Scott Nakagawa

[00:00:00] What is to you when your mind is the idea of the model minority.

[00:00:05] Scot: The idea of the model minority to me is a stereotype about Asian-Americans in particular that sometimes applies to other groups and sometimes groups apply it to themselves but not particularly where Asian-Americans are concerned. The model minority basically suggests that Asians by culture or in some instances even by biology have a greater disposition toward success value education more work hard are quiet uncomplaining cooperative and are willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve a better life. And you know they’re it’s hard to describe the model minority except in terms of what it’s not the model minority is not prone to criminality not prone to protest not disruptive and willing to basically quietly work and do as they are told.

[00:01:07] And what.

[00:01:10] And based on your understanding of what you would have learned about it how did that idea form and take hold here in the United States.

[00:01:18] Scott: Well the historian Ellen Wu has looked at this question and basically locates the origins of the myth in the efforts of Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans to achieve assimilation right around the time of World War II. And so at a time when they were being persecuted terribly Japanese-Americans just returning from Internment camps in the Chinese community and being horribly persecuted in anti-communist campaigns decided that they would try to present themselves as ideal Americans at a time when the US needed foreign alliances and particularly with China and started to do what amounts to research to demonstrate that Asian-Americans were less likely to commit crimes. Worked hard were actually upwardly mobile and perfectly assimilable to the white middle class. And that research which was primarily done under the auspices of the Japanese American Citizens League eventually took on a life of its own. It received major funding support from institutions like the Carnegie Foundation. It was also housed for a time at the University of California Los Angeles and all of this you know research basically amounted to that in terms of any kind of popular you know readership for the findings in a book called “Nisei The Quiet Americans.” And that’s the template for the model minority. Now what we know is that much was suppressed in terms of what life was really like within the Asian ghettos in the United States. And a lot of sort of cherry picking was done in order to be able to present an idea about Asian Americans and Japanese Americans in particular.

[00:03:08] Cherry picking by whom at this time what.

[00:03:09] Scot: Cherry picking basically by the research team and in order to exclude certain things you know the problems of you know juvenile delinquency for example in Asian American ghettos of zoot suiters in Asian-American communities people who did not conform with the white middle class ideal were basically put on picture and instead and image of Asian-Americans was presented as studious and quiet hardworking and law-abiding and being really mean as I said perfectly a symbol to the white middle class.

[00:03:49] Would it be accurate if I were to observe that and call that you know prover after effects there have been an act of self-preservation in a way or that there.

[00:03:58] Scott: It was absolutely an act of self-preservation we have to understand the context for this. The anti-communist campaigns that were waged against the Chinese-American community were horrible in terms of kind of persecution that people face, the kind of spying and pressure that people were put under deportations even in the Japanese-American community. Almost the entire community in the U.S. mainland was interned during World War II almost to a person. And so people understood that they were hated minorities and needed some way to leverage their way into the American mainstream.

[00:04:38] At what point will so in terms of timeline here you’re talking and said Ray afterworld work right after World War II. At this point right millions of Japanese Americans have been interned or have been rounded up.And how does that idea sort of tracing the formation on this idea and how it’s changed over time. You know one of the issues you brought up with DMA and Helen was the effective 1965. What happens to this idea in the 1960s.

[00:05:14] Scott: Well in the 1960s this idea of Asian-Americans as the model minority is picked up by conservative media and by conservative politicians and is used as an argument for against civil rights for African-Americans basically and particularly not the idea of civil rights or legal inclusion but particularly programs to help to resolve the legacy of racial inequality faced by African-Americans in that period. So programs like busing and Affirmative Action for instance and so the case is made through talking about specifically at first the Japanese-American community that this is a community that was horribly persecuted that started out in poverty and within a couple of generations is now assimilating to the white middle class has integrated itself into middle class suburbs and communities around America and is enjoying the average family income that is comparable to that of middle class families in the United States regardless of race.

[00:06:16] And that argument I mean I implied in that and I’m going to spell this out and part of that argument is that they if they came from poverty or they came from difficult circumstance and they worked their way out of it thus maybe fulfilling a particular version of you know a particular subset of American values which is to say if you work hard you can make it and people and by extension people who aren’t in difficult circumstances need to work harder.

[00:06:43] Scott: Well essentially what happens is that Japanese Americans are presented as the heroes in a kind of Horatio Alger like story of American social mobility. They are the exceptions that prove the rule and the argument is we live in a colorblind society. You may face very different kinds of obstacles to success but hard work will resolve those obstacles that you can overcome anything if you’re willing to make the sacrifices necessary in order to do so and that African-Americans in particular are unwilling to make those sacrifices and just expect that those things will be given to them.

[00:07:17] And so what happens then some. I’m trying to observe sort of the arc of this. On the one hand towards the beginning you have this idea coming up to sort of help Japanese-Americans preserve themselves certainly you know if they see this is where you know if you want to preserve yourself this is where we need to assimilate and so there are researchers who are saying pushing it in that direction and then as I understand it in the 60s it’s woven into this bigger myth of American social mobility and as a lever or as a as a story to prove that African-Americans just need to work harder. So what happens then to the ways that I mean painting and broad brushes I guess. But once that idea enters the narrative of American social mobility what happens to the actual relations between I guess in this case we’re talking about East Asian Americans and African-Americans because we know now we know what the conservatives are saying about two different groups but what actually happens between the different groups.

