Dissembling Diversities: On "Middled" Asian Pacific American Activism and the Racialization of Sophistication
Ishii, Douglas S.
Hanhardt, Christina B
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Dissembling Diversities: On Asian Pacific American Arts Activism and the Racialization of Sophistication interrogates how contemporary Asian Pacific American (APA) arts activism and representation has been shaped by the bureaucratic administration of "diversity" after 9/11/2001. Through close readings of texts, it specifically examines Asian American representation within scripted network television programming, graphic novels and comic strips, and indie rock as iterations of panethnic activism in media advocacy, graphical storytelling, and the independent media arts. It understands these cultural forms and diversity itself through the framework of middlebrow culture, which is constituted of texts disseminated through popular culture that normalize the accumulation of cultural capital - or non-financial embodiments of class status such as education and literacy - as cultural citizenship. Dissembling Diversities makes evident how the elevation of these texts through discourses of "Art" and "diversity" relies on the association of cultural capital with whiteness, particularly through the racial exclusivity of their representations and through how the forms' history of class elevation expresses a white/anti-Black divide. Because of its dependence on cultural capital, the visibility for issues facing Asian American communities as expressed through the creation of art participates in the racialization of sophistication. In other words, deployments by APA artists and activists of traits associated with cultural sophistication - such as artistry, learnedness, worldliness, and status - can both illustrate Asian Americans' contributions to a culture of diversity, while reinforcing other racial, sexual, and gender exclusions through class hierarchy and respectability. However, APA activisms that contest the exclusivity of cultural capital can challenge these white/anti-Black class schemes. As such, Dissembling Diversities not only critiques APA arts activism's complicities with the racialization of sophistication, but also examines how it can turn sophistication against itself in imagining past "diversity."