For many Asian Americans and other immigrants, self-preservation has been the primary focus to thrive in a new country. But this often leads to perpetuating existing racial hierarchies, such as anti-Blackness.
In “Blurring the Color Line,” Crystal Kwok explored the story of her family’s life in Augusta, Georgia, who moved there during the Jim Crow era.
While talking to her older family members, she discovered that Blackness was seen as a threat to their success. She described the various groups and events Chinese people created to maintain community, saying “[W]alls were built to keep the culture in, but it also kept Black people out.” Kwok interviewed Black and white Augusta residents to get other perspectives of the Asian American presence in the neighborhood. In these conversations it was clear that many felt that separation.
Even though Asian Americans were allowed to attend white segregated schools, the family didn’t by any means assimilate into white society. The southern city has a unique history of Asian-owned grocery stores in majority Black areas. Kwok’s family lived in an all-Black neighborhood and ran multiple of these grocery stores, hiring Black employees and creating long-lasting but restricted relationships. They assimilated economically into the Black neighborhood, but not socially. The contrast of her family living and working amongst Black people but going to school with white people showed how class was also a factor playing into racial relationships.
The intersectionalities of misogyny and interracial marriage are also prevalent within her family. Kwok’s Grandma Pearl recounted the time she had dinner with a white man by using the excuse that she was going to be at her Black neighbor Jennie’s house. Kwok framed the situation as “[A] white boy entering Black space to date a Chinese girl,” making a really good point about the power imbalances involved in the situation. And when visiting her distant half Black, half Asian relatives, it was made clear that even familial relationships were soured by anti-Blackness.
As an Asian American, I recommend this doc because it brought up issues that our community might usually sweep under the rug, and it caused me to think about my own role in white supremacy. I thought the centering of women’s stories was also intriguing and opened up a whole avenue of intersectionality discussions. Kwok addressed the anti-Black attitudes of specifically older Asian Americans, but I thought the continuity of these attitudes and their effects could be further explored.
“Blurring the Color Line” brings up important, complicated conversations about American racial constructs. It’s thought-provoking and peels back another layer of how white supremacy affects us all in different ways.
It premieres May 25 at 8 p.m. ET as an episode of America ReFramed on KQED’s World Channel.