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As a young man, John B. Prentis (1788–1848) expressed outrage over slavery, but by the end of his life he had transported thousands of enslaved persons from the upper to the lower South. Kari J. Winter’s life-and-times portrayal of a slave trader illuminates the clash between two American dreams: one of wealth, the other of equality.
Prentis was born into a prominent Virginia family. His grandfather, William Prentis, emigrated from London to Williamsburg in 1715 as an indentured servant and rose to become the major shareholder in colonial Virginia’s most successful store. William’s son Joseph became a Revolutionary judge and legislator who served alongside Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Madison. Joseph Jr. followed his father’s legal career, whereas John was drawn to commerce. To finance his early business ventures, he began trading in slaves. In time he grew besotted with the high-stakes trade, appeasing his conscience with the populist platitudes of Jacksonian democracy, which aggressively promoted white male democracy in conjunction with white male supremacy.
Prentis’s life illuminates the intertwined politics of labor, race, class, and gender in the young American nation. Participating in a revolution in the ethics of labor that upheld Benjamin Franklin as its icon, he rejected the gentility of his upbringing to embrace solidarity with “mechanicks,” white working-class men. His capacity for admirable thoughts and actions complicates images drawn by elite slaveholders, who projected the worst aspects of slavery onto traders while imagining themselves as benign patriarchs. This is an absorbing story of a man who betrayed his innate sense of justice to pursue wealth through the most vicious forms of human exploitation.
Racial Inequality Without Racism
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s seemed to mark a historical turning point in advancing the American dream of equal opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race. Yet 50 years on, racial inequality remains a troubling fact of life in American society and its causes are highly contested. In The American Non-dilemma, sociologist Nancy DiTomaso convincingly argues that America’s enduring racial divide is sustained more by whites’ preferential treatment of members of their own social networks than by overt racial discrimination. Drawing on research from sociology, political science, history, and psychology, as well as her own interviews with a cross-section of non-Hispanic whites, DiTomaso provides a comprehensive examination of the persistence of racial inequality in the post-Civil Rights era. DiTomaso sets out to answer a fundamental question: if overt institutionalized racism has largely receded in the United States, why does racial inequality remain a national problem? Taking Gunnar Myrdal’s classic work on America’s racial divide, The American Dilemma, as her departure point, DiTomaso focuses on “the white side of the race line.” To do so, she interviewed a sample of working-class whites about their life histories, political views, and general outlook on racial inequality in America. She finds that while the vast majority of whites profess strong support for civil rights and equal opportunity regardless of race, they continue to pursue their own group-based advantage, especially in the labor market. This “opportunity hoarding,” as DiTomaso calls it, leads to substantially improved life outcomes for whites due to their greater access to social resources from family, neighborhoods, schools, churches, and other institutions with which they are engaged. At the same time, the subjects of her study continue to harbor strong reservations about public policies—such as affirmative action—intended to ameliorate racial inequality. In effect, they accept the principles of civil rights but not the implementation of policies that would bring about greater racial equality. DiTomaso also examines how whites understand the persistence of racial inequality in a society where whites are, on average, the advantaged racial group. Most whites see themselves as part of the solution rather than part of the problem with regard to racial inequality, but, due to the unacknowledged favoritism they demonstrate toward other whites, DiTomaso finds that they are at best uncertain allies in the fight for racial inequality. Weaving together research on both race and class, along with the life experiences of DiTomaso’s interview subjects, The American Non-dilemma provides a compelling exploration of how racial inequality is reproduced in today’s society, how people come to terms with the issue in their day-to-day experiences, and what these trends may signify in the contemporary political landscape.
