Claire Kim (UC Irvine)
“Are Asians the New Blacks? Affirmative Action, Antiblackness, and the ‘Sociometry’ of Race”

This article sheds light on the pending affirmative action lawsuit filed by Asian American plaintiffs against Harvard University by providing a brief history of how Asian Americans have been figured (and have figured themselves) in U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence on race-conscious admissions in higher education.  It shows that the figuration of Asian Americans has played a critical role in the legal-ideological project of despecifying black subjection and disavowing racial positionality in the U.S. social order, from Bakke to the present, and argues that a new ‘sociometry’ of race is necessary to help us understand and challenge persistent structures of racial power.

Nikil Pal Singh (New York University)
“The Problem of Race and Comparison”

Iyko Day (Mount Holyoke)
“Settler Colonial Racial Capitalism and Asian American Studies”

My presentation charts the relevancy of settler colonialism and racial capitalism as mutually constitutive frames for understanding Asian American studies. Drawing on the context of British settler colonialism in North America, I discuss how racialized migrant labor has played a crucial role in establishing and developing settler colonies, from the exploitation of enslaved and convict labor, to indentured and contract labor, to contemporary iterations of guest and undocumented labor. The reliance on hyper-exploitable, deportable, or disposable classes of migrants has been an integral logic of settler colonialism in North America, rendering Indigenous communities vulnerable to violent dislocation, dispossession, and environmental harm. In order to put race at the center of settler colonial political economy, I draw on the critical legacy of Asian American Marxisms in order to offer thoughts on the intersection of race and value as constitutive elements of settler colonial racial capitalism. I also chart the critical affinities between Afropessimism, Critical Indigenous Studies, and value form criticism in their respective critiques of orthodox Marxian conceptions of labor.

Moon-Ho Jung (U Washington)
“Coolies,” Racial Capitalism, and the Critical Stakes of Asian American Studies

I will revisit my first book and incorporate material from my current book project to frame how Asian migrations proved pivotal in shaping race and empire around the world, including in the U.S. South. Encompassing and embodying the contradictory imperial imperatives of enslavement and emancipation, I will suggest, various debates over “coolies” compel us to explore the messy ways that racial capitalism and liberal nation-states expanded and operated hand in hand to advance and elide empire. How did the legal and cultural production of “coolies” lead to the state regulation of “coolies” (in the tropical colonies) and the state exclusion of “coolies” (in white settler colonial societies), the legacies of which we are still grappling with today?

Ben Tran (Vanderbilt)
“New South, Global South, and Postsocialism”

This paper begins its examination of Afro-Asia connections in the local/global South with the Trump administration’s deportation of Southeast Asian Americans, analyzing the histories and policies that have made Asian Americans from Southeast Asia susceptible not only to deportation, but to racial capitalism and neoliberalism’s insecurities. On the one hand, I am interested in connecting the predicament of Southeast Asian Americans to the American South, or more accurately the southeastern United States’ racialized policies and histories of labor, arguing for the necessary history and future of Afro-Asian solidarities. On the other hand, this discussion explores how racial capitalism manifested during and after the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia, disproportionately affecting those who were defeated and disenfranchised by postwar governments. Focusing then on marginalized Southeast Asian perspectives, this paper proposes a global idea of race that traces back to the legacy of civil wars―both in the U.S. Civil War and the Vietnam War―and how they not only legislated and produced unequal differences of “race,” but also anticipated and enabled the inequities of contemporary globalization.

Josephine Lee (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)
“The Shared Spaces of Blackface and Yellowface on the Southern Vaudeville Circuit”

Part of a larger research project on the intersections of blackface and yellowface. Focusing on the late nineteenth and early-twentieth century musical entertainment and theater, this talk looks at the shared history of juxtaposition of blackface minstrelsy and stage orientalism, in which both white and African American performers performed in yellowface. I argue that playing “yellow” significantly affected what it meant to play “black,” and vice versa.

In keeping with the conference theme, the main examples for this talk will be drawn from the early twentieth century African American vaudeville circuit in the Southern states. In the early decades of the twentieth century vaudeville began to replace minstrelsy as the most popular form of stage entertainment in the US. With segregation in place, African American vaudeville provided the first professional venues for African American musicians, dancers, actors, and other entertainers. In the Jim Crow south, performances took place in many different kinds of spaces, including saloons and parks as well as theaters.

