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Critical American Studies

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Critical American Studies

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The New American Exceptionalism

Donald E. Pease

For a half century following the end of World War II, the seemingly permanent cold war provided the United States with an organizing logic that governed nearly every aspect of American society and culture, giving rise to an unwavering belief in the nation's exceptionalism in global affairs and world history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this cold war paradigm was replaced by a series of new ideological narratives that ultimately resulted in the establishment of another potentially endless war: the global war on terror.

In The New American Exceptionalism, pioneering scholar Donald E. Pease traces the evolution of these state fantasies and shows how they have shaped U.S. national identity since the end of the cold war, uncovering the ideological and cultural work required to convince Americans to surrender their civil liberties in exchange for the illusion of security. His argument follows the chronology of the transitions between paradigms from the inauguration of the New World Order under George H. W. Bush to the homeland security state that George W. Bush's administration installed in the wake of 9/11. Providing clear and convincing arguments about how the concept of American exceptionalism was reformulated and redeployed in this era, Pease examines a wide range of cultural works and political spectacles, including the exorcism of the Vietnam syndrome through victory in the Persian Gulf War and the creation of Islamic extremism as an official state enemy.

At the same time, Pease notes that state fantasies cannot altogether conceal the inconsistencies they mask, showing how such events as the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and the exposure of government incompetence after Hurricane Katrina opened fissures in the myth of exceptionalism, allowing Barack Obama to challenge the homeland security paradigm with an alternative state fantasy that privileges fairness, inclusion, and justice.

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Next to the Color Line

Gender, Sexuality, and W. E. B. Du Bois

Susan Gillman

Although W. E. B. Du Bois did not often pursue the connections between the “Negro question” that defined so much of his intellectual life and the “woman question” that engaged writers and feminist activists around him, Next to the Color Line argues that within Du Bois’s work is a politics of juxtaposition that connects race, gender, sexuality, and justice.This provocative collection investigates a set of political formulations and rhetorical strategies by which Du Bois approached, used, and repressed issues of gender and sexuality. The essays in Next to the Color Line propose a return to Du Bois, not only to reassess his politics but also to demonstrate his relevance for today’s scholarly and political concerns.Contributors: Hazel V. Carby, Yale U; Vilashini Cooppan, U of California, Santa Cruz; Brent Hayes Edwards, Rutgers U; Michele Elam, Stanford U; Roderick A. Ferguson, U of Minnesota; Joy James, Williams College; Fred Moten, U of Southern California; Shawn Michelle Smith, St. Louis U; Mason Stokes, Skidmore College; Claudia Tate, Princeton U; Paul C. Taylor, Temple U.Susan Gillman is professor of literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Alys Eve Weinbaum is associate professor of English at the University of Washington, Seattle.

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Not the Triumph But the Struggle

The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete

Amy Bass

Jesse Owens. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. All are iconic black athletes, as are Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the African American track and field medalists who raised black-gloved fists on the victory dais at the Mexico City Olympics and brought the roiling American racial politics of the late 1960s to a worldwide television audience. But few of those viewers fully realized what had led to this demonstration—events that included the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., uprisings in American cities, student protests around the world, the rise of the Black Power movement, and decolonization and apartheid in Africa. In this far-reaching account, Amy Bass offers nothing less than a history of the black athlete. Beginning with the racial eugenics discussions of the early twentieth century and their continuing reverberations in popular perceptions of black physical abilities, Bass explores ongoing African American attempts to challenge these stereotypes. Although Tommie Smith and John Carlos were reviled by Olympic officials for their demonstration, Bass traces how their protest has come to be the defining image of the 1968 Games, with lingering effects in the sports world and on American popular culture generally.

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Peace Corps Fantasies

How Development Shaped the Global Sixties

Molly Geidel

To tens of thousands of volunteers in its first decade, the Peace Corps was “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” In the United States’ popular imagination to this day, it is a symbol of selfless altruism and the most successful program of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. But in her provocative new cultural history of the 1960s Peace Corps, Molly Geidel argues that the agency’s representative development ventures also legitimated the violent exercise of American power around the world and the destruction of indigenous ways of life.

In the 1960s, the practice of development work, embodied by iconic Peace Corps volunteers, allowed U.S. policy makers to manage global inequality while assuaging their own gendered anxieties about postwar affluence. Geidel traces how modernization theorists used the Peace Corps to craft the archetype of the heroic development worker: a ruggedly masculine figure who would inspire individuals and communities to abandon traditional lifestyles and seek integration into the global capitalist system.

Drawing on original archival and ethnographic research, Geidel analyzes how Peace Corps volunteers struggled to apply these ideals. The book focuses on the case of Bolivia, where indigenous nationalist movements dramatically expelled the Peace Corps in 1971. She also shows how Peace Corps development ideology shaped domestic and transnational social protest, including U.S. civil rights, black nationalist, and antiwar movements.


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Reinventing Citizenship

Black Los Angeles, Korean Kawasaki, and Community Participation

Kazuyo Tsuchiya


In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States and Japan went through massive welfare expansions that sparked debates about citizenship. At the heart of these disputes stood African Americans and Koreans. Reinventing Citizenship offers a comparative study of African American welfare activism in Los Angeles and Koreans’ campaigns for welfare rights in Kawasaki. In working-class and poor neighborhoods in both locations, African Americans and Koreans sought not only to be recognized as citizens but also to become legitimate constituting members of communities.

