Afrofuturism, Racial Capitalism and Asian Americans – Jingzhe Zhang
The most interesting part for me in Dr. Dan Hassler-Forest’s lecture is the concept of Afrofuturism and racial capitalism. The term Afrofuturism is often used to talk about speculative fictions that express the experience and concern of African diaspora. But Afrofuturism, according to Dan, also exists as an important conceptual framework that challenges the problematic assumptions in science fiction that has traditionally been dominated by the West. In Western science fiction racial capitalism is often reproduced in the imagined future, where imperialism, racialization and exploitation rule the world. Afrofuturism thus foregrounds race in social relations, re-tells the story of the racialized Other, and imagines alternatives to racial capitalism.
Racial capitalism is another term that I learned from this seminar. It addresses a blind spot that I have long ignored, so I would like to delve into this term in this blogpost. Racial capitalism is a term coined by Cedric J. Robinson. He argues that “the development, organization, and expansion of capitalist society pursued racial directions” (quoted in Hassler-Forest, 2022). Regarding the connection between anti-black racism and capitalism, a few searches on Google Scholar gave me the following picture. Black and other racial minorities are racially devalued and are subordinated to goals of capital, which led to the shocking water poisoning in Flint, Michigan (Pulido 2016). During the pandemic, overrepresentation of Black and Latinx population in low-paying jobs with elevated occupational risk contributed to their disproportionally high rates of Covid infection and death (McLure et al, 2020). These cases demonstrate that racism and capitalism are mutually constituting.
I have to admit that I have long overlooked the dependency of contemporary capitalism on racism probably because in my perception Asian Americans give a strong middle-class impression. Indeed, statistics show that Japanese, Indian and Chinese Americans have higher median household income than white Americans and very high rate of achieving a bachelor’s degree, but they also point out Asian Americans on average still make less than white Americans despite the fact that they are in general more educated; Asian Americans who have high school education or less make less than white and many other factors contributed to their relatively high household income (Asante-Muhammad & Sim, 2020). Wendy Cheng suggests that Asian Americans have an obscure but systemic racial-economic figuring because many Asian groups have functioned as “an intermediary labor class between Black and White.”
Asante-Muhammad, Dedrick and Sally Sim. “Racial Wealth Snapshot: Asian Americans And The Racial Wealth Divide.” National Community Reinvestment Coalition, May 14, 2020, http:// ncrc.org/racial-wealth-snapshot-asian-americans-and-the-racial-wealth-divide/.
Cheng, Wendy. “Strategic Orientalism: Racial Capitalism and the Problem of ‘Asianness’.” African Identities 11, no. 2 (2013): 148-158.
Hassler-Forest, Dan. Janelle Monáe’s Queer Afrofuturism: Defying Every Label. Boston: Rutgers University Press. Accessed February 2, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.
McClure, Elizabeth S., Pavithra Vasudevan, Zinzi Bailey, Snehal Patel, and Whitney R. Robinson. “Racial capitalism within public health—how occupational settings drive COVID-19 disparities.” American journal of epidemiology 189, no. 11 (2020): 1244-1253.
Pulido, Laura. “Flint, Environmental racism, and Racial Capitalism.” Capitalism Nature Socialism 27, no. 3 (2016): 1-16.