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In Session: COVID in Global Asia: Pandemic Politics
1: “Global Asia and the Decomposition of the American Empire: A View from the COVID-19 Epicenter”
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Duke University, United States
Contagion is more than an epidemiological concern, producing what Wald has called “outbreak narratives” with social and material consequences that shape attitudes and can potentially lead to social transformation. The stigmatization of Asian Americans due to anti-Chinese sentiment and the cultural wars over the wearing of masks are just examples of the growing fear of the pandemic and the desire for scapegoats to obfuscate the incompetency of the Trump administration and his Republican minions. In this paper, I argue that “Asia” has once again returned as the radical negativity in the American imperial imaginary. The success of Taiwan and South Korea, and to a less extent, mainland China, in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus and American’s refusal to wear masks and enhance contact tracing are framed in the binary opposition between state surveillance and individual liberty, between oriental despotism and American exceptionalism. This colonial trope, I contend, is no longer effective given the social and political response not only to the disproportioned infection and deaths among the Indigenous, Black and Brown communities, but the Black Lives Matter movement has also exposed the longstanding devaluation of people of color and the militarization of the police due to America’s perpetual wars in the world. Equally important, I speculate that the intense reaction to address issues of inequality, systemic racism and police brutally of this transformative movement in the United States may pave ways for Global Asia to decolonize from its own history of racism, Indigenous dispossession and mounting economic disparity.