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4/25/11 - "Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America" review by Ikuko Asaka, Ph.D.

Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America (New York: New York University Press, 2011)

by Helen Heran Jun

Review by: Ikuko Asaka, Ph.D.

Ikuko Asaka, Ph.D., was a 2010-2011 ARC post-doctoral fellow whose dissertation was entitled "Race across Empire and Republic: Black Migration to Canada and Racial, National, and Gender Formations in Atlantic Context".

Race for Citizenship Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal AmericaRace for Citizenship explores how Asian Americans and African Americans have participated in discourse of U.S. citizenship, examining how the institution of citizenship pushed racialized subjects to create progressive narratives of inclusion in the struggle to achieve political, economic, and social inclusion. Jun argues that the creation of definitions of race is “a relational process in which differential inclusions and exclusions are endemic to the institution of citizenship itself.”

Jun analyzes three historical moments in which discourses of Asian American and African American citizenship emerged in notable ways in the face of political, social, and economic crises. The first section examines how the rallying of white labor against Chinese immigrants defined the contours within which blacks could articulate claims to citizenship at that time. Her analysis shows how Orientalism promoted a discursive process called black Orientalism, in which representations of China and the Chinese solidified black national identity in the period after the Reconstruction. Shifting to the World War II period, the second part contextualizes African America urbanization and migration to the West Coast in connection to Japanese American internment, Asian immigration exclusion, and residential segregation. Jun employs the term Asian uplift to illustrate how the construction of Asian Americans as domestic subjects in this period coincided with processes of black racialization. The final section centers on the post-1965 period, an era defined by global changes in modes of production and by a surge in Asian and Latin American immigration. The focus is on discourses of “black/Korean interethnic conflict,” which indicated a particular set of fears and concerns around race and national identity in the late twentieth-century U.S.

The book deemphasizes the notion of intentions, perceptions, and attitudes behind various discourses of race for citizenship. Rather, it argues that the institution of citizenship compels variously racialized groups to negotiate their exclusion in relation to others within “a narrow discursive field.” Such proposition offers us a nuanced approach to textual work by marginalized groups without engaging in an often-futile discussion of intention and motives and enables us to look at the contradictions arising from racialized subject formation as a fundamental condition of U.S. citizenship.