Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America

Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America

Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America

Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America

Excerpt

When vast areas in the city of Los Angeles were set ablaze in the spring of 1992, I was in Northern California approaching the end of my undergraduate education. As a major in ethnic studies and English, I had learned critical histories of Asian Americans, African Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans. We recognized the distinctiveness of the various cultural groupings, but we also understood that these processes and formations of racialization were related through dominant ideologies of white supremacy. Despite our different histories, we assumed (and not without reason) that racism bound us all together. While our educational training offered us ample opportunity to examine race in a comparative context, the events in late April (from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Washington, D.C., and beyond) seemed to exceed our analytic frameworks and critical capacities. As the fires diminished and the blue-ribbon commissions were assembled, the social text was revealed as extraordinarily messy and chaotic, challenging us to critically reengage with the significance of race, class, and citizenship in America. This book is not about the uprisings in Los Angeles but has its roots in that maelstrom of theoretical activity in the wake of April 1992, which, as we shall see, stretches far back in time and will no doubt continue well into our “strange future.” For our students not old enough to even recall the uprisings, much less the nuances of the discourse that followed, I briefly recount the challenges and constraints of a range of critical responses.

Many liberal voices generally framed the uprisings as yet another divide-and-conquer scenario, signifying a desire to displace the vexing problems of complexity and difference with an unconvincing call to recognize a common and “real” enemy. This insistence that both U.S. Asians and blacks were ultimately being subjugated to white supremacy begged the question of how these groups were being differently racialized by the U.S. state. Another homogenizing account described the uprisings as a modern-day class riot but did not seem to adequately address the racial . . .

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