[00:08:23] Scott: [00:08:23] Well you know it’s not a simple cause and effect kind of story. What we have to understand is that there have always been tensions between African-Americans and Asians and particularly Asian immigrants. There is a long tradition of black Orientalism just as there is a tradition of Orientalism in the United States in general treating Asian-Americans as perpetual foreigners in order to make an argument about citizenship inclusion for other groups of people especially African-Americans. [30.2]

[00:08:54] So when you say black Oriental ism do you mean the idea of Orientalism is also was also there also existed among black community here. I guess what. What did you mean by that exactly.

[00:09:06] Scott: Let me see in the other way there’s always been tension between Asian and African-American peoples in the United States. [00:09:14] This is something that goes all the way back to the period immediately post the Civil War when Asian and particularly Chinese coolies are brought to United States as workers. They are viewed as competition by white workers who therefore make an argument against them based upon their exclusion from citizenship. Meanwhile African-Americans who have always been excluded from citizenship are trying to make an argument for citizenship some of them by comparing themselves to Asian Americans and saying these people here seem to be on a track to be able to get to citizenship. They’re going to court trying to win the right to become citizens. But we’ve been here longer. We were here first and we deserve to be included in citizenship before those people. And so this is not necessarily a majority opinion but this is the way in which this argument got framed and it contributes to this idea of Asian-Americans as the perpetual foreigners in the United States. [60.0]

[00:10:14] Scott: There is a way in which these two arguments one by white workers and the other by African-American intellectual class that is trying to argue for citizenship that basically changes the meaning of race in United States so that it [00:10:31] hardens the idea of citizenship being associated with white race in a way that was and was legally in fact the way that we understood citizenship. [11.8] But without a foil without an other against which to hone that identity it was not as clear. So at this point it becomes extraordinarily clear and the status of Asian-Americans in the United States has always been affected by that. [00:10:57] We’re always considered the foreign other which is what makes it possible for something like modern minority stereotyping to happen. [8.5] I mean when you think about the model minority stereotype it posits some ridiculous ideas about people. Human beings don’t function like that they aren’t born more naturally prone to be good at math.

[00:11:17] Scott: They’re not prone to be born prone to be better at particular skills particularly technical skills. People are not by culture in the Asian-American community less likely to commit crime. There is no Asian culture.There is no singular Asian culture at all. And the category Asian is a construct that is developed within the context of the United States here in America and that doesn’t apply to Asians in the countries from which they come. We’re talking about a population today in the United States that is [00:11:48] you know 75 percent or so foreign born. [3.5] So they come here without any concept of themselves as Asians and then are confronted with this idea that not only are they Asian now but that they fit into this model minority stereotype that suggests that we all share one cultural basis for the ways in which we behave. That’s the way that race is always worth. The categories come first. The distinctions come later.In order to justify the existence of the categories.

[00:12:16] Alan: Do you think though then you know and you’re making a strong argument here that are up for an argument here that there is no Asian culture and that these ideas that there are natural predispositions that are embedded in an Asian culture however you define it. And like you said categories come first. Do you think then. I mean you know I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here. But what accounts for that idea taking hold amongst Asian-Americans themselves. Or do you think that it’s primarily a still a construct imposed by white supremacy. I’m trying to you know where’s the category take hold among people are self-focus I would call myself Asian Even if that’s a strange category in some ways you know.

[00:13:04] Scott: Well Asian in the United States today is something I understand as a political coalition. It is a coalition amongst different Asian ethnic minority groups in the United States in order to be able to exercise political power by reaching critical mass of me and therefore then even argue for desegregation of that group and attention be paid to specific needs of particular groups like war refugees for example. But in order for us to get to that argument we need the coalition. The coalition is something that is rooted in the 60s and the fight for ethnic studies in the University of California campuses that particular you know fight for ethnic studies is one in which the term Asian-American is coined until then in popular parlance Asian-Americans are Orientals.

[00:13:56] Alan: And so I want to I just see that all there’s a member there for that might work like the door.But getting back again back to the idea of it seems they were describing as taking a category that was imposed from the outside or you maybe helped created by a subdivision and then imposed from the outside and transform it into a unit of organization and transforming a category into into a coalition. So what can be could you tell me give me some examples of how you were just talking about it for I cut you off the movement for ethnic studies in California. What are some moments or examples of that coalition building that you’re talking about.

[00:14:55] Scott: Well the coalition building around Asian-American identity is something that’s always happening. There are many different national formations that are pan-Asian. Some include Pacific Islanders some don’t.Some attempt to reach out as far as to native Hawaiians and to create a even broader coalition but that coalition building process is one that has been an ongoing process since the 1960s and it’s taken on a number of different meanings because politic the political context has changed a lot since then but it’s never stopped.

[00:15:30] Alan: What are the implications for the coalition building in terms of how Asian-Americans and which you know at which point you’re not taking that term and using it to organize for political change. What are the implications of that for how Americans see themselves in relation to African-Americans given that we’ve been used as a as a lever and a story about American social mobility Well I guess it to you I’m not saying like an objective assessment.

