Afro-Asian Culture Explored

Professor Eric Tang finds similarity in struggle of Asians and blacks in U.S.

At the event “Afro-Asian Encounters” in Harvard Hall last night, visiting history professor Eric Tang disputed the notion that Asian Americans had “stolen” hip-hop music from African Americans. “Theft is too strong a word—lovingly hijacked,” Tang said.

As part of the ongoing 2008 Educational/Political Colloquium Series, “Afro-Asian Encounters”—co-hosted by the Asian American Association (AAA) and the Black Students Association (BSA)—explored the relationship between African and Asian Americans in the United States.

Presiding as keynote speaker, Tang, who offered a dual perspective as a scholar of both Afro-Am Studies at University of Illinois in Chicago and Asian-American Studies at Harvard, said that Asian and African Americans have a common thread of struggle in American history.

Tang said that the civil rights movement of the 1960s was the first “revolution” in this country whose challenges were shared by both groups.

AAA Co-Vice President Austin Chu ’10, a who also helped organize the event, said that the two groups wanted Tang to come and talk about some of the issues and divisions that Asian and African Americans now face together.

“We thought it was only natural to have the BSA be a part of it,” he said.

Tang highlighted one issue of controversy and divergence between Asian Americans and African Americans: the issue of affirmative action in universities.

While African Americans statistically benefit, Tang said, Asian Americans are penalized.

Tang said that the solution would be to base affirmative action on class. “Asians will benefit eventually from affirmative action that takes class into account,” he said. “They will not benefit from rejection of affirmative action and so-called meritocracy.”

James A. Fish ’10, a member of both AAA and BSA who attended the event, said that there is a common misconception surrounding the relationship between Asian and African Americans in the U.S.

“Most think that Asians and African Americans are juxtaposed against each other, with affirmative action and welfare,” he said. “But there are so many cultural ties that unite them that can’t be ignored.”

At the end of the discussion, Tang said that Asian Americans could, for example, make their own contributions to hip-hop by fusing it with Asian culture.

He concluded by saying that Asian and African Americans could join in a common struggle without subverting each other’s racial and national identity. “You don’t have to sacrifice who you are in order to embrace something else,” Tang said.