The Power of Language for Brain Function

Hooks Academic Research Fellow Dr. Kami Anderson was a recent guest on Brain Power TV hosted by Dr. Hokehe (Eko) Effiong. In the episode, they discussed the brain benefits of learning another language in children and adults. Dr. Anderson is a trained scholar and master teacher of Afrocentric teaching strategies that ensure language retention, not just learning, and speaks directly to the neurological ways in which people of African descent process and embody languages.

Watch the episode below:

Transitioning from Fate to Destiny

by Paige Pirkey

Have you ever wondered how to transition from fate to your chosen destiny? I have, too. After years of reading, reflecting, and searching, I believe I’ve found the answer; and I’d like to share my learned lessons with you in this article. My learned lessons center around this idea called “purpose”. Our purpose is our chosen destiny, but how do we find it?

The first step is to meet yourself where you’re at. We must be open and honest with ourselves. We must be willing to dive deep into the inner recesses of our hearts to discover what lies beyond the veil of our emotions. Under every negative emotion lies a fear: A fear of abandonment, rejection, betrayal, being found unworthy, unlovable, broken… As we identify this fear and bring it to the surface, we’re able to unlock another layer of armor around our hearts by greeting it with the keys of love, compassion, and presence.

The second step is to trust yourself. Trust is essential and requires patience. In fact, to fully develop trust, one’s patience may need patience. Both patience and trust are skill sets that must be developed along the path to finding one’s purpose. Even as I type now, I notice the physiological experience of tightness in my chest and jaw… I then notice the stories I tell myself: That this process is taking too long or that I’m not doing it right… But perhaps, instead, I’m hoping to deliver the best, most uplifting message… If I choose to shift my interpretation of my perception, the understanding and experience of it also shifts, from anxiety to enthusiasm. After all, my purpose, or at least discovering it, should bring me joy. I’ve learned that, sometimes, we must unlearn what we’ve learned and trust our decision making, that we’re on the right path. And it takes patience to rebuild that trust in ourselves and our unfolding process.

The third step is to recognize our strength, our resilience, our bravery! We need to give ourselves credit for our tenacious efforts; again, we cycle back to phases 1 and 2: Meeting yourself where you’re at and trusting yourself. The process of discovering and living your purpose requires time, effort, and practice –all of which require strength; this will lead us to our chosen destiny. By purposefully, continuously choosing to disrupt our old ways of experiencing life, we create a new story, our destiny. This is one of the most loving acts we can do for ourselves –and passing along this strength to future generations is one of the most loving acts we can do for them.

And we can do this together. As promised in my previous article, I will now dedicate time to introducing the pilot project that I recently created, implemented, and evaluated:

Yoga and mindfulness practices are supportive on the journey from fate to destiny. Yoga uses the mind, body, and breath as tools for self-realization and self-actualization. By engaging with a physical pose, one enters a moderately uncomfortable, stress-induced state; this state of being reflects the stress we encounter in our daily lives. In that process, we focus on our breath in the present moment. And in that moment, we discover those repetitive stories that we tell ourselves that lead us to our fate. This realization presents us with the opportunity to choose a different story, to change how we engage with and interpret our experience. And with time and disciplined practice, this effortful process becomes automated and thus, actualized. We have, then, embodied the skills needed to transition ourselves from fate to destiny…

These life skills are exactly what I taught to kindergarteners, 1st graders, and 2nd graders at a local school system. The school system serves mostly minority students (54% Latino; 38% African American; 5% European American; 2% Asian); ninety-five percent of students’ families reside in the urban Memphis area with 77% living in Shelby County zip codes below the lowest median household income (below $42k). Approximately 91% of students meet the federal guidelines for free/reduced lunch.

