Yellow Peril and Black Lives Matter

Again, this topic bloomed from my Critical Race Theory class yesterday. I had seen a photo online - a sign with the phrase "Yellow Peril Supports Black Power". I mentioned it in class and gave a brief description that didn't really delve into the history of the phrase, so I thought I'll blog about it because it is a pretty fascinating topic, and it also brings up the issue of cross-sectoral collaboration in the advocacy world.

Image from Love InshAllah

Whiteness as Property

Dan Truong explored the topic in a Huffington Post piece. I think it's important to reinforce the concept that whiteness isn't the same thing as being white. The concept of "whiteness as property" is one of the central tenants of Critical Race Theory. In 1993, Cheryl Harris, wrote an article that laid out the conceptual framework of whiteness as property. In the era that followed the slavery and conquest that characterized the infancy of the United States, whiteness became the prerequisite for access to racialized privilege. We refer to this as white privilege now, but the concept is the same - the term describes the often unconscious process of allocating both public and private social benefits based on the perceived degree of whiteness. 

It was the very racialization of identity that allowed the United States to be established - without this embryonic concept, the ideological justification for slavery and the conquest of the First Nations may have been impossible. As Harris writes, "The hyper-exploitation of black labor was accomplished by treating black bodies as property" and indeed, it was the very act of objectifying black people that conflated race and property. Similarly, it was the objectification of Native Americans that allowed the government to confer the rights of property to whites who settled in Native territory.

Yellow Peril

Check out this WOC in Solidarity Tumblr, Yo!
The idea of the Yellow Peril/Terror/Spectre/<insert terrifying association here> originated in the late 19th Century. As the fantastical story goes, Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany's leader at the time) had a nightmare involving the Buddha riding a dragon and threatening to invade Europe.

It was the threat to imperialism that initially drove the Yellow Peril phenomenon in Europe. In the US, however, the narrative was driven by social consequences from the surfeit of Asian immigrants providing cheap labor for the Westward expansion. The essentialism involved in reducing a human being into a color is part of a larger trend of othering and perceiving nonwhite features as alien. In the book Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fears (John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats, eds), the editors trace this particular brand of racism back to the European colonialism during the Enlightenment.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Tchen's outline of the origin of the harmful Asian caricature image that is still considered acceptable in many circles as a source of entertainment and amusement today:

“From my research, the transplantation of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism into a potent Anglo-American Protestantism is key. This was the underlying, interlocking political culture which formulated a particular notion of the property-owning, white, male, superior, rational male benevolently (and by right) presiding over an expanding north America—with Canada in their sights, south into Mexico and the inferior Spanish colonies, and westward into the Pacific with the luxuries of ‘the Orient’ always beckoning.” When part of that “manifest destiny” ideal was threatened, “the fallback position was to promote what historian Alexander Saxton called a ‘white republic’ with a racially exclusive form of wage labor and industrialization excluding those deemed too ‘lazy’ or too ‘hard working.’”

The 1917 Immigration Act was passed by a majority of Congress, sufficient to override President Woodrow Wilson's veto. The 1917 Act seems to have been written by previous incarnations of the current sentiment that has seized control of the GOP - the presidential candidate who shall not be named, and added to the long list of "undesireables" who were barred from citizenship in the United States. The list ranged from homosexuals, idiots, imbeciles, epileptics and also created an "Asiatic Barred Zone" prohibiting anyone from "any country not owned by the U.S., adjacent to Asia"

None of this was repealed until 1943, when Chinese were allowed admittance. Other countries within the Asian continent were added until the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act (aka the McCarran-Walter Act), which shifted the focus on control of immigrant inflow from country of origin to more nebulous, ideological reasons such as those who were deemed immoral, unlawful, or politically radical. "Good Asians" were now allowed admittance to the US; "bad Asians" - the Japanese that we had recently fought against in World War II - were still barred. Interestingly, this was also overwhelmingly passed by Congress, in a majority sufficient to override President Truman's veto.

I love Rowen Atkinson. 

I know that two similar incidents don't make a pattern. I'm already quite biased against Congress because of the utter ineffectual nature of our current "do nothing" Congress, as they call it these days. I suppose this is actually progress, when you think about it. Progress in the most incrementalist sense of the word. Yay incrementalism.

Those mischievous scamps in Congress! They are always good for a laugh. President, schmesident. Once you get a good mob mentality simmering, you don't even need executive participation. Free pitchforks for all comers.

Yellow Peril Supports Black Power

From Dan Truong's Huffington Post piece
The image above shows a famous image of Richard Aoki, a famous Japanese member of the Black Panther Party who is purported to have helped arm the group and more recently was publicly outed as an FBI informant by journalist Seth Rosenfeld, although the veracity of this claim was obtusely denied by Aoki himself in one of the last interviews he gave before he committed suicide at the age of 71. The evidence for Aoki's involvement with the FBI is superficial at best. I'm no conspiracy theorist by any means, but exaggerating the truth to sell books/get clicks is not a new phenomenon. 

Aoki's image, as he stands in an Oakland protest to free one of the Black Panther Party founders, Huey Newton,  is juxtaposed with a 2014 photo of Ara Kim, a Korean-American member of the Black Lives Matter LA and SoCal Outrageous Organized Bomb-Ass Koreans (SOOBAK) at a Mike Brown/Ferguson Protest in LA.

Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter

Colette Gaiter does a fantastic job of drawing comparisons and contrasts between the Black Panther and Black Lives Matter movements, so I highly encourage that you check her out.

Shortly after the back to back deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, a series of Tweets by Christina Xu spurred a strange and wonderful thing involving Google Docs.

I don't know that we will ever see another time where the words "strange and wonderful thing" are paired with "Google Docs" but considering the sheer madness that 2016 has delivered thus far, never say never, my friends.

Hundreds of Asian Americans crowd sourced a letter to their parents, explaining why it is important for Asians to support the Black Lives Matter movement. This snowballed into an awesome website called Letters for Black Lives, where Canadian, Latinx, first gen children of African immigrants, and yes, Asians of all types can get translated and tailored letters that can serve as a springboard into a deeper discussion with our elders.

This is very significant, because traditionally there has been a noticeable rift between Asian cultural values and the process of assimilation. Insert comedic relief here - shout out to Just Kidding Films on YouTube.

So there you have it, folks. The origins of the term "Yellow Peril" and the evolution from racial epithet to solidarity focused protest slogan.

Next week I'll be prepping for the United States Breastfeeding Committee National Biannual Coalitions Conference, and I plan to do a little bit of live streaming on the Milk and Equity FB page if I get the gumption. 


  1. A new mom needs motivation and ideas to keep her child active and healthy. Kids nowadays need to spend time in the playground rather than in front of the screen.


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