Strategic orientalism: Racial capitalism and the problem of 'Asianness'

Wendy Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


This article engages Cedric Robinson's articulations of racial capitalism and Blackness as an important set of intellectual provocations not only for Black and African diaspora studies, but also for anyone interested in understanding the relationship between racial identity, capitalism, and the development of oppositional consciousness. Specifically, I argue that by following the analytical terms of racial capitalism, we can better consider the global and historical placements of 'Asians'-a racial category constituted by and entangled with European imperialism-in terms of class, labor, and more. Is it possible to conceive of 'Asianness,' like Blackness, as an ontological totality (a kind of collective racial 'being' that is both defined by and subsumes a particular relation to capitalism)? The answer will likely be an uneasy and ambivalent one, since one Asian group after another has functioned as an intermediary labor class between Black and White. Putting together racial capitalism and Edward Said's theorization of orientalism, however, to focus on how racial-economic tropes operate on the ground, offers productive possibilities for implementing a racial capitalism approach to theorize 'Asianness' alongside Blackness, as well as suggesting different and strategic ways of 'being' Asian.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)148-158
Number of pages11
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Asian American
  • activism
  • blackness
  • ontological totality
  • orientalism
  • racial capitalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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