The pilot program was 3-weeks long wherein students [and some teachers] received 4, 30-minute sessions per week. Below comprises selected excerpts from this study:

  • Students’ post-program excerpts:
    • “Yoga taught me more about myself, about what I think is better than what other people think I should think.” –1st grade, girl
    • “[When I’m feeling sad or stressed or overwhelmed], I do yoga to feel better, to remind us that we can do anything.” –2nd grade, girl
    • “We also learned that we can feel how we want to feel –even if we feel sad. It’s okay to feel our feelings.” –1st grade, boy
    • “It teached me how to be creative, like trying the yoga thing made me excited, and then, I went back home, and it made me build new crafts. I used to give up.” –2nd grade, boy
    • “It’s helped me learn about how our feelings communicate.” –2nd grade, girl
  • Teachers’ post-program excerpts:
    • “…[T]hey showed patience… I definitely saw some growth with independence and self-direction.” –Teacher F
    • “I’ve seen that change in my students as well; they definitely are more eager to help each other after the program, too.” –Teacher J
    • “A lot of my kids took your breathing technique… I would watch them do it in the room when they were upset.” –Teacher A
    • “I want to say thank you for creating an environment for my student to be relaxed and calm and to be a kid… I was pleasantly surprised, and it made me so happy. I think he was truly comfortable around you, and just truly relaxed around you, which is truly amazing because you’d only known him for a few weeks.” –Teacher A

To be sure, I learned just as much from my students [if not more], as they learned from me. For persons interested in learning more or collaborating in some capacity on this project, please reach out to me via email at paige.pirkey@memphis.edu.

For an audio recording of this post, click here.

Paige Pirkey is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow. Her current research focuses at the heart of change-making education, centering on urban schools by adopting a bottom-up approach that promotes healing and self-empowerment. 

 

 

 

Intertwining Destinies: Heroes’ Hearts Beating as One

by Paige Pirkey

Have you ever wondered about your potential –the possibilities for your life? Life is to be expressed, a story to be lived. Stories give meaning and life to our existence; they represent the truths we tell ourselves. Stories can either serve as a gift filled with little treasures or as a landmine filled with loss. How we see these stories reflects a pattern, and that pattern reflects the probable possibility of our life. But as conscious creators of our story, we have the power to decide, to choose between fate and destiny: Fate is the outcome of recycling past stories, whereas destiny is the outcome of choosing to create a new story. But how do we change our outcome, our possibility, our story?

We must first begin by evaluating our role in our own story. What roles, or characters, do we tend to play; which feel more comfortable, and why is that? I encourage us all to explore this with openness and curiosity. WE are the conscious creators of our life, and we get to choose whether to shame, judge, or criticize. Life is but a dream, a dream to be chosen and lived. But how can we be expected to live that dream if we continue in a recycled pattern of shame? This is not to say this process is easy. Part of choosing our role requires that we discover our true, inner strength. Our roles are for us to choose, and this strength is required to choose that role in the creation of our dream.

I am grateful for the opportunity to choose, for this opportunity to exercise free will –yet with this power, I’ve learned, comes great responsibility. Our choices impact future generations. The choices we make in our lives influence their choices –their stories. We weave our destinies. We forge our own destinies through the truths we tell ourselves, but what are we forging, what are we choosing to create, if it is based in shame, judgment, and criticism? What kind of world are we creating for ourselves and future generations? We get to decide what that world will look like –and I can’t hope to do it alone, which is why I’m writing this article… I need your help. The world is neither mine nor yours to create. It is ours –but we must be willing to combine our strengths, intertwining our destinies, for the greater good of humankind.

This brings us to the second step… We all must decide the role we hope to play in not only our own lives but also the role we choose to play in the lives of others. Do we hope to be the ruler, the bystander, the jester –or can we choose a different character, a different role? Across religions and cultures, there seems to be one such character that we all secretly aspire to be: the Hero. But again, will we choose it? Our ancestors: Were they aware of this choice, or did they unknowingly succumb to their own fate? Do we choose to repeat the mistakes, the wounds, the traumas of our past –or do we choose to create a new story, together? I realize what I’m saying doesn’t feel easy or simple –and yet, all it requires is a decision, a choice. A choice to forgive: to release the transgressions of those who chose to act in alignment with their fate, rather than their destiny. This choice not only frees them, but it frees us –to move forward, free from the pain and destructive nature of the past, to move forward with hope, love, and grace.