[00:16:04] Scott: Well I think that the Asian-American coalition is a necessary but problematic thing in American political life. It’s problematic to the extent that it concedes to the idea that there is a singular Asian identity and political agenda that we can you know craft out of the diverse experiences of people from as you know different in terms of background as Japanese and Laotian. You know Laos being a mostly rural country. [00:16:36] One of the lowest life expectancies in the United – in the world, and Japan being an almost entirely urban society that has the highest life expectancy in the world. You know, these are the kinds of challenges that we face when we try to lump people together in that way. But every attempt to build a class with class interests, is going to be confronted with those challenges. In the United States, race is class, and always has been. [27.7] And so you know there’s really no distinction no real clear distinction between race and class in the United States. It doesn’t mean that race class is impermeable. That you know people must therefore always have that reflected in their economic experience. You know there is an Oprah and it didn’t sell and you know people of that sort who have been successful. But it’s also true of white working class people. No class is impermeable. There’s always some amount of mobility.

[00:17:31] Scott: And so you know those contradictions between the way that we do business and the way that we run our society in terms of you know democratic participation get reflected in those exceptions being you know evident throughout society.But you know. I mean you try to get back on the question.

[00:17:52] Alan: Do you mind if it’s real quick. I was I found this mic keeps tilting a little bit closer. Thanks.So OK so you’re talking about the idea of race.Race has class it always has been. Yeah.

[00:18:13] Scott: So let me see how we can go back round to this thing because it is a complicated idea and I think that will get lost in.So the Asian-American political coalition should be understood as a political coalition when it starts to be understood as a form of identity. It becomes problematic. But you know what we should be thinking about in terms of the coalition building process is to try to understand who is this class of people Asian-Americans because in United States race has always been class. There’s never been any distinction even you know when we look at white working class people for example there is a racial meaning to that identity because it is understood relative to where in comparison to the experiences of other people by race. You see that kind of rage reflected in for example the Donald Trump base right. Their understanding of class and race are inseparable. They go together. So you know I think that when you’re trying to build a political agenda based upon a you know kind of classification like Asian-American that’s a really thorny process and one that’s rife with all kinds of potential problems.

[00:19:40] Alan: What kind of potential problems are you talking about.

[00:19:42] Scott: Well I mean one of the potential problems is that we start to focus so much on the distinctions between Asian-Americans and others that we forget the category is entirely synthetic.

[00:19:53] Alan: Unpack that Unpack that for a moment you mean well what’s an example of how sure the people are after.Right. And what’s the latest example of Asian-Americans getting caught up in unpacking that while losing sight of the fact that as you say that category is a synthetic creation.

[00:20:10] Scott: Well for instance there is a lot of discussion of Asian privilege and that privilege does not apply uniformly to everyone who’s Asian-American. There are groups by ethnicity within the United States and by class within the United States who do not enjoy that kind of privilege in the same way that some others me. And so you know there is this way in which we think of Asian-Americans as an aggregate as being better off than other groups which if you look at us as an aggregate is true but the reality is that it doesn’t necessarily apply to the individual experiences of people within the category. Right within that aggregated group. And so it has the effect of causing us to look at those distinctions at the expense of making the categories appear to be natural. So for example the Asian-American model minority myth has this effect. Right. People say When you look at Asian-Americans they have the highest average per capita income and the highest median family incomes of all groups in the United States. There are a lot of different reasons for that that have nothing to do with individual achievement. But some of it does in fact have to do with the [00:21:16] characteristics of the most dominant groups within the Asian-American coalition [5.2] because of the way that immigration sorts people for a long time. Now U.S. industry has targeted Asia and professional class workers in Asia to bring them to United States and that is gentrified Asian America causing those aggregate statistics to rise really dramatically. Asians are the most likely to come to the United States with a college degree and who are co-sponsor for instance.

[00:21:43] Scott: So people come here already having been educated already being in a professional class kind of situation in their home countries are not at all reflective of what the good experiences of people say in India or Japan or China or wherever else they may be from. But here that get being synthetic as it is those groups of people who had been recruited here as business investors and high skilled professional workers ended up causing to get districts to look much higher. Right. So that reality which is then exploited by those who promulgate this myth of the Asian-American model minority as a kind of lever of racial inequity. That is something that people tend to focus on in a way that makes the category Asians seem natural if we thought of the category as synthetic that none of the distinctions within the category actually mean anything but politics.

[00:22:45] Alan: Is that is the idea of the model minority an American idea.

[00:22:50] Scott: [00:22:50] It is a particularly American idea to think of groups in terms of model minority – race, as we understand it in the United States, is a peculiarly American institution, one that was invented in order to justify race slavery as a solution to the, you know, colonial project in North America which was not viable without highly exploited labor. And [24.4] so you know the whole idea of race is one that originally is justified by ideas about culture and biology that were not actually things that people understood prior to you know the age of slavery in the United States and around that time.It’s a very recent phenomena. And in the United States is a particularly American character to white supremacy.

[00:23:46] Alan: Right in those categories extractable are linked to white supremacy which are heavily written in in America’s own history and it’s like you said earlier America couldn’t have been built up into what it is without exploited exploited labor. Because I’m wondering if if is this just an American idea is it a Western idea. You know where has this idea other examples in other countries of a similar kind of myth being created about a group of people and then also by way of comparison like how do you move past that. Are you are you must I mean your works primarily centered here in the U.S. but do you have deep examples you can think of where where Asian-Americans are Americans I guess but people from Asia have like a similar moniker or a similar label attached to them and and and how would other other countries have dealt with this if they have.

