Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States

Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States

Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States

Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States


From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the Immigration Act of 1924 to Japanese American internment during World War II, the United States has a long history of anti-Asian policies. But Lon Kurashige demonstrates that despite widespread racism, Asian exclusion was not the product of an ongoing national consensus; it was a subject of fierce debate. This book complicates the exclusion story by examining the organized and well-funded opposition to discrimination that involved some of the most powerful public figures in American politics, business, religion, and academia. In recovering this opposition, Kurashige explains the rise and fall of exclusionist policies through an unstable and protracted political rivalry that began in the 1850s with the coming of Asian immigrants, extended to the age of exclusion from the 1880s until the 1960s, and since then has shaped the memory of past discrimination.

In this first book-length analysis of both sides of the debate, Kurashige argues that exclusion-era policies were more than just enactments of racism; they were also catalysts for U.S.-Asian cooperation and the basis for the twenty-first century's tightly integrated Pacific world.


This book studies racial politics —the crass, overt, in-your-face kind that discriminates against groups of human beings based upon supposedly objective criteria such as nationality, heredity, culture, and skin color. This type of racism, once the norm, is now ostracized to the fringes of most societies, including the United States. As a result, when studying contemporary America scholars tend to focus on more subtle, less visible, or what some call polite forms of racism that perpetuate racial discrimination and inequality stealthily and often without intention. There is much to appreciate about this kind of analysis, but it can be taken too far such that the historical distinction between vulgar and polite racism gets fuzzy and we lack understanding of the sometimes surprising process through which vulgar racism was overcome in law and politics, if not totally eliminated. a case in point is the history of anti-Asian racism in the United States, the subject of this book.

The idea for this investigation began in the archives, like so many works of history do. While reading through documents by a seemingly notorious anti-Asian racist, I discovered that later in life he curiously changed his views about race. After his conversion, he struggled to end the exclusion of Japanese immigrants and later was a rare leader of public opinion to oppose the internment of Japanese Americans to concentration camps during World War ii. in researching this man’s transformation, I found many other influential whites who had fought against anti-Asian discrimination. I also turned my gaze inward. After publishing two books and numerous articles on Asian American history and after teaching university courses on the subject for more than a decade, how could I have missed this persistent and robust opposition? It turned out that my ignorance had less to do with me than with an intriguing blind spot in historical knowledge. I started writing Two Faces of Exclusion to explore this collective amnesia and ended up rethinking the larger history of anti-Asian politics.

What has emerged is a story about an intense and shifting political conflict over the discrimination of Asian immigrants and ethnics, whom I refer to inclusively as “Asian Americans.” Before writing this book, I had assumed that the Japanese American internment, as well as immigration exclusion and other acts of prejudice, derived from an ongoing national consensus of opinion that considered Asians inferior to whites and antithetical to American institutions. But I have learned that these expressions of racism never . . .

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