Monday, May 22, 2023

Article of the Day: Racial Borders by Tendayi Achiume (and others)

By Guest Blogger Amna Qamer, UC Law SF '24 (formerly UC Hastings)

The articles analyzed and discussed in Professor Ming Chen’s Race, Immigration, Citizenship, and Equality Colloquium, define, research, and signify the racialized scope of citizenship in this country.  The defining article illustrating this scope was Professor Tendayi Achiume’s Racial Borders, which she is reworking into a book.  In the prefatory article, Professor Achiume argued that race includes a non-physical, political border whose purpose is to “enforce exclusion” based on race.  This exclusion is purposeful, intentional, and calculated.  Our individuality and our bodies serve as borders, and since borders are inherently racialized, it is inevitable that the sense of “belonging,” or citizenship, is also racialized.

The strength of Professor Achiume’s article lies in its profound understanding of racism as a systematic issue.  Where society saw European or colonial migration as a positive pivot to the economic transformation of countries, non-white migrants in the post-colonial era did not receive the same positivity.  Instead, colonial migration created subordinate categories of humans based on race, such as slavery or genocide.  This subordination aligns with Professor Ming Chen’s discussion in Colorblind Nationalism and The Limits of Citizenship.  This discussion focused on how non-white immigrants, even once naturalized, feel like second-class citizens because global immigration regimes are inherently racist in excluding, including, and ultimately treating “citizens” inside and outside their borders.

Professor Sam Erman’s in-progress article, International Lawyers for White Supremacy and the Road to Wong Kim Ark, and Professor Amanda Frost’s book, You Are Not American, further relayed the racial struggle for citizenship in this country.  Professor Erman intricately illustrated the history behind the defining features of the word “citizenship” amongst our court system, but how the adoption of “the law of soil” was challenged by white supremacist lawyers.  White supremacist lawyers introduced the “law of blood” as a hallmark of citizenship as a rationale to deny Chinese Americans citizenship rights.  Moreover, Professor Frost explained the barriers and complications in individuals proving their citizenship in this country which has constantly been perpetuated by race.  The prime example being President Barack Obama.  Even after showing his birth certificate, many think he is lying about his citizenship status.  To Professor Achiume’s point, our bodies serve as borders.  It is not enough that someone has a birth certificate, social security, or other forms of proof of their citizenship to this country.  They will still face otherness, adversity, and unequal access.

One attempted solution to this inequity was affirmative action; however, it was short-lived.  Professor Erwin Chemerinsky’s co-authored article Judging Opportunity Lost focused on examining Fisher v. University of Texas Austin.  In this analysis, the authors dissected each Supreme Court justice’s opinion to show a missed opportunity to “acknowledge and explicate the way in which race, racism, and racial privilege operate in society.”  Professor Claire Jean Kim’s article Are Asians the New Blacks? highlighted the history of the Supreme Court’s discussions of Asian Americans concerning race-conscious admissions in higher education and its lead-up to the current affirmative action cases against Harvard and UNC.   In tracing this history, Professor Kim argued that the “Asian spoilers” narrative threatened the “societal discrimination rationale” and the “diversity rationale” for race-conscious admissions at the expense of “despecfiying Black subjection and disavowing racial positionality in U.S. society.”  She sharply articulated that “Asians have been figured as not White but also, and primarily, as not Black…[w]hite supremacy has pushed [Asians] down, and anti-Blackness has provided the floor beneath which they cannot fall.”  As Professor Achiume discussed, individual, overt actions do not measure advanced anti-Blackness.  What Fisher and other affirmative action narratives fail to address is how these intersectional, systematic disadvantages play a role in race-conscious admissions being a compelling interest to pass strict scrutiny. 

These tactical, white supremacist narratives continued to bleed into rights and labels of citizenship.  The scope, definition, proof, and grant of citizenship are perhaps always going to be an issue.  Citizenship seems like another buzzer word to “other” non-white individuals, to exclude groups of people from participating in the very democracy they belong to or to uphold the status quo.  Racial borders are more than just literal territorial borders.  They are inherent in our everyday lives, signified by Black and brown bodies, and perpetuated by carve-outs for citizenship.

An abstract of Achiume's Racial Borders is here.

This Article explores the conceptualization of race and racial justice in relation to international borders in dominant liberal democratic discourse and theory of First World nation-states. It advances two analytical claims. The first is that contemporary national borders of the international order—an order that remains structured by imperial inequity—are inherently racial. The default of liberal borders is racialized inclusion and exclusion that privileges “Whiteness” in international mobility and migration. This racial privilege inheres in the facially neutral legal categories and regimes of territorial and political borders, and in international legal doctrine. The second is that central to theorizing the system of neocolonial racial borders is understanding race itself as border infrastructure. That is to say, race operates as a means of enforcement of liberal territorial and political borders, and as a result, international migration governance is also a mode of racial governance. Normatively, the Article outlines the specific relational injustices of racial borders.

Achiume 1

Coverage of other RICE lectures, including Ashar (here) and Chemersinky (here), appear on ImmigrationProf Blog. Video of the RICE Colloquium series are posted here (scroll down to past events).


Chemerinsky 1


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