[00:24:39] Scott: Well there’s been you know diaspora from particularly from South Asia and has affected places like Australia and Fiji and New Zealand and there is a tremendous amount of resentment that seems to be building up there.Again what we’re looking at is a group of people who are being pushed out or moving out of the Indian subcontinent and other places in South Asia largely as a result of instability political unrest and economic difficulties there. But who have the capacity to be able to rise to kind of class economic status.

[00:25:16] Scott: And so there is a way in which people regard people who are Asian in those contexts as if they are like a model minority. [00:25:27] What is unusual about the United States is the United States imposes codes or has historically done so and those codes the living legacy of racial codes right overt racist laws is still with us today in the way that they have basically inform the organization of our cities right where our ghettos and who occupies them were suburbs and who occupies those you know and in the way that we understand and regard one another. [31.4] Others may see a difference but what they don’t see that we see is race we being Americans yes.

[00:26:07] Scott: For example in the Philippines there is tremendous resentment toward the Chinese because there is investor class of Chinese immigrants in the Philippines who are part of this sort of emerging neoliberal economy in the Philippines that is causing incredible hardship for the Filipino people the Filipino people don’t regard the Chinese as AsianThey regard them as Chinese. Right. Similarly in Fiji Indians are not regarded as Asian. They’re regarded as Indians.

[00:26:38] Alan: Right. And in Singapore I mean in Asia and in Singapore it’s not like it tried the Chinese majority doesn’t regard Malay the Malay and Indian minorities as Asians because everyone is Asian Asian seems to be a particularly unique Western if not American category. Yeah yeah yeah.

[00:26:58] Scott: Asian is Asian is rooted in an old tradition of Oriental listen that comes out of Europe that is about colonization and exploitation of Asia particularly that is you know China. Right and India and it is an idea that is you know as old as the idea of the oxident right. The Occident in the Orient go together over time though is taken on many different meanings in the United States context. It’s not a particularly racial one.

[00:27:34] Alan: What do you think we are in now. What’s your assessment of what you think the future of this idea of the model minority myth is in the U.S..

[00:27:43] Scott: Well you know [00:27:44] I think that right now a lot of people are challenging the model minority myth Asian-Americans themselves in fact particularly a new generation of Asian-American activists that is rising into leadership now have made it a project to you know to fight against that kind of stereotyping to make the case that that kind of stereotyping is a lover of racial inequality and dehumanizing to Asian-Americans. [24.1]

[00:28:09] Alan: So in your mind it seems like and does that kind of act and pushing back strike you like what’s And what’s new about it compared to previous ways of activism.

[00:28:19] Scott: [00:28:19] Well there have been waves of activism throughout our history since the 60s against this idea of Asian-American model minority that’s led by Asian Americans themselves. I think today the difference is that what people are reaching for is the kind of solidarity politic that would joined together Asian-Americans were other people of color in order to challenge white supremacy in the United States. And so there’s a lot of promise there. [27.4]

[00:28:47] Scott: I think that when we think about black and Asian solidarity we have to be careful. Right? We tend to focus on those exceptional instances in which black and Asian people have risen up in solidarity with one another in American history. Those instances are significant and the people who led the charge in those times were exceptional people, but they are the exception not the rule. Right. There is a danger of focusing on those exceptions as if they are indicative of some natural basis for solidarity when in fact there is no real natural basis for solidarity. The basis for solidarity is political right. We need to arrive at a politic that supports that kind of solidarity and attack not not try to emulate the exceptional situation so much as to attack what is normative right which is this unity not unity.

[00:29:44] Alan: So those are the exception not the rule. So what’s the rule then.

[00:29:48] Scott: Well throughout most of history Asian-Americans and African-Americans have not stood up with each other. Right. [00:29:54] Asian-Americans in particular have tried to make the argument for citizenship historically by basically arguing that they aren’t black. [7.3] Right. So you know when we talk about race in the United States race and citizenship always go together. Right. Race Class and citizenship always go together. And so the fight for inclusion is the fight for citizenship rights. It is that even among undocumented immigrants today. ndocumented immigrants are a class of workers in the United States. Those are increasingly race as Mexican and Latino more broadly. That transformation of you know our way of understanding migrant workers as a race as opposed to you know ethnic groups coming to the United States from neighboring countries is something that we should be paying attention to because what’s happening here is that Latinos basically are undocumented immigrants. I should say have by being held in this sort of state of you know exclusion from any possibility of citizenship rights being made into a highly exploitable class of workers. They are in all of the same industries that black people used to be in before the 60s. Right. Domestic work agriculture, light manufacturing, construction trades. They’ve basically replaced African-American workers in those industries because they are so exploitable right. And so the industries themselves did not have to respond to African-Americans winning the right to inclusion under U.S. labor laws. Instead has turned to a new pool of laborers.

[00:31:43] Scott: That’s the way that race and class work in the United States and always has worked that way it’s a seamless story that begins with slavery and it’s continuing today the constant fight who gets to be an American. Why do they get to be Americans and what does that mean. Is one that we’re fighting about in this election season. It’s one that we’re fighting about when we talk about immigration rights is one that we’re fighting over when we talk about police brutality directed at African-Americans at the heart of that struggle is an idea about citizenship. Do we belong to a civic nation or do we belong to an ethnic one. Do we you know. Are we going to include people in citizenship or are we going to exclude people.And what are the implications of that.