Although forgiveness begins with a choice, it is a process. And even though it will take time and effort, your destiny, our destinies, are worth it. And this kind of forgiveness, the type that can transcend us from fate to destiny, requires the strength of a hero. We all have this potential, this possibility, within us, but we must decide whether to choose it. The quality of our story, of our destiny, depends upon whether we are willing to show up as a hero to test and develop our strength.

Notice now, if you are doubting your own ability and the ability of others: Is that your fate talking –or your destiny? I believe in you. I believe in your abilities, but you must be willing to believe in yourself. If you say you cannot, then you are probably right… And the same can be said if you say that you CAN.

So, what will your decision be? Will you step into your destiny and be the hero you were always meant and able to be…?

I am open and willing to cooperate, to co-create our destiny. My intention is to begin the development of a project. In fact, I’ve already conducted the pilot phase, yet am seeking collaborators to expand this initial effort.

For more information, please see “Transitioning from Fate to Destiny.” If this sounds of interest, please contact me via email at paige.pirkey@memphis.edu. On the other hand, if this project is not of direct interest, yet you believe I may be able to support your efforts, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for holding space, devoting the time and effort to read this article, and allowing me to share my truth. I am honored by this opportunity to share my joy, love, and passions with you.

For an audio recording of this post, click here.

Paige Pirkey is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow. Her current research focuses at the heart of change-making education, centering on urban schools by adopting a bottom-up approach that promotes healing and self-empowerment. 

 

 

 

 

SOREN LIT: Reclaiming the Southern Renaissance

by Melodie J. Rodgers

As a ferocious act of self-care, I intentionally dove into outlining what I needed in a writing community during this pandemic. I discovered I needed a sanctuary—a sanctuary consisting of those who were questioning their place, empowered by lessons, and who were also deconstructing traditions of the South. I began reflecting on the communities of creatives that I was drawn to… and who helped shape me as a writer.

In my early 20’s, I lived in the Little 5 Points district of Atlanta. This area was the Greenwich Village of the South. Back in those days, I rented a room with other creatives in a slightly run-down Victorian with the most welcoming paint-peeled porch in the world. The tenants, my beloved friends, were all writers. All of us were thrown together… identifying as either women, femmes, and/or non-binary. We had open mics around our campfire in the backyard while listening to the train go by. Smells of menthol cigarettes, Jameson, patchouli incense, and citronella would swell inside our noses as we eagerly awaited the next brave soul to present their creative work to us under the glow of the flames.

These memories made me realize just how privileged I was to be amongst such beautifully bold beings, and that I really wanted to create a platform for women, femmes, and/or non-binary writers. And so, I launched a Southern Renaissance literary journal called SOREN LIT.

SOREN LIT serves as a reclaiming of the Southern Renaissance literary movement. However, the steadfast mission of SOREN LIT is to bring together the vital voices of those primarily left out of the first movement. By centering on women, femmes, and/or non-binary writers with Southern connections, it is our wish to empower these writers (from all backgrounds) and merge them together as one would the key ingredients of a gumbo… into a new Southern Renaissance of literature with fresh eyes and fierce stories to tell.

Our primary goal is publishing the work of women, femmes, and/or non-binary writers with Southern connections. We crave poetry, fiction, and nonfiction…

unapologetic, visceral, and authentic.

As an exquisite extension of our literary journal, we have also launched the SOREN LIT podcast in order to learn more about our published writers and their unique writing journeys.

SOREN LIT podcast is also available on the Apple, Spotify, and Google podcast platforms.

