely to the civil-rights movement, its more proximate cause was the injunction of anti-Communist foreign policy.
Clearly, as we see below, it takes, speaking as a member of the current European-descended majority, nothing less than our replacement, supplanting, defeat and cultural and political elimination.
This cute little Asian girl is really a raving communist and a spectacularly virulent racist.
What seems obvious is: Considering her views, why doesn’t she just go to Cuba, or North Korea, where she doesn’t need to organize, agitate, or struggle at all. Her vision of “universal liberation, across race and class, against white supremacy and U.S. empire” is already perfectly in place in those countries.
The problem with sorting based on the dominant racial binary, according to the philosopher Linda MartÃn Alcoff, of Hunter College, is that it creates a defeatist paradigm â€œin which a very large white majority confronts a relatively small Black minorityâ€â€”when, in fact, whites in the U.S. will soon be outnumbered by people of color.