On Oppression Olympics and Black Hypervisibility

If you’re online, you probably have heard about the incoming talent for SNL’s future lineup.

One new face was Bowen Yang, who’d be the first Asian performer on the show’s regular lineup in its 44 year history. Another was Shane Gillis, a comedian with a reputation for using racist jokes and other offensive statements as part of his act and in his personal conversations on his podcast.

One of the Democratic candidates for president, Andrew Y@ng – who aspires to appeal to whiteness at pretty much every step of the way – received some of Gillis’ ire as Gillis used a racial slur to refer to him earlier this year. He addressed Gillis’ racism in multiple tweets earlier this week/end.

One part of his response to Gillis’ racism towards him and other East Asian people was to compare racism towards East Asian people and the reaction from the general population when racism happens to Black people, tweeting that, “If Shane had used the n word the treatment would likely be immediate and clear.”

The idea of anti-blackness like a minor celebrity using the n-word being met with “immediate and clear” punishment is laughable.

How many actual celebrities and YouTubers have let that word slip from their lips in anger and have not seen anything resembling permanent cancellation?

Mel Gibson may have caught flack for the antiblackness he delivered alongside rape threats to his then-wife, but he’s still out there making movies and money. How many “heated gaming moments” are gaming superstars like Pewds allowed to have?

Let’s be very real here, antiblackness does not get punished immediately or clearly. Not in 2019. Not in the US. Legit, it is not the norm for antiblackness to be punished – immediately or at all – in this country.

From “minor” forms like a celebrity mocking Black people to racial slurs and outright murder, Black people are subject to tons of injustices every day and rarely do we see the perpetrator get punished beyond a slap on the wrist.

The reason that Yang and many other people – East Asian and otherwise – seem to think that hypervisiblity in the news and in media make up a form of privilege?

Hypervisibility.

As Alex Reaves defined it in the 2017 article, “Hypervisibility Is Not Black America’s Fault“:

In this context, hypervisibility can be defined as the disproportionate amount of attention black Americans receive concerning the topic of race. Anytime someone braces the subject our names will be in their mouths, as though we set the standard for racial abuse. Naturally, other minorities have protested against this, and they’re right to do so. After all, unless you’re white you’ll undoubtedly suffer in a white supremacist society. Unfortunately, their attempts to shift the conversation are often steeped in anti-blackness, and instead of uplifting themselves they only degrade us further. 

Like I said in “Cultural Appropriation in the Age of K-Pop Part One“: “Hypervisibility is not a privilege.”

The idea that Black USians are privileged because more people see our pain and that sometimes other people do something about it is disgusting in how incorrect it is.

Not only is hypervisbility not a privilege, it often leads to Black USians further dehumanization because we’re seen as “too visible” to be really human and worthy of respect even by other marginalized people.

I’d also like to bring up Philando Castile’s 2016 murder by a police officer was livestreamed by his then-girlfriend on Facebook Live. Thousands of people saw him breathe what would be his last breaths as his girlfriend and her child sobbed beside him.

All that visibility and yet… the cop that murdered him was acquitted.

We are seen –

But we’re not seen as human.

That’s for sure.

At the end of the day, the thing is that Y@ng isn’t the only non-Black person to think that Black people’s hypervisibility means we have somehow managed to gain privilege over non-Black people by virtue of having racism towards us blow up or because there are some Black USian helmed media properties (or the rap industry).

Lots of non-Black people – who aren’t exclusively East Asian – seem to view Black American’s visibility in the news or in media as a sign that we have triumphed over racism and now it’s someone else’s turn to get to the top and stop having racism done to them.

Back when The 1619 Project was released in August, plenty of non-Black POC joined an annoyingly loud chorus of white voices in derailing this project. Only thing is that these POC were often asking “well what about me/my people” rather than wailing about how obviously historically inaccurate it was.

Think about it: The 1619 project exists to document the way Black people and Blackness have been shaped by slavery and across the 400 years since the transatlantic slave trade began.

