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Race for Citizenship

Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America

Helen Jun

Publication Year: 2011

Helen Heran Jun explores how the history of U.S. citizenshiphas positioned Asian Americans and African Americans in interlocking socio-political relationships since the mid nineteenth century. Rejecting the conventional emphasis on ‘inter-racial prejudice,’ Jun demonstrates how a politics of inclusion has constituted a racial Other within Asian American and African American discourses of national identity.

Race for Citizenship examines three salient moments when African American and Asian American citizenship become acutely visible as related crises: the ‘Negro Problem’ and the ‘Yellow Question’ in the mid- to late 19th century; World War II-era questions around race, loyalty, and national identity in the context of internment and Jim Crow segregation; and post-Civil Rights discourses of disenfranchisement and national belonging under globalization. Taking up a range of cultural texts—the 19th century black press, the writings of black feminist Anna Julia Cooper, Asian American novels, African American and Asian American commercial film and documentary—Jun does not seek to document signs of cross-racial identification, but instead demonstrates how the logic of citizenship compels racialized subjects to produce developmental narratives of inclusion in the effort to achieve political, economic, and social incorporation. Race for Citizenship provides a new model of comparative race studies by situating contemporary questions of differential racial formations within a long genealogy of anti-racist discourse constrained by liberal notions of inclusion.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-x

Taking an unreasonably long time to finish a book means that I have an extensive list of people whom I can now thank. The University of Illinois at Chicago is an anomalous place insofar as I am surrounded by colleagues for whom I feel genuine affection. I hear this is a highly unusual state of affairs. I’d like to thank the Institute for the Humanities at UIC for an indispensable one-year fellowship, and its...

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pp. 1-12

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...

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Part 1

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pp. 13-14

Citizenship was an unfolding and highly contested political institution in mid-nineteenth-century America as contentious battles were being waged over the place of blacks, Native Americans, Chinese, and white ethnic immigrants. Although there were relatively few Chinese immigrants in the United States, recent studies have elaborated on the...

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1. The Press for Inclusion: Nineteenth-Century Black Citizenship and the Anti-Chinese Movement

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pp. 15-31

In his testimony before the Senate in 1878, a white minister argues for Chinese exclusion, his Orientalist construction of the Chinese alien generating its contrasting Other in the figure of the properly developed, black, Christianized, former slave. What is most disturbing about Rev. S. V. Blakeslee’s otherwise predictable discourse of the unassimilable...

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“When and Where I Enter . . .”: Orientalism in Anna Julia Cooper’s Narratives of Modern Black Womanhood

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pp. 33-48

Anna Julia Cooper’s essay “Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race” was originally delivered as a speech in 1886 to a congregation of black ministers in Washington, D.C. Cooper is perhaps best known for the black feminist formulation that has become central to paradigms in ethnic studies and women’s studies: “Only...

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Part 2

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pp. 49-50

Previous chapters examined the ways in which discourses of black citizenship from the mid- to late nineteenth century deployed American Orientalism to negotiate the vulnerable political status of black Americans. Part 2 inverts this analytical trajectory to examine how processes of black racialization are variously represented in Asian American...

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3. Blackness, Manhood, and the Aftermath of Internment in John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957)

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pp. 51-73

John Okada’s novel, No-No Boy (1957), is a postwar maladjustment story of a young Japanese American’s struggle to reincorporate into the national citizenry in the aftermath of his internment and incarceration as an alien racial enemy.1 In the novel’s opening, the nisei protagonist, Ichiro, is walking home after spending two years in federal prison and two...

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4. Becoming Korean American: Blackface and Gendered Racialization in Ronyoung Kim’s Clay Walls (1987)

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pp. 75-93

Kim Ronyoung’s semiautobiographical novel Clay Walls (1986) reconstructs the experiences of a Korean immigrant family living in the multiracial ghettos of Central Los Angeles between 1920 and 1945. This particular scene of Korean American teenagers performing “blackness” situates Asian Americans in a complex and contradictory relation...

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Part 3

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pp. 95-97

In part 2, questions of Asian American national identity and the expansion of black civil rights were posed in the context of an expanding wartime economy in the first half of the twentieth century. The last two chapters of this project describe the contours of Asian American and African American discourses of national belonging under the transformed...

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5. Black Surplus in the Pacific Century: Ownership and Dispossession in the Hood Film

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pp. 99-122

The accelerated mobility of capital, goods, and bodies has become a defining feature of contemporary discourses of globalization. In the United States, formal racial equality, global shifts in modes of production, and unprecedented levels of immigration from Asia and Latin America distinguish the post-1965 experience of race. In contrast to the nineteenth...

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6. Asian Americans in the Age of Neoliberalism: Human Capital and Bad Choices in a.k.a. Don Bonus (1995) and Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

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pp. 123-147

In most any critical discussion, contemporary discourses of Asian American socioeconomic “success” are regarded as a disciplinary construction deployed by white America against the black poor. Vijay Prashad paraphrases W. E. B. Du Bois’s well-known line regarding white America’s construction of a “Negro problem,” to ask Asian Americans in the new...

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pp. 149-156

Throughout Race for Citizenship, I have endeavored to delineate the relational processes by which blacks and Asians in the United States have been differently racialized since the nineteenth century. We have seen how these groups have been racially defined by the ways they have been located across time in relation to the shifting terrains of citizenship, the...


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pp. 157-184

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 185-192


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pp. 193-197

About the Author

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pp. 198

E-ISBN-13: 9780814743324
E-ISBN-10: 0814743323
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814742976
Print-ISBN-10: 0814742971

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Citizenship -- United States -- History.
  • Asian Americans -- Social conditions.
  • Orientalism -- United States -- History.
  • African Americans -- Social conditions.
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