By Andrea Plaid
I caught anti-racism activist Scot Nakagawa’s online action at Tumblr when an excerpt of his post, “Why I, An Asian Man, Fight Anti-black Racism,” cross-posted at Dominion of New York from his own blog, Racefiles, was getting reblogged and liked all throughout that scene. (N.B. The title also changed. Same essay, though.)
I’m often asked why I’ve focused so much more on anti-black racism than on Asians over the years. Some suggest I suffer from internalized racism.
That might well be true since who doesn’t suffer from internalized racism? I mean, even white people internalize racism. The difference is that white people’s internalized racism is against people of color, and it’s backed up by those who control societal institutions and capital.
But some folk have more on their minds. They say that focusing on black and white reinforces a false racial binary that marginalizes the experiences of non-black people of color. No argument here. But I also think that trying to mix things up by putting non-black people of color in the middle is a problem because there’s no “middle.”
So there’s most of my answer. I’m sure I do suffer from internalized racism, but I don’t think that racism is defined only in terms of black and white. I also don’t think white supremacy is a simple vertical hierarchy with whites on top, black people on the bottom, and the rest of us in the middle.
So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.
With thoughts like that–and, let me be real, a face and headgear like that–I had to know who this man is. So, being me, I interviewed him. In it, he talks about the reaction to his essay, along with other ideas and things that make him totally crushable in my estimation.
Scot, let me be real with you: I think you’re totally hot. Now that I’ve gotten that out the way, tell me…how did you become involved with anti-racism?
I love the compliment. At 50, “totally hot” is not something I hear often, if ever.
I’ve been involved in some sort of anti-racism work since my late teens. Starting around 18 I tutored people in literacy classes and managed youth and family programs and an emergency shelter in my community in Hawaii. My education was gained in the field, working with low-income people of color. I saw the way racism served to exclude us from economic opportunities and political power. The solutions to our problems as a community seemed obvious to me, but winning support for those solutions from the political system was a lot tougher. That got me involved in community organizing.
The first time my work addressed racism specifically and not as part of delivering services to people of color was in the 80s. I worked with a group in Portland, Oregon called the Coalition for Human Dignity. That group formed in response to the murder of an Ethiopian student named Mulugeta Seraw who was beaten to death by neo-Nazi skinheads. The Coalition monitored vigilante white supremacist groups and organized the community to respond to violent bigotry at a time when violence and membership in white supremacist groups was on the rise. The Coalition eventually become a regional organization. Ever since then, keeping an eye on the racist right has been an obsession of mine.