[00:32:29] Alan: ANd why why they’re saying and why do we. (Coughing) It’s flu season. And why do we exclude some people not others. And you were talking about you know you had said undocumented workers before that you said Latinos. And he corrected yourself and you were talking about the intermingling or perhaps taking the equivalence of race and class. And I’m reminded of actually this is journalist Jose Antonio Vargas who is an undocumented immigrant. He’s Filipino. But if you check his Twitter account he gets so much hate so much anti-Mexican anti-Latino rhetoric. Just the amount of times he said he had to go back to it can be you know it’s not benign. But I go back to Mexico which is the least profanity laden version of that that I’ve seen. Right because white working class equals this we have this image of white working class voter or working even just working class as being primarily white and then undocumented immigrants equals Latino.

[00:33:28] Scott: Well you know the whole idea that undocumented immigrants are Mexican in particular is one that we’ve been fighting over for a very long time now. But you know there is this kind of odd way in which that idea of Mexican which is a nationality has become like a race to us. That also is you know is probably best articulated through in the term illegal immigrant. Right. Is it. It basically says that a group of people in the United States have done nothing but commit a misdemeanor by being here without documentation are a criminal class are in fact illegal. When the reality is that you know U.S. industry would come to a screeching halt in many sectors were it not for Latino laborers. We’ve seen examples of this over and over again. You know Washington apple industry a few years ago basically lost an enormous amount of money. Apples were just falling from the trees and picked because of immigration raids keeping workers at home. Nobody else wants those jobs because they’re structured in terms of wages and working conditions in a way that reflects race as class.

[00:34:48] Alan: I want to take a minute and pivot towards your own your own experience with perhaps not with it also maybe narrow it down a little bit because there’s a lot of you know we’ve got to take our race and citizenship history and the way you know the way particular ideas have moved around and taken hold. But how has the were you when you were growing up did you. Did you see yourself as a model minority.

[00:35:24] Scott: Well. When I was growing up I did not see myself as model minorities because I in no way embodied the characteristics of the model minority. You know I grew up in Hawaii and so first of all growing up in Hawaii I did not think of myself as Asian. Asians were people who lived in the U.S. mainland. Right. They were people who lived on the continent. We even had an expression we wished that we would use for Asian-Americans from the from the continent and we would refer to them as catonk. It’s the sound that their heads make when they hit the floor because there’s nothing in there is what we would say because our identity was as working class people. That is how we thought of ourselves. We were rooted in a long tradition of labor and labor organizing. We voted Democratic across the board with no exceptions.

[00:36:20] Alan: Who are We in this case?

[00:36:22] Scott: Who we think of as Asian-Americans in Hawaii. So in Hawaii where I grew up people identify by ethnicity not by you know Asian race. So people are Japanese or Chinese or Korean or Filipino. They are not a group of people who identify with one another as a single group of people by race. And that’s actually true of most people in Asia as well by the way. But there is a kind of a class identity that people who are the descendants of Asian immigrants in Hawaii have assumed and that class identity is rooted in the history of Hawaii as a white Republican oligarchy. It was ruled from the top down at the expense of Native Hawaiians and immigrant workers for generations.

[00:37:12] Scott: The effort to push back against that and when Democratic rights for people is one in which there were many efforts that failed because they were organized by ethnicity. It was when people started to think of themselves a class of people and united across ethnicities that those efforts are to succeed. So for example the you know Hawaii has the first organized agricultural workforce in sugar. Right.

[00:37:42] Scott: Sugar is gone from Hawaii now but you know for a longtime sugar rule the Hawaiian economy the way in which that labor organizing effort became successful was people started off forming ethnic unions that failed. And then finally came together and formed a class union that invited them across ethnicities that succeeded. The one thing that you could say about that class though is that it was entirely brown. There were no white people in that class and that’s the foundation for kind of way that people think of themselves as white as as locals who are not white and born in Hawaii were not born in Hawaii but adopted by people who identify as locals. That group includes Native Hawaiians but not necessarily to the greater benefit of native ones because native Hawaiians have specific needs. There is a specific status politically that native Hawaiians assume that that local identity does not actually address substantively. But that’s the context in which I grew up. So I thought of myself as a local kid and I didn’t think much about ethnicity actually. I grew up in a multiracial setting in a very rural and working class community. We always voted Democrat. We did whatever the union told us to do on our ballots. We thought of ourselves as working class people and we’re proud of that. And you know so that’s how I grew up.

[00:39:13] Scott: But you know I also was a gay kid you know and I you know recognize that I was never really going to be included and I reacted to that. And you know got into a lot of trouble. And you know so I was always in and out of school and occasionally failing and whatnot so I just never fit that model minority stereotype. The thing that is really telling about my experience though is that whether or not I fit that stereotype the stereotype that to an extent apply to me because of my Japanese surname. Right. I hung out with a group of people among whom I was the only one perhaps for a long time that had a Japanese surname and we would all get in trouble together. I often was the mastermind. Right. I came up with the plot.

[00:40:00] Scott: The point at which we would be punished though I’ll be excluded from the worst forms of punishment because I always assumed that I was influenced by other people right. I was I was under the bad influence of other groups of people and that I had a kind of potential to succeed because it was simply assumed that I had a stable family life which is actually again not a true thing.

[00:40:26] Alan: Yeah it was yeah it was it seemed you’re under a bad influence you had a lot of potential and and you’re you know you’re actually good like a quote unquote good kid.And it’s these are the bad kids so you don’t whatever and these kids just.

