Imagine Otherwise: Vince Schleitwiler on Afro–Asian Activist Coalitions

Imagine Otherwise: Vince Schleitwiler on Afro–Asian Activist Coalitions

February 8, 2017

Obscured photo of Vince Schleitwiler overlaid with the moon


How have US imperialism and nationalism informed perceptions of racial identity? What can we gain from strengthening the relationship between scholarship and public engagement? How can we let our political and ethical commitments guide our professional endeavors?

In episode 30 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach talks with guest Vince Schleitwiler about liberatory coalitions between Black and Asian communities, how the public humanities have shifted in the context of neoliberalism, and how contemporary activists draw inspiration from what he calls “the geography of the lost Afro-Asian century.”

Guest: Vince Schleitwiler

A fourth-generation Japanese American, Vince Schleitwiler grew up in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, and received the greater part of his education from student-of-color organizers at Oberlin College and the University of Washington.

He has worked in journalism, independent film, and arts consulting, and taught at Williams College and the University of Southern California before returning to the University of Washington, where he is currently an acting assistant professor in the Department of American Ethnic Studies.

His first book, Strange Fruit of the Black Pacific: Imperialism’s Racial Justice and Its Fugitives, was published by NYU Press and explores the intersecting migrations of Japanese Americans, Filipinos, and African Americans across US imperial domains, from the 1890s to the 1940s.

Vince’s writing has appeared in African American ReviewAmerasia JournalComparative Literature, and the Village Voice. As a Scholar-in-Residence for the Center for Art and Thought, he published a set of serial essays for the blog City of Refuge, as well as published “Break, Burn, Hoard: For an Atlas of Lost Afro-Asian Worlds,” a dialogue with the writer Tamiko Nimura.

We chatted about

  • How during the Bush/Cheney years, the language of antiracist movements was co-opted and used as justification for US imperialism (2:40)
  • The deep imbrications of African and Asian political histories (6:00)
  • The differences and overlaps between public humanities work and social justice activist work (8:25)
  • How we can harness the power of our marginality within the academy to make changes to it (12:20)
  • The limits and promises of comparative studies (20:30)
  • How our interactions with and strategies for survival in a capitalistic world are part of our political practices (24:10)
  • Imagining otherwise (26:20)


Multiculturalism versus Third World revolution

For a lot of folks on the antiracist left, the language of multiculturalism was always a little bit suspicious. It was always seen as a comedown from the language of third world revolution that it replaced.

The Afro-Asian century

The struggle over the language of racial justice is the dynamic that motors the Afro-Asian century.

Why academics should create and publish in public venues

When you’re open to new forms and new audiences, the work can go in ways you can’t expect.

What we can learn about race from studying imperialism

Race is a technology of conquest that has been repurposed as a technology of liberation.

The limits and promises of comparative studies

Comparison is something that any imperialism tries to monopolize. Under the heyday of multiculturalism, it seemed that the only way to think about histories comparatively was to make them culminate in the triumph of US nationalism, the triumph of American diversity. And in fact, there are all these other sites of comparison that had to be repressed.

Academia beyond the tenure track

If you enter into this space, if you enter into what we might call the undercommons, without an expectation that there’s an institution that will give you a home, you can find really fascinating forms of solidarity.

Hustle versus liberation

For folks who are going down this line (into academia), it’s important to recognize that you shouldn’t mistake your hustle for liberation. You might be successful in ways that might create their own problems and their own difficulties for you. You might find success that comes with the cost of other things that you care about. But on the other hand, you shouldn’t think that the ways that you pursue your livelihood are outside of your political practices.

Employment as a political act

You shouldn’t think that the ways that you pursue your livelihood are outside of your political practices.

Desire and imagination

The desire to imagine new worlds or other worlds is the desire to open yourself to something that is beyond your imagination.

Imagining otherwise

There is already this other world [beyond capitalism] that we can sometimes glimpse and sometimes be a part of and sometimes realize we’ve been living in the whole time.

More from Vince

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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