Local activists in Los Angeles and Kawasaki ardently challenged the welfare institutions. By creating opposition movements and voicing alternative visions of citizenship, African American leaders, Tsuchiya argues, turned Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty into a battle for equality. Koreans countered the city’s and the nation’s exclusionary policies and asserted their welfare rights. Tsuchiya’s work exemplifies transnational antiracist networking, showing how black religious leaders traveled to Japan to meet Christian Korean activists and to provide counsel for their own struggles.

Reinventing Citizenship reveals how race and citizenship transform as they cross countries and continents. By documenting the interconnected histories of African Americans and Koreans in Japan, Tsuchiya enables us to rethink present ideas of community and belonging.

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Samurai among Panthers

Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life

Diane C. Fujino

An iconic figure of the Asian American movement, Richard Aoki (1938–2009) was also, as the most prominent non-Black member of the Black Panther Party, a key architect of Afro-Asian solidarity in the 1960s and ’70s. His life story exposes the personal side of political activism as it illuminates the history of ethnic nationalism and radical internationalism in America.

A reflection of this interconnection, Samurai among Panthers weaves together two narratives: Aoki’s dramatic first-person chronicle and an interpretive history by a leading scholar of the Asian American movement, Diane C. Fujino. Aoki’s candid account of himself takes us from his early years in Japanese American internment camps to his political education on the streets of Oakland, to his emergence in the Black Panther Party. As his story unfolds, we see how his parents’ separation inside the camps and his father’s illegal activities shaped the development of Aoki’s politics. Fujino situates his life within the context of twentieth-century history—World War II, the Cold War, and the protests of the 1960s. She demonstrates how activism is both an accidental and an intentional endeavor and how a militant activist practice can also promote participatory democracy and social service.

The result of these parallel voices and analysis in Samurai among Panthers is a complex—and sometimes contradictory—portrait of a singularly extraordinary activist and an expansion and deepening of our understanding of the history he lived.

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Singlejack Solidarity

Stan Weir

Blue-collar intellectual and activist publisher, Stan Weir devoted his life to the advocacy of his fellow workers. Weir was both a thoughtful observer and an active participant in many of the key struggles that shaped the labor movement and the political left in postwar America. He reported firsthand from the front lines of decisive fights over the nature of unions in the auto industry, the resistance to automation on the waterfront, and battles over racial integration in the workplace and within unions themselves. Written throughout Weir’s decades as a blue-collar worker and labor educator, Singlejack Solidarity offers a rare look at modern life and social relations as seen from the factory, dockside, and the shop floor. This volume analyzes issues central to working-class life today, such as the human costs of automation, union policies, mass media images of work, and intergenerational relations in working-class families. It also provides humorous commentaries, historical vignettes, and moving portraits of people Weir encountered, including James Baldwin, C. L. R. James, and Eric Hoffer. Gathered here for the first time, Weir’s writings are equal parts memoir, labor history, and polemic; taken together, they document a crucial chapter in the life story of working-class America.

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Those Without A Country

The Political Culture of Italian American Syndicalists

Michael Miller Topp

In the first book-length history of the Italian American syndicalist movement—the Italian Socialist Federation—Michael Miller Topp presents a new way of understanding the Progressive Era labor movement in relation to migration, transnationalism, gender, and class identity. Those without a Country demonstrates that characterizations of "old" (pre-1960s) social movements as predominantly class-based are vastly oversimplified—and contribute to current debates about the implications of identity politics for the American Left and American culture generally.
   
Topp traces the rise and fall of the Italian American syndicalist movement from the turn of the twentieth century to the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927. His use of Italian-language sources, combined with his attention to transnationalism and masculinity, provides new vantage points on a range of related topics, including the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile workers’ strike, the impact of World War I on this immigrant community, and the genesis of both fascism and antifascism. Those without a Country brings forward fascinating new material to revise and refine our views of not only Progressive Era radicalism but immigration, gender, and working-class history as well.

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Triangulations

Narrative Strategies for Navigating Latino Identity

David J. Vázquez

Just as mariners use triangulation, mapping an imaginary triangle between two known positions and an unknown location, so, David J. Vázquez contends, Latino authors in late twentieth-century America employ the coordinates of familiar ideas of self to find their way to new, complex identities. Through this metaphor, Vázquez reveals how Latino autobiographical texts, written after the rise of cultural nationalism in the 1960s, challenge mainstream notions of individual identity and national belonging in the United States.

In a traditional autobiographical work, the protagonist frequently opts out of his or her community. In the works that Vázquez analyzes in Triangulations, protagonists instead opt in to collective groups—often for the express political purpose of redefining that collective. Reading texts by authors such as Ernesto Galarza, Jesús Colón, Piri Thomas, Oscar “Zeta” Acosta, Judith Ortiz Cofer, John Rechy, Julia Alvarez, and Sandra Cisneros, Vázquez engages debates about the relationship between literature and social movements, the role of cultural nationalism in projects for social justice, the gender and sexual problematics of 1960s cultural nationalist groups, the possibilities for interethnic coalitions, and the interpretation of autobiography. In the process, Triangulations considers the potential for cultural nationalism as a productive force for aggrieved communities of color in their struggles for equality.

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