These examples, along with other key moments in the history of popular American theater, provide a microcosm of the striking ways that African Americans in vaudeville performed in yellowface and brownface. They help us delineate the common “habits” of orientalist performance as well as to pose the question of whether African Americans utilized yellowface in ways that was appreciably different from white performers. Studying these cross-racial impersonations—at historical moments in which the color line was otherwise rigidly policed—offers fascinating insights into racial representation inside and outside the theater, and helps us understand the long afterlife of racial typecasting.


Christina Hsu Azene (Class of 2003)

In the early 2000s, the movement for an Asian American Studies program at Duke took on new steam as a group of students known as the “Asian American Studies Undergraduate Working Group” actively organized and met with administrators to campaign for the establishment of a formal Asian American Studies (AAS) program.  The movement advocated for an AAS program at Duke through petitions, “teach-ins,” faculty support from various academic departments, and endorsement from various organizations on and off campus. Despite attempts to convince the administration of the viability of an AAS program, Duke ultimately decided against the creation of an Asian American Studies department or program.  

Topics to be shared include student activist and community building experiences from this time, how the AAS movement brought together a multi-racial coalition of students and faculty, and how AAS’ interethnic model of thought was, and remains, a powerful intellectual tool that builds growth and understanding.

Stanley Yuan (Class of 2016)
“Interracial Student Organizing at Duke Between 2013-2017”

Beginning with the “Asia Prime” party protests of 2013 at Duke, Asian/American student activism has been particularly visible on campus, with initiatives such as the revival of the push for Asian American Studies, the creation of the Asian American Pacific Islander Bridge to Action, Solidarity, and Education (AAPI BASE), and the hosting of the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference serving as highlights. However, activism rarely happens in a bubble. The key members of these initiatives were often involved in other on-campus interracial organizing efforts, from on-campus efforts like DukeOpen in 2013, the response to the noose in 2015, Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity in 2016, as well as engaged in off-campus efforts like Inside Outside Alliance. This talk will primarily be a timeline and description of how these different events and groups were only as effective as they were because of the way that they built off of each other. In particular, Asian/American efforts benefited from the learning and support of black and Latinx students and community members.

Christine Lee (Class of 2018) 
“Best Wishes: Building Coalitions Between Students, Faculty, and Staff”

While working to form a new academic program, we often puzzle over how to create networks across different communities. However, the most important (and perhaps neglected) relationship is that of the students and the faculty/staff involved. How do we bridge this gap and build these relationships in a way that is both beneficial and healthy for all of those involved?

How can professors and staff support and work with students to build student coalitions, assert pressure on the administration, and encourage student interest in the program; while also maintaining their own responsibilities/research and not becoming frustrated with the continuous influx of new faces and phases? How can students act on all of these operations while not only learning the intricacies of how academic programs work and what professors and staff have at stake, but also remaining functioning, full time students?

In this talk, I’d like to reflect on my experiences as one of the many students who advocated for the Asian American Studies Program at Duke, focusing on what students, professors, and staff have been learning along the way– and where they have to go from here.

Helen Yang (Class of 2019)
“Neither Students nor Activists, but People”

How can students advocate a history that is largely unwritten? How can activists center their work around a critical understanding that was oftentimes fundamentally absent from their academic and personal lives? What are alternative methods of political education which can help strengthen the strategies of student activists? How does the social structure and dynamic of a university impact the ways in which students can form communities?

In this talk, I focus on the importance of community-building as a strategy for organizing. Both for Duke’s Asian American Studies Working Group (AASWG) and the National Coalition for Asian American & Pacific Islander Studies (NCAAPIS)—a newly formed intercollegiate coalition which currently represents sixty-four universities across the nation—build their work on a model which values forming connections with each other; it is through this method, which employs storytelling and empathy, which fundamentally strengthens the work that student activists do.

It is through community in which people become progressively more invested in the histories and progress behind the organizations advocating for Asian American Studies, and it is through community in which the personal becomes political, and the political becomes personal.