scot nakagawa

{…} “The model minority myth is rooted in the backlash against the Black civil rights struggle. When Federal legislation resulted in programs like Affirmative Action, the media abruptly pivoted from Asians as sneaky foreigners to the model minority stereotype. The myth served the purpose of isolating African Americans in particular, and provided cover to those using coded racism to attack social programs and civil rights gains. The myth allows conservative policy makers to characterize these gains as dependency breeding crutches…” ~ Scot Nakagawa, “Asians Are The Wedge”
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The world isn’t neatly divided up into those who have privilege and those who don’t. The vast majority of us enjoy certain privilege, male cis-gender for instance, and while exclusion because of other aspects of our experience, like queer sexual orientation, lack of educational and class privilege, non-Native immigration status, etc.

And privileges are extended to us based on those characteristics that are privileged in society. I’m sure that as a queer woman you’ve observed this. Asian Americans in your school years may have been bullied and found comfort in each others’ company, but then bullied and excluded you because of your sexual orientation. Or you may have witnessed sexism in mixed gender groups of Asian Americans and other people of color fighting for civil rights based on race.

Too many of us choose to cling to our privileges as opposed to build bonds of solidarity with others based on the ways we are excluded. Yet, those of us who are sometimes, even always, excluded for one reason or another are the majority of people in the world. If there’s power in numbers, we’re missing out on it.

Asian Americans among people of color, particularly East Asian Americans, are profiled as model minorities. This is a privilege that, like all privilege, is conferred by the powerful to serve their own interests. When we accept that privilege, even passively, rather than challenge it, we are complicit in their achievement of their interests. But, if we decide to shed ourselves of the shackles of privilege and organize ourselves to take real power through acts of solidarity, the very act of doing so opens alters, however slightly, the unjust power dynamics that put some people in the position to privilege us to their own advantage in the first place.

—  Scot Nakagawa

ester-u-deactivated20150103  asked:

Hello BiA thanks for all that you do, your blog is just the best thing on my dash usually. I wanted to comment on something though, I read the excerpt of Scot Nakagawa's article on the fulcrum of White Supremacy and it was solid but I noticed he downplayed the Native struggle. Like it seems almost as if he brushed it off as just "part of the story" as if the success of the American empire didn't rest on my race's near extermination. He could have said Natives weren't the fulcrum but American ---

society could not have existed without the at least partial destruction of my race. He simplified as a “a campaign of Indian removal” as if we were simply relocated as opposed to hunted like animals. I don’t know what to think, overall it was a good article. Just the problem is that I see a lot of Non-Native POC downplaying our struggle constantly. As if almost they don’t want to acknowledge we suffered a near complete destruction of our population and cultures. Its like settler guilt.

I’d missed that as an ignorant non-native and totally agree with you. It’s like how Toni Morrison says that “modern life begins with slavery,” which completely erases the fact that the genocide, removal and enslavement of native peoples came before that, occurred at the same time and continues to this day. Non-native POC regularly pay lip-service to solidarity with native communities in anti-racism discourse while refusing to center colonization in our conversations (particularly those around native issues), or understand our own complicity in the settler-colonial framework of America and Canada as non-natives. This is something that I’ve very much been guilty of as well.

Why was it only a month ago that I learned which tribes were forcibly displaced from the lands where I live in Pittsburgh today? Why is it that even now I can only name one of those tribes off the top of my head and still don’t know much about the particularities of their history in the region and their present day lives, primarily in Oklahoma, but here as well? How telling is that of how native issues regularly get swept under the rug by “well meaning” non-native POC interested in social justice?

In anti-racism discourse, many non-native POC regularly refuse to acknowledge the fact that we are also settlers/occupiers of native lands, and that “decolonization” of America and Canada include the physical removal of us and white people. We also fail to see how native issues are focused around reclaiming a relationship with the lands they have been forced from, which requires a very different lens for analysis than is typically present in antiracism discourse (particularly on tumblr).

Downplaying and erasing the native struggle plays into into the ongoing genocide of native peoples which frames natives as collectively “disappearing.” That “disappearing” logic justifies the ongoing occupation of native lands by non-natives since the disappearance of natives is implicitly understood to be “inevitable.” It is wrong and is something which we all need to be far more cognizant of, myself included.

Unapologetically-yellow and I discussed this very topic in our second podcast of HYPHENATED* titled, “Do non-native POC benefit as settlers on native lands?“ But solidarity with native peoples requires far more than one conversation, and is something I personally need to do a better job about understanding and acknowledging as well.

