IC2 (1)

Iris Chang: The Chinese in America (Viking 2003) Lots of good anecdotal material of the oral history sort tied together around the principal events of the Chinese immigrant experience. The text is rather poorly written as if it were some Discovery Channel script doomed to no more than a moment of distracted attention over dinner: significant pauses, melodramatic transitions, coy chapter headings etc.

More importantly Chang should take along a good book bag full of Foucault on her next summer vacation (This text was written before the author learned of Chang's suicide). At its most rebarbative, as  in her recitation of Chinese American accomplishments that reads like a speech at some Kiwanis Club awards banquet, Chang’s self-awareness is neatly split down the middle. She observes herself and her people as an object mostly from the point of view of the dominant white race to which she mentally belongs along with, one must say, of any number of her assimilated Chinese American readers. She is saying to the white reader, “Haven’t we done well. Please don’t hate us.??? But one of those white readers is herself. She is both the defendant in the court of race and part of the jury and she hopes to convince the other jurors to find her innocent. As a writer she has been Naipuled.

Chang seems to believe that racism can be overcome rationally by making the racist majority aware of the ugly effects of its attitude and making manifest the true non-threatening nature of the despised minority. Chang’s book is designed to contribute to a rational discourse along these lines.

The Naipul strategy works, however, only as long as the majority is above a certain critical line of psychological security and material prosperity. Whenever it dips below this line, as in times of war and economic depression, racism returns. In times of want, real or imagined, rational discourse has historically been swept aside because racist attitudes are not adopted on the basis of rational reflection.

The only lasting solution lies not in trying to amend racist attitudes themselves, since these attitudes or at least their translation into action arise without exception from material conditions, as the Marxists say. The only lasting solution lies in changing the balance of power within the racist society. In democracies, which without a good deal of difficult engineering are no more than mechanisms for enforcing the desires of the majority, that can only mean no longer being a minority.

But, and the problems do seem to string themselves out, were it to come about that people of European ancestry with a certain sort of skin pigmentation ceased to be the visible majority, they could still be the geistige majority, that is, translated into practical terms, the voting majority. For, as we observed above, Chang’s mind is only half Chinese American; the other half is white American. And indeed some undetermined number of black Americans and Mexican Americans and Japanese Americans has undergone the same psychological lobotomy. A similarly situated Black American sees his race as a minority oppressed by the whites; but he sees a Chinese American from the point of view of white Americans. His reaction may be benign or hostile. But divided consciousness consists precisely in taking on the identity of one's oppressor.

Perhaps the only alternative to racial oppression is Balkanization. Perhaps a change may lie in permanent peace and prosperity or in some as yet undefined program of behavioral modification. Until one of these ends is actually realized, however, the truth remains that the only security comes from power.