Dreaming Beside Progress: The Politics of Coalition and Racialized Identity in Korean American Immigrant Justice Activism
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Dreaming Beside Progress: The Politics of Coalition and Racialized Identity in Korean American Immigrant Justice Activism

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Political cultures of the contemporary U.S. left have become a target of shared conservative and liberal ire. Critics charge that a putative hyper-focus on identity-based claims has rendered a left bereft of concrete and coherent political platforms. Based on mischaracterization of the Black feminist concept of “identity politics” as one oriented towards purity and narrow essentialisms, these critiques compound with others levied against the putative impracticality of abolitionist political work. Abolitionist activists and scholars have been refuting liberal contestations of this sort for the better part of a century and a half. Yet the mainstreaming of calls to #AbolishICE in the midst of the Trump administration’s relentless campaign against immigrant rights, or to #DefundthePolice in the uprisings that followed George Floyd’s murder have intensified these claims and increasingly brought them into public view.Within these debates, Korean and other Asian Americans occupy a particularly vexed role. Korean Americans in particular and Asian American in general are among the fastest growing undocumented communities in the U.S. A shared sense of exclusion from Latinx-centered discourses about undocumented migration have created opportunities for undocumented Black and Asian Americans to engage in new forms of coalition-building. Given that Asian American model minoritization have been historically mobilized to delegitimize Black resistance and oppression however, the contentious nature of this coalition work is amplified in the context of shifting discourses about activism and racialized identity. Through five years of ethnographic research with undocumented Korean and other Asian Americans, this dissertation complicates popularized and polarized debates about the role of racialized identity and abolitionist orientations to activism in mediating shifting political cultures of the contemporary U.S. left. In examining how these activists articulate an abolitionist vision of immigrant justice and navigate coalition work with Black counterparts, I document more broadly the strategic and affective challenges of imagining a politics predicated upon the impossibility of resolution or legibility within the epistemological enclosure of “progress.” Building on the work of radical Black and women of color feminists, I show that uncertainty, impurity, and contradiction is a locus of possibility rather than a sign of demise in transformative immigrant and racial justice work.

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This item is under embargo until May 28, 2027.