While intersectionality has a been a buzzword in the social consciousness for a long time, through this course I began to truly understand it. Understanding how identity intersects at the margins, and how it can be co-opted to maintain white hegemony was central to my blog posts. In my first blog post, I investigated how the language of social justice can be weaponized by Asian American men to blame Asian women of their own fetishization. In the second, I examined the ideas of totality and infinity as they relate to racial representation in the form of emoji, and how the usage and presentation of emjoi by whites as well as the general social media move toward a ‘raceless’ option reflected both erasure of marginalized peoples and the hegemonic move to erase color. Then, I investigated the #nomakeup movement alongside before-and-after makeup photos of Asian women to elucidate the relationship between race, gender and beauty politics through a techno-orientalist critique. Finally, I examined Asian identity and contradictory nature of “Asian-ness” and its role in college admissions, weaponized and deployed against affirmative action. By examining the role of Asian Americans at these intersections through seemingly unrelated social phenomenon made possible by technology, I have drawn links to how rhetoric, from those propagated by news media to that which occurs within internet forums, works to center and stabilizes whiteness even at the margins. Writing these blogs has pushed me to further analyze the rhetoric that arises from any event, and question who is excluded and what is being left unsaid.
My favorite concept I have gained an understanding of is neoliberalism, and the general idea that liberal freedoms are not truly free. I had always been uncomfortable with certain campaigns of empowerment, such as body positivity or self-esteem movements, and did not know how to articulate my qualms beyond shallowly stating that appearances shouldn’t be important. The realization of how self-esteem movements are merely another tool of neoliberalism (a new word I learned this quarter), created to give the illusion of freedom of choice for women, was honestly perspective-changing. Understanding that neoliberalism masks systemic oppression as individuality, and analogizing this to the constant cover-up of systematic racism as individual faults, helped me understand power and capitalism in a new way. Combined with my concurrent Environment & Society course discussion on market liberalism and the flaws of capitalism, I gained an interdisciplinary understanding of capitalism, how it works, and who it benefits.
The most useful skill I gained was in reading and gaining an understanding abstract concepts. Although I have much experience in reading scholarly articles, they typically relate to neurological phenomenon and/or interesting new scientific research. Abstract concepts such as multiplicity or essentialism felt slippery and transient compared to the biological processes I had spent the last three years studying. But, after spending 6+ hours rereading and trying to understand Lee’s Beauty Between Empires and Hsu’s Transsexual Empire for the class presentation, I began to finally gain a deep understanding of the readings. Hsu’s ideas of citizenship, and how government defines and enforces who is considered a citizen at the intersection of Asian and trans was especially enlightening. I had been mostly unaware of how states upholds binary gender, and how through laws such as forcible sexual reassignment surgery a state could deliberately define citizen bodies. I acquired a firmer grasp on the abstract ideas the encompassed large concepts, such as trans postcoloniality or queer diasporic critique. I learned how to link ideas between authors, and apply view old material through new lenses.
One topic that remained in my mind for most of the quarter was my first blog post, on the subculture developed within r/AsianMasculinity – racially progressive, yet very misogynistic, and especially oppressive toward Asian women. The subculture cultivated there is not isolated, and other internet communities such as r/TheRedPill, 4chan, and even the left-leaning Tumblr, foster isolated communities that direct anger and blame at marginalized groups.With the proliferation of the internet, like-minded individuals form communities that seem to exhibit the psychological phenomenon of group polarization, for better or worse. In attempts to leverage their own group at the expense of another, they fall back on available stereotypes and use existing rhetoric to shore up hegemony, whether that be their original intention or not. These groups tend to vehemently deny the oppression of marginalized groups, often co-opting language to argue that they are the truly oppressed. This idea can be similarly extended to the post-election aftermath. My interest in how and why communities demonize and marginalize certain groups has grown. It is evident that this is a international phenomenon, first presented this year with Brexit, and now with a president-elect that unashamedly appoints white nationalists to run this country. It seems now more important than ever to investigate what can be done to address these misogynistic, xenophobic, and heteronormative attitudes, and to understand the power structures that renders such opinions heard.
All in all, this class has been pivotal in my understanding of the world I live in. I’ve gained the vocabulary, skills, and critiques to unmask the power structures around me, make whiteness visible, analyze critically, and forge counter frames. As a Chinese American woman soon to be thrusted out into the post-college world, I believe the lessons from this course will encourage critical thinking and action against systemic oppression for a lifetime.