Melodie J. Rodgers is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow and the Founding Editor of SOREN LIT. Melodie received her MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte’s Latin American program and she is currently a Ph.D. student at Georgia State University in the Department of English and Literary Studies. 

When #CRT Legislation Hits the Language Learning Fan

by Kami Anderson

In my rites of passage group, my Babalawo said one day, “The greatest example of ego is white supremacy.” What more poignant moment to take this quote head-on than by addressing the recent influx of governors across the nation banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) from being taught in the k-12 classroom?

Now, let’s be clear: Critical Race Theory is NOT being taught in the k-12 classroom.  But from a pedagogical perspective, limitations on CRT can significantly impact the type of content a teacher can offer in the classroom. I want to take a moment to provide examples from a specific place in the k-12 school, the foreign language classroom.

Crenshaw explains that CRT acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continues to permeate the social fabric of this nation.

LangCrit, or Critical Language and Race Theory, is a critical theory of language and race that challenges fixed assumptions related to language, identity, and race and argues that these categories are socially and locally constructed. Specifically, it is a theoretical and analytical framework that puts the intersection of the subject-as-heard and the subject-as-seen at the forefront of interpretation and analysis. It looks for ways in which race, racism, and racialization intersect with language, belonging, and identity issues.

The work I do in CRT is in the classroom. Specifically, my foreign language classroom uses an Afrocentric derivation of LangCrit. I want to take a moment to use Tennessee as my example. Looking at the Tennessee law, it “will restrict what public school teachers can discuss in Tennessee classrooms about racism, white privilege, and unconscious bias.” This limits authentic identity for the racialized child in the classroom.

What does that mean exactly? It means that the whole and complete child cannot be acknowledged. It means that the sociocultural history of various racial and ethnic groups represented in the classroom cannot be fully recognized in the books or lessons.

I say this boldly and without apology, because my research examines how black culture, history, and identity are critical for language retention in the foreign language classroom.  In particular, I use raciolinguistics to analyze how language is used to construct race and how ideas of race influence language and language use.

Rosa and Flores purport raciolinguistics is “part of the broader structural project of contesting white supremacy.” From an Afrocentric perspective, studying raciolinguistics would examine the impact of race on foreign language learning and the influence of race on foreign language retention.

Raciolinguistics can be applied to the study of Blacks and foreign language learning because of the hegemonic presentation of language within the classroom and the hegemonic presentation of language outside of the classroom. It not only allows one to approximate race and culture in the classroom but also challenges examining how race plays a factor in language acquisition and retention. It is this intentional act that brings social and racial justice into the foreign language classroom.

By restricting CRT, teachers cannot complete this work. If you insist that race is no longer be a prominent factor, I am no longer allowed to question its absence in the foreign language classroom. As Brown and Edouard note, being able to see authentic representations of race and culture relatable for the student, particularly the Black student, is an “untapped intellectual resource.” By allowing students to identify similar racial and linguistic features in course content, students can witness the “perceived authenticity of language” This can’t be adequately tested without methods in CRT.

Language activism examines the structures of privilege and power exacerbated through the supremacy of language. It attaches language to contestations of power and critiques standard forms as codes of power. Specifically, in the foreign language classroom, it perpetuates supremacist elitism of foreign language learning among monolinguals seeking access to bilingual education.

In seeking to further Afrocentric language activism, I can focus and center the Black student in languages and focus on the Africanisms present in language and analyze how the appearance of Africanness affects our listening to language. For example, I can teach the West African connection between yam and ñame (they are the English and Spanish names for the same root vegetable), demonstrate and teach the history of how when in a Palenque neighborhood in Colombia you may hear “Lo no hagas pa’na” and it has the same connotation as “You bet’ not” in their communities. No, it is not grammatically accurate. It is culturally accurate, and that is just as important, especially in the foreign language classroom. This cannot effectively be taught without CRT methods and analysis.

