Guest Talk Challenges the Entanglement of Deference Politics, White Liberalism and Racialized Power Dynamics in Academia

Naoko Shibusawa
Naoko Shibusawa, associate professor of History and American Studies at Brown University.

Over a year ago, Naoko Shibusawa, associate professor of History and American Studies at Brown University, published an article entitled “Where is the Reciprocity? Notes on Solidarity from the Field” in the Journal of Asian American Studies. The article put forth a call for racial solidarity across academic disciplines and insisted upon the centrality of Asian American Studies (or even Asian America more broadly) to a full understanding of the United States. Shibusawa drew upon scholarship, anecdotes, and analysis of popular trends to make her argument, but the article ultimately drew the most criticism for its description of incivility in a closed faculty meeting. Shibusawa was subsequently banned from faculty meetings for two years, a decision made, she pointed out, without proper due process. 

In her talk, “Connecting the Dots: Asian Americans, Liberalism, and Capitalist Imperialism,” Shibusawa used her traumatic experiences from the past year as a touchstone to think through ways in which deference politics, white liberalism, and racialized power dynamics in academia are entangled. Moving beyond a Black/white racial binary is critical, she argued, not only in the multicultural inclusion sense, but also to completely understanding global processes of labor and migration in which we are all implicated. The “sliding scale of race” only benefits those who control the political economy, and so treating racial divisions as natural only serves to further divide people of color. These divisions, she explained, were painfully visible during her own experiences with higher-ups at Brown who held up an uneven application of rules that intentionally shamed and siloed her. One of the root problems, in Shibusawa’s view, is a “politics of deference” demanded by both white liberal universities as well as activist circles. Only by thinking about the ways that anti-Asian racism functions in academia, the ways that it is bound up with anti-Blackness and other forms of racism, can we truly move towards a more complex understanding of our shared struggles.