Thanks for adding on,


Interview with Scot Nakagawa

What’s your name? And who are you?

My name is Scot Nakagawa. I’m a Senior Partner in a new grassroots racial justice lab called ChangeLab.

What do you do?

 ChangeLab is mostly focused on conducting research and formulating analysis and strategy concerning the racial position of Asian Americans in the U.S. racial hierarchy, and creating strategies for building cross-racial solidarity among people of color and promoting racial justice in Asian American communities. 

What ethnicity are you? Has this helped shape your identity and/or held you back in any way?

In terms of background, I was born and raised in Hawaii and am deeply rooted in the Japanese American and Hawaiian community there, at least in terms of how I grew up, who I grew up among, and my perspective and loyalties. My parents are strongly identified as Japanese American Buddhists, with the Buddhist part of that identity being as definitive as ethnicity. I guess I’m as much as anything else philosophically Buddhist, raised in the shadow of a Buddhist temple, deeply steeped in Buddhist traditions and ideas. But I’m not a religious person. 

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a rural, agricultural community founded as a plantation. There, the vast majority of people were Asians and Pacific Islanders. My high school graduating class included one white person among 104. I grew up in a political active and aware family. I cut my teeth on talk about racial inequity and struggle among people who identified strongly and proudly as working class. In fact, I grew up with stories of past workers’ movements being shared with me as a way of building my sense of community, tradition, and values. 

However, what caused me to choose a mission-driven life was not my ethnicity as much as my sexual orientation. My community and family were liberal in many ways, but culturally very conservative. And the history of struggle of my community and family meant that collectivity was valued over individuality. Being different wasn’t a good thing. But, all of my life I knew I was different and because I was different, the idea of conforming in order to live in community was a struggle for me. I couldn’t really envision a viable future for myself. In my early childhood I assumed I would be a laborer when I grew up and never imagined myself leaving my community. But understanding on some basic level that I would never marry or be in a heterosexual union, have children, help build the next generation caused my childhood to be a lonely one, even when I was surrounded by friends and relatives and almost never alone. 

Like a lot of gay children, I considered suicide, ran away from home, and self-medicated myself through puberty with drugs and alcohol. I eventually dropped out of school. 

What are you most proud of?

I guess what I’m most proud of was that I dropped back in again and found a way to finish high school and begin a career in social change that I’ve remained in for more than 30 years now. I figured out how to live a full and rewarding life by committing myself to creating social change and promoting social justice. That decision was one I don’t think I would have reached if my sexual orientation hadn’t caused me to see that making people change to fit norms, even when those norms are comforting and empowering to the majority and even to our families, isn’t always the path to justice. Sometimes, justice demands that we change society to meet the needs of people. 

What sparked your fight?

I guess this [above] also answers the question about what sparks my fight. 

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food? Well, I became a vegan about 6 months ago, so a lot of my favorite comfort foods are no longer in my diet. I guess that among the things I can still eat, poi would be high up on the list. Fresh, not sour, eaten with something salty. I guess because of growing up on dried fish, poke, lots of shoyu and fish sauce, I find salt comforting. 

What is one thing you hope to see before you die?

The one thing I hope to see before I die? I want to see a movement for justice rise up and sweep away the legacy of colonialism, genocide and racism in the U.S. I want to see the movement for Hawaiian sovereignty to succeed. I change to see the world change for the better and be part of that change. 

What are the top five most played songs on your iTunes?

I’m not sure there are five favorite songs on my itunes list. I have very electic musical tastes, ranging from 70s R&B to poppy things from the 80s, more contemporary artists like the Roots and The Blues Scholars, Hawaiian music, and silly contemporary pop songs. I’m the kind of person who will put in ear buds, blast my music, and walk to the beat for miles. I guess you could say that I’m very uninhibited.

What is something you wish everyone knew?

Something I wish everyone knew? Hmmm…I guess that our destinies are intertwined. That what happens to me affects you and vice versa and, because of that, if we join forces to expand our understanding of the common good, we can make the world better together. That and, I guess, that climate change is real and it really sucks.

Where do you see ChangeLab going in the next five years?

In the next five years I see ChangeLab focusing a lot of changing the context for understanding who Asian Americans are, what brought us here and what’s causes Asians and others globally to migrate in masses numbers. We want to debunk the model minority myth. I think that’s a big key to building cross-race solidarity and neutralizing those who use myths about Asian Americans to promote racism against others and against us. 

Hope this is what you’re looking for. If not, let me know. I aim to please! Thanks!