Critical Race Theory is a threat because of the lack of acknowledgment of the research as it relates to Black children and education. To use a proverb as an analogy, we allowed the lion to share its side of the hunting story and then chose to rewrite the narrative back to favor the hunter because we were too uncomfortable talking about the hunter’s role in the lion’s pain.

There is an assumption that students of color in the classroom and carefully placed non-threatening images of well-known people of color as decoration in the classroom and the school are adequate in ensuring Black students see their identity represented. However, one can argue that this representation is shallow at best and exacerbates white supremacy issues within the education system. Shallow will not move our people. We are deeply profound, deeply critical, and deeply connected to an ancestral history with multilingualism. Limiting discussions around this can cripple our beloved community.

Kami Anderson is a Hooks Academic Research Fellow and founder of Bilingual Brown Babies, a specialized service for families of color who are serious about raising their children bilingual in English and Spanish. She was also one of the panelists for our event, “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and What It Isn’t.” 

 

Free-ish Since 1865: The Meaning of Juneteenth

by Michael Brandon McCormack

With our heightened awareness of the Tulsa Massacre, Juneteenth, for many of us will “hit differently” this year. People who have never celebrated, and, yes, some who had never heard of, Juneteenth are celebrating this year. And that’s no shade to anybody who is just now learning about Juneteenth because we know that Black history has been erased, avoided, distorted, and inadequately taught in our public school systems- or for that matter in our universities. Even some of us who know about Juneteenth, or celebrate it, don’t know much about the history behind the holiday.

We just know that it is Black folks’ alternative to the 4th of July. The 4th of July, a holiday that celebrates American independence from the British, in 1776, at a time when chattel slavery was still deeply entrenched in the fabric of the United States, which celebrated its freedom while keeping people of African descent in bondage.

This contradiction between independence and bondage is what prompted abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, to pose the provocative question in 1852, “What to the slave is your 4th of July?” Douglas answered his own rhetorical question, insisting, “I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Frederick Douglas spoke these words in 1852, more than a decade before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

But, make no mistake, it was not Abraham Lincoln who “freed the enslaved.” Enslaved Africans had been struggling, resisting, and fighting to free themselves for centuries; they had been striking blows at slavery with every mutiny on the ships, with every uprising on the plantation, with every destruction of tools, with every poisoning of the master’s food, with every abolitionist speech, with every late-night spiritual in the hush harbor encouraging their brothers and sisters to “steal away to Jesus,” which was code for escape. Enslaved Africans were not just sitting back waiting for Abraham Lincoln, the prototypical white savior figure, Black folks exerted their agency in the struggle for freedom. So, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, in 1863, it just made official, what Black folks had been fighting for since 1619.

But it wouldn’t be until June 19th, 1865, a full two and a half years later, that word of freedom would reach the furthest corners of the Confederacy. It wasn’t until Union Army Major General Gordon Granger and 1,800 federal troops finally “pulled up” in Galveston and served notice, with General Orders No.3, stating “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” that it finally became official that slavery had legally ended in the United States.

And, when enslaved Africans heard the news, some were shocked, others set out to find family and friends who had been sold away, but many began to celebrate their legal emancipation. And, that celebration was the beginning of what we now call Juneteenth. So, first and foremost, Juneteenth is a day of celebration. We celebrate our ancestor’s struggles for freedom. We celebrate the sacrifices they made so that we could be here today. We celebrate, and give thanks, to all of those who lived and died and paved the way for us. So, it’s a celebration! We turn up! We barbeque. We dance. We play spades. We have pageants. Our Texas brothers and sisters have rodeos. Our Louisville brothers and sisters sip bourbon.

