Over Thanksgiving Break, my uncle asked me what I was studying at Northwestern to which I replied with the only possible answer, “Social Policy and Asian-American Studies”. In the Northwestern bubble, that answer is usually just met with a nod and a “oh that’s great”, sometimes including a soft smile that is itching to ask “How can you get a job in that”. However, my uncle didn’t even give me the soft smile, he looked at my father and asked “How could you let her do this?” To clarify this is not my uncle pulling a ‘Tiger Mom’ or thinking that I should be a doctor/lawyer, but rather his consultant brain doing a cost benefit analysis of Northwestern’s costs and his shallow understanding of the way shit could work out. He turned again to me and just asked “Why? Why are you studying your own people?” and to that, I had no answer. Why do I choose to sit in class and learn about how Ali Wong’s discussion of her vagine demonstrates radical politic or whine, according to some people’s standards, about the inequities still faced by the Asian-American community?
I didn’t have the answer to his question until months later, Professor Ji-Yeon Yuh (she a homie) asked me what I thought was the point of education in general. Of course I had no answer, however, her reply was this, “It is the role of education to ensure you make the most impact in the most communities”. And it hit me, Asian-American Studies is a method of reconciling one’s identity as both Asian and American. When Asian-Americans, particularly those of East Asian descent, hear the word diversity, we do not consider ourselves a group that would “diversify” a space. Before coming to Northwestern, I did recognize Asian-Americans as people of color, a label that I reserved for Latinx and black communities. Hegemonic structures have and continue to try to silence Asian-Americans to be invisible, which if that is an identity accepted by Asian-American communities will produce a dangerous lack of awareness.
As a both a check and balance of larger hegemonic structures, media is one of the most salient spaces in which a lack of representation is apparent in both quantity, and quality – hence the role of media analysis in various Asian-American Studies courses. Although there has been an increase in the number of Asian-American actors in both television and film, there is still a huge lapse in what is known in Hollywood as “diversity”.
The Hollywood definition of diversity is the inclusion of a “token” [insert blank here] and applauding themselves for ‘thinking outside the box’. This course in particular explored the presence and product of Asian-American entertainers as politic, something I had never explored. Radical politic, to my understanding, is the way by which one fundamentally alters structures, specifically hegemonic. Because the status quo is a white dominated space, I started to question what constituted as a radical politic: could the presence of two Asian guys instead of one or a movie made about gay Asian-American men be considered radical politic? Was just having a presence also a radical politic? If it was considered radical for an extended period of time what is the obstacle in the way? All these questions revolved around the relationship between the white and Asian points of Claire Jean Kim’s diagram from The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans, so I decided that a potentially more clear way to understand radical politic came from the relationship between Asian and black on the diagram.
South Korea is a relatively homogenous nation with conservative values and a cultural structure meant to establish various hegemons at each level of class, age, and recently skin color. Korean hip hop has evolved from what could initially be perceived as appreciation into a lifestyle and music form that resulted in appropriation and anti-black actions. Both Yoon Mirae and Anderson .Paak are mixed race Korean-Americans who publicly perform their blackness and Koreanness to different levels. These two artists are examples of truly radical politic in media and representation. They defy the status quo of hip hop authenticity by being both black and Asian and by expressing both identities defied the status quo of being two-dimensional.
This idea of ‘radical politic’ and its definition in execution have been seldom discussed in my Asian-American Studies courses, yet it is a fundamental concept in understanding hegemonic structures and the way in which one does or does not live their lives. However, why is that? Why is radical politic not taught or encouraged in courses? Some of the most impactful changes in the world were the result of radical politic, and yet the hegemonic nature of classroom prevents us from exploring this idea further. “Why?” he asked. “Because the status quo is not good enough” would be my answer.