– July 21, 2020
Co-organized by YCW’s New York and Washington, DC chapters, “Black Internationalism: China” featured founder and director of Columbia University Law School’s Black Voices on Greater China Kori Cooper in conversation with Professor Keisha Brown, Assistant Professor of History at Tennessee State University. Professor Brown discussed a broad range of topics within the scope of her research, which focuses on the reception of the Black foreign other during Maoist China.
Dr. Brown provided a historical overview of Black internationalism and its legacies in China. She talked about the global political implications of forging Black identity in a transnational context and the challenge of overcoming white supremacy in its multiple and global manifestations. Drawing on both scholarly literature and personal experiences, Professor Brown also touched on global misconceptions regarding who is typically assumed to be “American” while abroad.
Historical narratives on China’s engagement with the world have been whitewashed. As Professor Brown noted, Nixon’s 1972 visit is widely invoked. But the fact that that visit was a success because of Robert Williams, a Black American who had lived in Beijing with his family for years before the official visit, often goes unacknowledged. During the Mao era, Chinese efforts to unite global anti-colonialism often portrayed Black Americans as “an oppressed class rather than a distinct community,” she said.
Dr. Brown also addressed the problematic silence regarding race in the field of Asian studies. “We have to think about race even if we’re trying to be transracial,” she said, adding that global anti-Blackness cannot be eradicated if it is not addressed. Professor Brown also emphasized that while collaboration is of course welcome in Afro-Asian networks, focusing exclusively on extant positive achievements will only empower their limitations. She noted that in these discussions it is also crucial to refrain from superimposing Western scholarship onto a non-Western space and instead to pay close attention to the scholarly work coming out of global Asian and Black communities.
Professor Brown referenced many topical texts during the event, including:
- Michelle Wright, Becoming Black
- Michelle Wright, Physics of Blackness
- Marc Gallicchio, The African American Encounter with Japan and China
- Keisha Blain and Tiffany Gill, eds, To Turn the Whole World Over
- Michael Gibbs Hill, Lin Shu, Inc.
- Ann Marie Brady, Making the Foreign Serve China
- Anne Garland Mahler, From the Tricontinental to the Global South: Race, Radicalism, and Transnational Solidarity
- David Wertime, China’s Wolf Warriors
- Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color
- Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Ted Talk
– By Johanna Costigan