[00:40:37] Scott: Specifically bad kids were Filipino Samoans Hawaiians you know anybody that didn’t have a Japanese or Chinese surname went.

[00:40:50] Alan: When did. This is interesting because you describe it particularly like in one hand a very unique set of art as compared to what it was normative on the continent. When it comes to Asian-Americans and how they’re seen in describing how you grew up in Hawaii. But even within that there’s there’s implications for them. You know you mentioned because of your last your last name some famous Japanese there are assumptions based on what you know on what kind of kid you were or what kind of person you were growing up. At what point did you say you grew up in Hawaii. And so what at what point did you what did you come to. I guess the mainland are. And how did that idea. You describe a few instances where that idea of the model minority even if you didn’t fit it. It still shaped your life and in some ways. How did that continue going forward when you when you started working here in the mainland.

[00:41:58] Scott: Well I mean that idea of the model minority actually helped me all the way through my life. I didn’t always have an awareness of it but it was always there somewhere. So you know I’m a person who dropped in and out of high school and basically failed high school and I don’t have a college degree but it is often assumed that I do have one. And so it’s not question right if I can adopt the right accents accent and I can use the right words. I mean simply assume that I’m a highly educated person and then you know certain opportunities are made available to me that aren’t made to others and all I have come to recognize that one of the things that triggers that response in people is who they see when they look at me. Right. But when I came here to the U.S. mainland it was a really difficult time for East Asians on the continent and particularly because of the context of the U.S. Japan our wars since the 1980s.

[00:42:54] Alan: This is the 1980s.

[00:42:56] Scott: Yes. So I came over here in 1985 I believe and in the context of the U.S. Japan auto wars it was rough. You know there was a lot of resentment and I particularly remember one instance in Corvallis Oregon walking down fraternity row and having these fraternity boys throw empty beer cans at me and tell me to go back where it came from you know it was that kind of time in the United States. And so you know it was both an advantage or disadvantage to me.

[00:43:33] Scott: I remember accompanying a food stamp recipient to the food stamp office to resolve a problem with her you know food simple statement and having them basically assume that she was there to translate for me in spite of the fact that I’m speaking to them in English as I’m speaking to you now. So you know there were a lot of those kinds of things that happened in the 80s. And but you know it’s always been a thing that has cloaked me in a certain kind of idea about innocence and achievement education. You know a lot of different things.

[00:44:07] Alan: Yeah. And that was new to you when you when you at that particular brand of being the other being for it. Was that a new thing for you. You came oh yeah.

[00:44:20] Scott: When I first moved from Hawaii to Portland Oregon I wish a shock you know why it is you know in a state that is organized as a racial hierarchy. You know there’s no doubt about it. There is a kind of white supremacy that is evident in Hawaii. But on the ground people of color are the majority. And in the communities I lived in not just the majority. I mean there was only one white kid in my high school graduating class. And so when you’re in the majority in that way the peculiar circumstances of your history your experiences your family background are treated as normative. Right. We establish what was normal in the communities that where we were able to dominate. I came here and suddenly I was the other I frankly would walk into meetings of progressive organizations are predominantly white and just be shocked at what I thought was just the most incredible racism and centrism. I had no idea that the that those flights were not intended.

[00:45:40] Alan: Well what’s the example of that I went to take a slight detour in this direction because I know that you know part of what we’ve talked about and part of your expertise and also your own background your background you provided around the proliferation of the model minority myth is a lie lot it is centered on an as you said sort of conservative media it sort of ideas right wing media. But do you mean then when you say you walked into I guess you know coming to Portland, Oregon you sort of collision course with white. What sort of progressive politics are in a certain vein and also an overwhelmingly white city little bit more about what do you mean by that when you’ve described his experiences where.

[00:46:19] Scott: People would talk about people of color as if we were objects and as if we were minorities. And there seemed to be a lack of awareness that white people have kind of race defined identity as well and as a dominant group there are certain characteristics that white people have that play out particularly when people start to be take action politically. And so it was that lack of awareness that everyone has an identity. For example when people would say we need more diversity what they would always mean is that we needed more people of color.Right. It was the idea that you had to bring others into a group in order to diversify a group that was just an odd idea to me. It just you know I mean I had never encountered anything quite like it and I just assumed that that kind of tokenization was intentional and not you know the accident of you know well-intentioned people trying to you know do a positive thing.

[00:47:29] Alan: And so you describe it on a back up towards both your experience in Hawaii and in coming to Oregon. You know I was thinking back to this conversation on today actually I didn’t grow up I mean I was you actually grew up in Hong Kong and there probably are two black kids in my entire high school. They’re both African-Americans. I didn’t know I there are any Africans in my in my school.And so I’m curious in your own experience like how were you raised with whether explicitly or implicitly particular ideas of of African-Americans or are you I guess that’s I guess that’s the question like where you were you raised any particular notions of what African-Americans were like or what black folks if black I said in particular traits or things like that.

[00:48:22] Scott: Well you know I grew up in a place I grew up split between two communities one was a community where there was still still active sugar plantation and where the economy was an entirely rooted in sugar but was what we were that was the tradition. It was part of a 20 year process that community was going in in which it was the economy was transitioning out of sugar and into tourism. And so you know I grew up in that place and in that place there were very few African-Americans. And it just wasn’t something that never occurred to us. We didn’t think about it it just wasn’t part of our day to day reality in the community that my parents lived in.They lived surrounded on all sides by military bases.

