Dog -Whistle Racism: Using Asians as Pawns
Once again, George Will has offered up a tired trope in the form of a ‘dog whistle’ in his recently published article, “Today’s anti-racism usually disguises itself as ‘diversity’” (The Washington Post, May 28, 2021; https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/28/todays-anti-asian-racism-usually-disguises-itself-diversity/). Will recycles the generations-long trope that ‘diversity’ (read: Black people) is the reason that Asians experience discrimination, especially in the context of education. Will’s highly narcissistic approach to discrimination and its actual sources (Whiteness) involves a mélange of defensive maneuvers including but not limited to projection, denial, and grandiosity. Much like a vindictive and underhanded ‘Heather’ in her prime as an adolescent, Will wastes no time participating in triangulation, ‘splitting’ and pitting Asians against African-Americans in order to frame one group of people of color, Asians, as victims of another group, perpetrators of ‘diversity.’ Will, a great fan of Ronald Reagan and his White supremacist shenanigans, followed Reagan’s lead when he decided to resort to the shameless dog whistle term ‘diversity,’ which in the world of conservative Whiteness, typically means ‘Black.’
Will’s tactical maneuvers should not be lost on a wide range of people of color: he attempts to separate BIPOCs who, despite admittedly differing histories and levels of exploitation, nevertheless all share one reality: subordination at the hands of the White collective group, worldwide, due to an extensive global history of genocide, colonization, and the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. All BIPOCs have been oppressed by White people to some extent or another; the common link is oppression by peoples of the European continent. Like many conservative White males, Will distracts from White supremacy — and from his own responsibility as largely privileged — through triangulation, or ‘splitting:’ Like a shameless adolescent ‘Heather,’ he attempts to depict Asians as the ‘model minority,’ self-righteously implying that they are like White people. He is quick to point to a lawsuit in which some conservative Asians have participated in order to label the source of the problem as ‘diversity’ rather than the logical outcome of centuries of White supremacy and White hoarding of others’ — primarily African- and Native/Indigenous American , in the US— resources.
Asians of all kinds have always been pawns in the United States. As an Asian of several different kinds — -Western/Middle Eastern and Far Eastern — -I resent the way in which conservative White people such as George Will feel as if they can slide us from square to square on their White supremacist chessboard, and we will simply nod and flap around obediently like a ‘model marionette.’ Though the entire population of Asians is very heterogenous, Will’s implication that this minority of Asians who are willing to be puppets are a large group is preposterous. Most Asians understand that we are minorities, and that our inferior status is predicated on White supremacy and Whiteness, and the way in which White people privilege each other and then pretend they aren’t doing it by claiming ‘merit.’ Many of us also understand we are pawns. Some also perceive this sort of ‘Heather’-like tactical triangulation immediately as smacking of anti-Blackness. For those less familiar with movies, these cruel adolescent antics — also displayed lifelong by a number of conservatives —are illustrated clearly in the book Lord of the Flies.
Whiteness does whatever it needs to maintain its power, chiefly by focusing its attentions on scapegoating Black peoples, as it has for the last half-era. In order to do so, when White people feel threatened by Black achievement — such as The 1619 Project or the national advances in teaching a critical race point of view — they will use a number of tactical maneuvers to guarantee Black people stayed wedged at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This behavior is required because White people cannot compete on an even playing field and, if the many people they have oppressed get an equal chance, most White people will not be sitting in positions of power. This will alter their collective dominance, and it is this collective dominance that maintains the power and thus BIPOC oppression. These tactics are not all as straightforward as, for example, denying Hannah-Jones tenure, an overtly anti-Black and rabidly misogynoir decision. Rather, some tactics are underhanded and deceptive.
Typically, when deceptive maneuvers are attempted by Whiteness — a condition with which George Will is badly afflicted — Asians are used as pawns to mediate: essentially, to be used as figurative body shields to protect conservative White people. Many Asians understand that we are minorities and that our invisible minority status renders us pawns to Whiteness in order to promote anti-Blackness. Far East Asians are largely treated invisibly regardless of nominal advocacy. Middle Eastern Asians don’t even exist as a category on a census, thus allowing White people to treat us as lesser than human but lock us out of any advocacy whatsoever. Will declines to discuss these realities: that our nonexistence — in the case of Middle Eastern peoples, overt in that we’re not even officially on a census! — is used by White people both oppress us and to batter Black people.