It’s a moment that is traceable and a project created and worked on by Black people in the US.

And the response too many POC had was to center themselves and wonder “why not Native Americans/Latinx/Asians”. It was to decide that the plight and struggles of Black people were already visible enough and that they should’ve been centered in a version of the project.

They’re not thinking about what Black USians have gone through and are still going through. They don’t know that lynchings still happen in the US or that sundown towns make road trips an impossibility for Black USians. The United States is deadly and dangerous for all POC and our portrayal in media is not guaranteed to be well-done even when we’re the ones working on the show.

But using Black (hyper)visibility to derail your own conversations about racism directed towards your group isn’t the answer.

Here’s some advice:

Leave Black people out of your beef with whiteness.

It’s not our fault that people “don’t seem” to be doing the same amount of heavy lifting when it comes to racism against your people as they do for Black people. At the point where you’re blaming a fellow minority group in the US for how (you think) racism against them is handled by the media, you need to do a whole self-check because that’s just wrong and your antiblackness is on full display.

I’m not a fan of playing Oppression Olympics, but let’s be very real here: dragging in Black people to be like “at least racism against Black people gets addressed” in a world where Black people are still being assaulted and murdered by non-Black people who are then not punished (or even found, in some cases) is jarring in its antiblackness.

Do better.

Address the real problem.

And stop derailing your conversations to try and act like folks would care more about yellowface/anti-East Asian slurs/cultural appropriation if their anti-Black equivalents happened to Black people because newsflash:

They really wouldn’t.


Note: this is the Twitter thread I did that sparked this blog post.

About Zeenah

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
This entry was posted in A Catch All and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On Oppression Olympics and Black Hypervisibility

  1. nutheadgee says:

    I always say – and people always get big mad about it because they know it’s true – NBPoC arguable hate black people more than white people do, especially Asians. They really, really, REALLY hate us, and they know it. I would never trust a NBPoC with discussions of racism, with very few exceptions.
    But anyway, great article as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • senzavoi says:

      I always waver between calling it outright hate because it’s something more slippery and harder to define in one word. The closest I get is resentment. Because it’s a dislike of Black people/what it looks like we’ve gotten and what feels like jealousy that everyone wants to be (like) us even though they’re all told we’re at the bottom of the heap by whiteness and their cultures.

      Like we should be working together to dismantle whiteness – which doesn’t even benefit *them* like they think – but instead, there’s this endless clinging to antiblackness.

      Of course, I’ve had conversations with NBPOC where they literally argued that they couldn’t be antiblack because they’re not white and derailed the hell out of conversations.

      But I’ve also had great conversations and maintain positive relationships with some NBPOC where we can talk openly and frankly about racism and they make a point of doing their own work to unlearn antiblackness and teach their communities to do better.

      It’s not that I’m all about forgiveness (because haha I’m not) but that thankfully I do get reminders that there are people willing to do the work and push back against antiblackness.

      And thank you, hun ❤️

      Like

  2. Pingback: On Oppression Olympics and Black Hypervisibility – [Black. Fly. Magic.]

  3. lkeke35 says:

    There are far too many non-Black PoC who think they can cozy up to white power structures, and curry favor with Whiteness by demeaning Black people. They see anti-Blackness as a sign that they are, or can be,accepted by White supremacy. Engaging in anti- Blackness is also a way to maintain solidarity with Whiteness while separating themselves from those “inferior Black people”. This is why , despite that there are some non Black people who are trying to do the work, I don’t think there will ever be the kind of solidarity we saw between the races like we did in the sixties.

    This situation is also not at all helped by mistrust on all sides, and those Black people who try to make themselves seem special by demeaning non-Black PoC, becasue all that does is help to provode fuel their anti-Blackness. (We’re looking at you Chris Rock!)

    Or as the saying goes:
    “All skin folk, ain’t kin folk.

    Liked by 2 people

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