But Juneteenth is not just a day of celebration. It’s also a day of education. It is a day where we commit to educating ourselves on the history of Black people in America, and throughout the African diaspora, that has been erased, denied, and distorted. It is also a day for political education and consciousness-raising. Many have protested the injustices that are happening all across this country and that’s good. But we also need to educate ourselves on the policies and ideologies behind the issues that we’re protesting. We need to understand the ins and outs of different positions on reforming, disinvesting, and abolishing, not just the police, but the entire prison industrial complex and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s a day to educate ourselves not only on policing, proper, but on all of the various ways that Black and poor and immigrant and queer and trans bodies are policed and controlled and surveilled and disciplined and punished in this country by everyday citizens, employers, teachers, and others. It’s a day of education because our ancestors have always understood that knowledge is power.

But Juneteenth is not just a day of celebration and education. It’s also a day of agitation. It is a day of recommitting ourselves to the ongoing Black freedom struggle. We know that while slavery was legally abolished in 1865, it was never fully eradicated. Sadiya Hartman argues that we are dealing with the afterlife of slavery. Slavery takes on new forms and permutations. White supremacy, anti-blackness, state-sponsored and vigilante violence, captivity, and Black death still plague us day in and day out. While we celebrate freedom on Juneteenth, we know that Juneteenth reminds us that for Black Americans, full freedom has always been denied, delayed, or diluted. That’s why we have Juneteenth shirts that say “Free-ish” since 1865. We’ve never been fully free, just free-ish, but every day, we’re fighting to get free-er and free-er.

With every generation, we have fought, or agitated, for a fuller realization of our freedom. And, despite what we often hear to the contrary, by news media and critics, this generation of young people and millennials are some of the fiercest freedom fighters we’ve ever seen. These young people are out here agitating, and disturbing the peace so that we can get free-er, and free-er, and free-er. They are calling for us not just to end police brutality, but to completely reimagine our notions of public safety. But, we’ve got to agitate not just for the reimagination and transformation of public safety, but also public education, and public housing, and public health, and public resources, and our entire conception of the public good.

And that takes all of us. All of us have work to do. Fred Hampton Jr. reminded us that all of us are not going to be some front-line freedom fighters, but all of us have a role to play in striking a blow for freedom! Activists have a role to play, politicians have a role to play, business owners have a role to play, educators have a role to play, ministers have a role to play, artists have a role to play, parents have a role to play, children have a role to play, you have a role to play, and I have a role to play. And not just the educated, professional, middle class, well-spoken, respectable folks, but the unemployed and those without formal education, our brothers and sisters in the streets, the so-called thugs and sex workers- all of us have a role to play in this ongoing Black freedom struggle!

Happy Juneteenth, y’all let’s celebrate this ongoing struggle for freedom!

Michael Brandon McCormack is a Hooks Academic Research Fellow and Associate Professor of Pan-African Studies and Comparative Humanities (Religious Studies) at the University of Louisville.

 

Behind the Model Minority Myth

by SunAh M. Laybourn

Photo: Andre E. Johnson

Last month Robert Aaron Long opened gunfire on Asian-owned/operated spas in the Atlanta metro area, ultimately killing eight people, including six Asian women. This mass shooting brought national attention to what many Asians in America were already aware of rising anti-Asian violence since the beginning of the COVID-19  pandemic. In the weeks preceding the March 16, 2021 mass shooting, Asian and Asian American activists, social media influencers, and prominent figures had taken to social media, calling out the lack of news media attention to anti-Asian harassment, particularly to attacks on elderly Asian people. While reports of anti-Asian harassment and violence began to spike in March-April of 2020, for the most part, knowledge of these attacks was internal to the Asian community.

Why has the rising anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic received scant mainstream media attention? And, why, in the immediate aftermath of Long’s mass shooting, were media hesitant to label his actions as racially motivated, much less a hate crime?

The answers to these questions can be traced to how Asians in America have historically been portrayed.

In 1966, New York Times Magazine featured an article by William Petersen, a sociologist, and demographer, entitled “Success Story, Japanese-American Style .” In it, Petersen lauded Japanese Americans for overcoming “color prejudice,” the denial of their “elementary rights,” exclusionary immigration legislation, and internment rather than becoming “problem minorities.” Over the next decade, Newsweek [1], Los Angeles Times [2], and U.S. News and World Report, among other mainstream press, ran similar stories extolling Chinese and Japanese Americans for “outwhiting the whites .”[3] Attention was also given to their educational and economic achievements, crediting their “meaningful links with an alien culture” along with their values of familial obligation and respect for authority.