[00:49:07] Alan: Where did the parents grow up?

[00:49:09] Scott: My parents weren’t my parents. My mother still lives in a town in the middle of the island of Oahu that is surrounded by military bases Schofield Barracks. We let Air Force base Navy 85 East range which is kind of you know one of these military training grounds. It was a community whose economy was driven by the military. And so the town was full of Hostess bars and fast food restaurants and you know on military pay there would be enormous numbers of people in the streets often eating a 19 year old soldiers and a disproportionate number of those soldiers who were you know out in the community on military pay days were black. [00:49:57] And so my parents developed a really negative attitude toward African-Americans and white people both because that’s what she’s mostly saw represented in the military [10.3] and you know that kind of view of a group of people who are otherwise foreign to you filtered through the military so that these are people who are living on Barracks in a pressure kind of situation going through basic training who are released occasionally into the community with money in their pockets and the communities when that’s organized such that there are a host of stars everywhere. And you know a kind of economy that reflects low wages an incredibly pressurized lifestyle of people who are going to be living on a military base. And so the [00:50:46] Letham Hex? [1.5] of that stuff the confrontations between local people and soldiers came to inform their understanding of what African-Americans were like and they shared those ideas with me and my sisters who I am sure internalized some of them and rejected others of them because we grew up during the years of civil rights movement. So in our generation we had seen something quite different start to unfold and had the basis to challenge some of those ideas. But there were still new ideas to us.

[00:51:19] Alan: What does you know I think it’s about 12 or 12 too. So one last question questions I mean if we can wrap it up.You know one of the one of the tropes that one of the parents were off one of the themes that I’ve noticed in a lot of these conversations and you had alluded to it as you were talking about your upbringing compared to your parents upbringing is the idea if not challenging what your parents thought having some kind of conversation I feel like. And in general I think a big trope between I guess Asian-Americans between themselves is talking about their families but and whether you see us with the I think it is after. I mean it’s sad that I can’t remember which unarmed shooting of another black man this was I think his album Sterling. There was a crowd a sort of Asian Americans on the Internet sort of gather to craft like a letter to their families about Black Lives Matter that was translated into different languages. And then I think a lot of. And one of the takeaways from one of the topics I came up during the APANO panel and the discussions especially because the group I was in was it was a lot is skewed much younger was I had these political. You know I was raised with these ideas about the model minority myth that African-Americans are how I relate to them. And I have these ideas from my parents don’t have the ideas and there are various reasons why there is this sort of communication gap whether it’s in some cases language in other cases. One thing I heard was you know I feel like my parents came so much to come here so why would I place an added burden onto them to try to care about another group of people. Which is all this is a long prelude to this idea I what I can explore with you and ask you about which is you know what needs to happen with in maybe not even in any country whatever unit of group you want to cite here. You can talk as bigots like a political coalition or small is like a family or between two people. What should how do Asian-Americans number one sort of get rid of the idea of the model minority and then number two build solidarity and support with African-Americans. In any other. That’s a long winded way of asking that question but I want it. I went to couch it in that particular backdrop because it’s a lot of a lot of a lot of bits and pieces of that. And when people tell your story it’s hard to fake you know how did their ideas pass down between their families and how did they relate to it.

[00:53:58] Scott: [00:53:58] Well you know I think that the way that we should address the model minority is as a story about labor. You know basically what the model minority has done is class Asian-Americans is highly exploitable managerial class laborers, right? Wage earners, not owners. And you know, with the kinds of characteristics that make you perfectly exploitable. You don’t complain. You don’t protest. You’re quiet, you’re cooperative. You work really hard. You allow your identity to be subsumed within the goals of the group. [35.6] Right. Really good team players with technical skills and proficiency and a really low error rate. Right.

[00:54:41] Scott: I mean that’s basically what the model minority amounts to. And so for you know people who are Asian-American I think one of the things that we need to understand is that what that means is or appears to mean is one apparent consequence of that is that Asian-Americans are also the least likely group once hired to be promoted into executive management. Right. Because those are not the characteristics of leaders. Those are the characteristics of followers. Right. And so when people are being told this is the modern minority you should emulate it.

[00:55:16] What they’re basically saying is be a really good follower be a perfectly exploitable worker. So I think that if we can talk about it as a story about labor it starts [8.6] to make sense because we hear people the echoes of the model minority myth in the immigration debate for example where people who are advocating for Latino undocumented immigrants will describe them as hardworking and law abiding and you know all of these different things which may be true of many many of them. Right.

[00:55:43] Scott: But as a shield against the kind of exploitation that they have been facing is not very effective. And that’s something I think the Asian-American experience teaches us. We have to remember that three quarters of Asian-Americans came to this country are foreign born. Most of the people who are in this country who are [00:56:04] Asian-American came after 1965 when we got immigration reform. [4.2] And so we’re talking about a highly filtered group of people. The story of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and rising through the class structure of the United States is not really the way it worked. Right. So I think that that’s one of the things that we can do in terms of solidarity I think what’s really important to recognize is that race is class in the United States.