Visions of Race, Death, and the Maternal
Articulating Filipino America
In 1997, when the New York Times described Filipino American serial killer Andrew Cunanan as appearing “to be everywhere and nowhere,” Allan Punzalan Isaac recognized confusion about the Filipino presence in the United States, symptomatic of American imperialism’s invisibility to itself. In American Tropics, Isaac explores American fantasies about the Philippines and other “unincorporated” parts of the U.S. nation that obscure the contradictions of a democratic country possessing colonies.Isaac boldly examines the American empire’s images of the Philippines in turn-of-the-century legal debates over Puerto Rico, Progressive-era popular literature set in Latin American borderlands, and midcentury Hollywood cinema staged in Hawai‘i and the Pacific islands. Isaac scrutinizes media coverage of the Cunanan case, Boy Scout adventure novels, and Hollywood films such as The Real Glory (1939) and Blue Hawaii (1961) to argue that territorial sites of occupation are an important part of American identity. American Tropics further reveals the imperial imagination’s role in shaping national meaning in novels such as Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart (1946) and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters (1990), Filipino American novels forced to articulate the empire’s enfolded but disavowed borders.Tracing the American empire from the beginning of the twentieth century to Philippine liberation and the U.S. civil rights movement, American Tropics lays bare Filipino Americans’ unique form of belonging marked indelibly by imperialism and at odds with U.S. racial politics and culture.Allan Punzalan Isaac is assistant professor of English at Wesleyan University.
Racial Form and American Literature, 1893-1945
What explains the perception of Asians both as economic exemplars and as threats? America's Asia explores a discursive tradition that affiliates the East with modern efficiency, in contrast to more familiar primitivist forms of Orientalism. Colleen Lye traces the American stereotype of Asians as a "model minority" or a "yellow peril"--two aspects of what she calls "Asiatic racial form"-- to emergent responses to globalization beginning in California in the late nineteenth century, when industrialization proceeded in tandem with the nation's neocolonial expansion beyond its continental frontier.
From Progressive efforts to regulate corporate monopoly to New Deal contentions with the crisis of the Great Depression, a particular racial mode of social redress explains why turn-of-the-century radicals and reformers united around Asian exclusion and why Japanese American internment during World War II was a liberal initiative.
In Lye's reconstructed archive of Asian American racialization, literary naturalism and its conventions of representing capitalist abstraction provide key historiographical evidence. Arguing for the profound influence of literature on policymaking, America's Asia examines the relationship between Jack London and leading Progressive George Kennan on U.S.-Japan relations, Frank Norris and AFL leader Samuel Gompers on cheap immigrant labor, Pearl S. Buck and journalist Edgar Snow on the Popular Front in China, and John Steinbeck and left intellectual Carey McWilliams on Japanese American internment. Lye's materialist approach to the construction of race succeeds in locating racialization as part of a wider ideological pattern and in distinguishing between its different, and sometimes opposing, historical effects.
In recent years, the mask of tolerant, secular, multicultural Europe has been shattered by new forms of antisemitic crime. Though many of the perpetrators do not profess Christianity, antisemitism has flourished in Christian Europe. In this book, thirteen scholars of European history, Jewish studies, and Christian theology examine antisemitism's insidious role in Europe's intellectual and political life. The essays reveal that annihilative antisemitic thought was not limited to Germany, but could be found in the theology and liturgical practice of most of Europe's Christian churches. They dismantle the claim of a distinction between Christian anti-Judaism and neo-pagan antisemitism and show that, at the heart of Christianity, hatred for Jews overwhelmingly formed the milieu of 20th-century Europe.
Stories of Accommodation and Audacity
Outwardly it would appear that Arab and Jewish immigrants comprise two distinct groups with differing cultural backgrounds and an adversarial relationship. Yet, as immigrants who have settled in communities at a distance from metropolitan areas, both must negotiate complex identities. Growing up in Kentucky as the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, Nora Rose Moosnick observed this traditionally mismatched pairing firsthand, finding that, Arab and Jewish immigrants have been brought together by their shared otherness and shared fears. Even more intriguing to Moosnick was the key role played by immigrant women of both cultures in family businesses -- a similarity which brings the two groups close together as they try to balance the demands of integration into American society.
In Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky: Stories of Audacity and Accomodation, Moosnick reveals how Jewish and Arab women have navigated the intersection of tradition, assimilation, and Kentucky's cultural landscape. The stories of ten women's experiences as immigrants or the children of immigrants join around common themes of public service to their communities, intergenerational relationships, running small businesses, and the difficulties of juggling family and work. Together, their compelling narratives challenge misconceptions and overcome the invisibility of Arabs and Jews in out of the way places in America.