“Prior to these mainstream press features, the two largest Asian ethnic groups in the U.S., Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans, desiring to attain full social, legal, and cultural citizenship within their home country, launched their own campaigns to prove their belonging emphasizing their work ethic, commitment to family values, and patriotism, while minimizing juvenile delinquency, poverty, need for social services, and discrimination experienced by their ethnic community [4]. Thus, the model minority myth was born.

These 1960s-1970s mainstream news features seemingly presented East Asians in America within a complementary light, a sharp turn given how mainstream press, the U.S. government, and academics had constructed them throughout the 19th century thru the mid-20th century, alternatively, as a Yellow Peril threatening the U.S. way of life, aliens ineligible for citizenship, and foreign enemies on American soil. Yet even as news media heralded East Asian Americans’ success, they did so by reinscribing their distinct differences from (white) American culture while simultaneously using East Asian Americans to denigrate other racially minoritized groups, specifically Black Americans. In news media and scholars’ explanations, if East Asian American’s “successful” assimilation into whiteness was a function of their “culture,” then Black Americans’ failure to assimilate into the (white) American ideal was a result of theirs. Moreover, if Asian Americans could pull themselves up by their bootstraps without government social services and in such a way as to “outdo Horatio Alger,” then other racially minoritized groups should, too. A 1966 U.S. News & World   article made this stance clear, stating, “At a time when it is being proposed that hundreds of billions be spent to uplift Negroes and other minorities, the nation’s 300,000 Chinese Americans are moving ahead on their own with no help from anyone else.”

Claire Jean Kim conceptualized this process of comparative racialization as racial triangulation. She theorized that the continuous process of creating and assigning racial meaning to groups of people is mutually constitutive and constructed across multiple dimensions. Lauding East Asian American’s “culture” and denigrating Black Americans’ while simultaneously reinforcing East Asian Americans’ persistent foreignness are examples of this process. In turn, these various cultural constructions are linked to the differing ways that racially minoritized groups are oppressed, whether through race-specific exclusionary immigration legislation, discriminatory practices, and/or unequal distribution of resources. Cultural constructions, public policies, and institutional practices together maintain white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and xenophobia.

When news media fail to identify a mass shooting targeting Asian-owned/operated spas as racially motivated, this omission continues the cultural construction of East Asian Americans as model minorities and upholds white supremacist ideology. By not connecting Long’s mass shooting to racism (and misogyny), East Asian’s “success story” of assimilation into American society is maintained. Simultaneously, Long’s targeting of Asian spas due to his seeing these businesses as a “temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate is similar to how Asian women have historically been sexualized, constructed as lacking moral character, and feared for carrying. It is these same ideas of Asians as disease-carrying and threats to U.S. culture and way of life that were called forth when former President Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus.” While his words alone did not cause the rise in anti-Asian violence throughout the past year, they reinforced ideas of Asians as unfit for citizenship in America. As demands for racial justice and the end to all oppression are receiving increasing attention, we must consider the multiple and enduring ways that racism, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and other systems of power create a matrix of domination. By understanding the links between the past and present manifestations of white supremacy, we can dismantle these systems of power in all of their forms.

Dr. SunAh M. Laybourn is a Hooks Academic Research Fellow and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Memphis. 

[1] Newsweek. 1982. “Asian-Americans a ‘model minority.’” December 6. Pp. 39-51.

[2] Los Angeles Times. 1977. “Japanese in U.S. Outdo Horatio Alger.” October 17. P 1.

[3] Newsweek. 1971. “Success Story: Outwhiting the Whites.” June 21.

[4] Wu, Ellen D. 2014. The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press