[00:56:35] Scott: And so all of our class interests rests on our ability to address the problem of race the kind of economic prosperity and the kind of you know economic difficulties that American or Americans are facing in this global economy particularly in the age of neoliberalism. Those challenges are challenges that have to do with how we relate to capital. Right. And the way that capital has always addressed you know people by race is to simply you know basically color code class as a way of being able to keep people outside of citizenship. Right. So that’s one way of approaching it. (laughter)

[00:57:25] Scott: I’ll give you and another something simpler. What I think that in terms of solidarity we need to do is that we need to recognize that those instances when Asians and African-Americans and other people of color have risen up together are exceptional moments in US history. Most of the time that’s not what’s happening. Most of the time there’s this unity dissension and tension right. That’s the normal state of things. And so we should be focusing not so much on the exceptional which our circumstances that are often created by history right the historical accidents of those times but on what’s normal and try to understand what holds us in this state of this unity. What are the tropes and stereotypes and beliefs what are the what are the ways in which we understand our [00:58:12] self interests that keep us in this state of constant tension. [4.9]

[00:58:18] Alan: And seeing and shifting and shifting the focus shifting the frame to something that maybe is not quite as good.I mean not quite as exciting or doesn’t pop as much. Yeah.

[00:58:32] Scott: Well if you were to ask people my family why African-Americans are in the state that they’re in. Not as an entire group of people but why there’s a [00:58:40] disproportionate poverty and incarceration rates that are suffered by African-Americans. [6.7] One of the things they would say is that that’s because of black on black crime which is a total trope. Right. The whole idea of black on black crime is not a useful way of understanding crime at all. It is not also the typical experience. Right. Most black people even in the most you know crime filled low income neighborhoods are not committing any crimes at all in the context. That’s something that’s a really big effort right. To keep yourself mean don’t the way most people in you know low income African-American units are not committing crimes. And so to say that the reason is black on black crime is basically just a racist justification for poverty. Right. And so I think that those are the kinds of places where there is opportunity for us to engage people in the Asian-American community and talk about those things. Talk about the idea for example that African-Americans are more naturally athletic. These are all tropes right. These are all just stereotypes. There is actually no basis in fact for any of these things particularly because there is no basis in fact except for historical fact for race. It’s not biological. It’s not cultural. It’s entirely synthetic. It’s a political construct.

[01:00:11] Alan: My last question on this and then I’ll let you go is your describing what your pet never is your family would say and you said black on black crime and he ran these examples that perhaps might be typical of as indicators of any prejudice or tropes that Asian-Americans might have African-Americans. So that explanation that you just gave me of black and or the idea of black on black crime comes from. Is that how you would approach the conversation with members of your own family or what it would be a slightly different tact like how would you approach that.

[01:00:42] Scott: Well we’ve met members of my own family. I would just push back on that idea that black on black crime is the reason why there’s so much policing and incarceration of black people by simply pointing out to them that the police the [01:00:55] policing that’s going on in black communities now is not actually protecting the majority of people who live in those communities who are completely law abiding. [12.8] In fact suggests that the people in those communities who may be committing crimes are a danger to the rest of us. Right. This is the kind of thing that’s revealed by the black unsolved murder rate for instance the black unsolved murder rate is astronomically high when it is a black person who’s the victim. The amount of resources invested in investigating those crimes the amount of time and effort that put into it is extraordinarily different than if the victim as of any other group. And so you know it just kind of helps us to see that the reality is that the policing regimes that we’ve imposed upon black people are policing regimes that we’ve imposed upon them because we’re protecting ourselves from black communities. Right. And from this idea of the black predator that is entirely made up.

[01:02:05] Alan: We see policing as an relatable entry point to talk about. Stereotypes or tropes about about black people.

[01:02:16] Scott: I think that policing is a really big one. Policing is a really big way in. You know I mean if I were having a conversation with my family what I would remind them of is that over the years starting from a place of allowing their understanding of who black people are to be entirely informed by 18 and 19 year old often drunk you know enlisted men on military payday to the one that they eventually evolved into involved in actually getting to know people that as they start to get to know African-Americans who were at work with them for example were living in the neighborhood they started to see that there was much more complexity and because they themselves had been stereotyped and marginalized in various ways during their lives. They were immediately able to see we’re allowing ourselves to look at exceptional circumstances in a lot– and making that appear to be as if it’s the norm when actually there is no norm. This is there’s no norm within their own experience there is no norm in general. And so that’s one place in the other is to really just remind people that at one point in 1965. Right. The rate of African-American male participation in the workforce was equal to in fact slightly higher than that of white males and black women were participating in the workforce so much more than white women were. And so the black unemployment rate was actually dramatically lower if you include women. Right.

[01:03:49] Scott: Since that time African-American unemployment has become double that of white people. And that excludes long term unemployed and people in prisons and prison is a form of disguised unemployment. Most you know a significant number of people I should say a significant number of people who are at the point of their arrest are unemployed or underemployed.

[01:04:12] Scott: So. You know we have to ask ourselves why why why did this happen you know. And why is it that as unemployment in the African-American community grew the participation of undocumented workers in our workforce expanded that the prison boom began tough on crime policy was invented the war on drugs and policing regimes were you know sort of unleashed on black people. Why was this debate of managing unemployment. You know these are the kinds of things that for my family because of their history as laborers and their strong identification is working class people and they can begin to understand what happens when you’re excluded from the economy. But that idea that you are policed and put in prison is one that doesn’t seem so remote. So we need to start to try to figure out you know how to tease out the class experience right the class experience of people of color as we are in terms of race.