Another way of looking at this from a conceptual perspective is to imagine the George Wills of the U.S. of A. bullying the African-Americans over and over again, until they get tired of being bullied and start pushing back, and then the George Wills of the world picking up a bunch of Asians and using us as figurative body shields. In other words, rather than looking at the centuries-long history of White people privileging each other in educational settings while requiring less and less performance from each other, Will looks at one brief segment of recent American history and in one conservative, wealthy area near DC— Asians with higher scores on standardized tests — and magnifies it. Then, without any sense of shame whatsoever, he dog whistles anti-Blackness into the writing:
“…today’s saturation of national life with government-endorsed and government-enforced racial discrimination, which now affects allocations of vaccines, government loans and much else. This is the result of replacing the ideal of equality — equal treatment — with “equity,” meaning government-engineered racial outcomes.”
The first thing that occurred to me when I read this passage is the clear-cut African-American dog-whistle: ‘allocations of vaccines’ and ‘governmental loans’ translates, in George Will-speak, to ‘Black people.’ He was considerably more overt as the Reagan of the journalist’s world in the 1980’s, but his internalized superiority drips off him even at the age of 80 in this statement. He might as well say — as did Reagan and his administration did decades ago — that only ‘welfare moms’ are getting ‘vaccine handouts.’ The meaning is the same and is not lost on at least some Asians: Will is racist, his anti-Black comments are obvious, and his tactical attempts to get Asians to participate in this ridiculous form of bullying are absurd. I urge all Asians to perceive George Will’s anti-Black tack as obvious: he doesn’t really care about Asians.
One of the most difficult things to stomach about this essay is his ‘reverse discrimination’ stance, one which sounds more and more like schadenfreude when it dribbles out of the mouths of largely privileged White men: the entire tone of this article is ‘poor me’ as a White person because now we’re being discriminated against; he substitutes ‘Asian’ but what he means to say is ‘White’. This largely psychotic stance is not connected to any sort of objective reality: White people, as a collective group, still have more assets than any other collective group. Yet, we hear the same privileged White whine keen through the words of this essay like fingernails on a chalkboard. This essay isn’t really about Asians; it’s about how underperforming White people can keep their unjust enrichment and unearned assets.
George Will doesn’t really care about Asians or our success. He cares about reframing the discussion so that he can ‘legally’ talk about anti-Blackness without referring to White people as the opposite binary. Like any exhibition of Whiteness, he shirks responsibility for his unjust enrichment and places ‘Asians’ in that category. He frames Asians as ‘victims’ relative to Black people, but what he is really saying is “We, White people, are like Asians. All of us are similar. Let’s stay together. Let’s all keep scapegoating Black people because we belong together, and they are ‘welfare moms.’” Even Heather didn’t exhibit this extreme form of triangulation, and her excuse was that she was a teenager. What’s George Will’s excuse?
For some moral perspective, Nicole Gon Ochi, an Asian lawyer who has exposed these insidious tactical behaviors, continues to work on preventing BIPOCs from being separated from each other in our attempts to eliminate White supremacy. Several years ago, when discussing Asian-American admissions to colleges, she stated:
“The problem here is that the lawsuits and the complaint at issue has received a lot of media attention [and] are conflating two things: affirmative action and discrimination against Asians.” https://diverseeducation.com/article/102486/
This statement is important because it exposes the tactical methods by which conservatives like George Will continue to both discriminate against African-Americans and use Asians as pawns in order to reach his goals. This behavior is similar to any which we have observed in a White supremacist society: it is an ‘end justifies the means’ tactic. George Will’s efforts exist to protect White people as a collective group, not to support, defend, or otherwise help the Asian community.
If he wanted to do that, he could talk about White supremacy and how his group’s White privilege damages everybody else in the BIPOC category, including Asians. Then, instead of acting like a dysfunctional, narcissistic teenager, he could make an actual productive contribution to humanity.