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date: 20 August 2019

Comparative African American and Asian American Literary Studies

Abstract and Keywords

Comparative African American and Asian American literary studies traces the diverse (if uneven) ways that African American and Asian American authors have explored the relationship between the two groups and delves into the histories and the politics behind these interracial representations. The literature ranges from the polemical to the fantastic, from the realist to the postmodern, and from the formally innovative to the generically conventional. While some may assume that the politics behind such representations are either coalitional or conflictual in nature, the literature is highly ecumenical, including narratives that engage in Orientalism and/or Negrophobia, Third World rhetoric, postcolonial critique, and political radicalism. African Americans have long been interested in Asia as a potential site for resistance to American racism and empire, while Asian American authors have looked to the experiences of black Americans to understand their own experiences of racism within the United States. Despite the fact that there is a long-established tradition of Afro-Asian literary representation, literary criticism has only taken up a sustained and in-depth study of this topic within the past two decades. Afro-Asian literary studies is part of a late-20th-century “comparative turn” within US-based race studies, which goes along with the increasing transnational/diasporic orientation of formerly nation- or area-based disciplines.

Keywords: African American literature, Asian American literature, comparative race studies, American literature, slavery, cooliesm, orientalism, Third World politics, Los Angeles riots

What Is Comparative African American and Asian American Literary Studies?

Asian American and African American authors have a long history of representing the relationship between the two groups. Dating from the arrival of the Chinese in California during the middle of the 19th century and continuing through the early 21st century, there is a rich if uneven literary archive documenting the shifts in perspective between the two groups, from alliance to antagonism and everything in between. Whether imagined as hostile, radical, empathetic, resentful, or indifferent, these moments of literary intersection and connection offer a lens through which to understand how writers from these two groups have dealt with the racial hierarchies that pervade US culture, society, and politics.

This history of interracial portrayals is influenced by the ways that the two groups have been positioned in relation to each other within American racial hierarchies. The nature of the comparison is often inflected both by US domestic politics and its economic ambitions and military campaigns abroad. Surveying African American and Asian American literary traditions in a comparative frame means tracking the histories and politics behind those domestic and foreign political shifts while at the same time recognizing the literary relationship between the two groups does not follow a continuous, progressive line but rather reflects the complex narratives that mark American racism at home and abroad. The tendency is to view Afro-Asian relations in somewhat reductive and even monolithic ways: as either oppositional based on “cultural” factors or allied because of a “shared” history of racism.1 Such a reductive positioning of the two groups ultimately exculpates the US state from the racism that is the foundation of its formation as a nation and as a global presence and power. In his essay “The Color Line Belts the World” (1906), W. E. B. Du Bois critiques the nation’s tendency to forget or erase those aspects of its history that undermine its sense of itself as a land of freedom and justice. Du Bois writes that Americans have a way “of wanting to be ‘rid’ of Problems. It is not so much a desire to reach the best and largest solution as it is to clean the board and start a new game.”2 While these texts cannot halt the erasure of which Du Bois speaks, they often call attention to its costs. They not only work to dismantle white supremacy, they also attempt to decenter whiteness as the always-present, never-questioned center from which all racial forms emanate.

A comparative approach to African American and Asian American literatures is attuned to the multiple ways that these two literary traditions intersect and relate to each other. Comparative African American and Asian American literary studies is not defined by a canon or a period or a politics. It is most useful instead to think of it as a heuristic: a way of reading that draws out the connections or disjunctures between authors, works, and their literary and historical contexts. Sometimes these Afro-Asian relationships work to disrupt popular or conventional narratives of racial difference, and at other times, they recirculate or reaffirm stereotypes or exclusionary practices against the other group. Any critical act of comparison of “minority” literatures must, according to Joseph Keith, recognize the “forms and legacies of alliance, antagonism, and analogy” that operate within these texts.3 In theorizing the politics of comparison within a postcolonial context, Shu-mei Shih emphasizes how a comparative framework must always be located in a particular place (e.g., the metropole versus the colony) and “time-specific.”4 To offer up just one brief example, Hisaye Yamamoto in her short memoir “A Fire in Fontana” depicts the violence perpetrated against a black family who moves into an all-white neighborhood in the Los Angeles suburb of Fontana. Yamamoto covers the story for her newspaper, but a few days after she interviews the father, their house is burned down in mysterious circumstances, killing everyone in the family. Many years later, while watching the Watts riots on her television, Yamamoto feels a “tiny trickle of warmth,” which she recognizes to be a sense of “exultation.”5 Yamamoto notes at the story’s start that although she “wouldn’t go so far as to say that [she], a Japanese American, became Black” because of the experiences she is about to recount, she nevertheless feels that “some kind of transformation did take place” within her.6 Grace Kyungwon Hong, in her reading of the story, argues that Yamamoto points to the potential of cross-racial solidarity between Japanese Americans and African Americans not through a logic of “similarity” but rather through a “relational connection.”7 Yamamoto, according to Hong, does not rely upon a simplistic equation that African Americans and Japanese Americans are connected through a “shared” history of racism but rather through a “property system that privileges white property interests.”8 What binds the two groups together then is their mutual exclusion from property ownership, which forms the foundation for full inclusion into the state as a citizen-subject. According to Hong, it is this differential exclusion—rather than a shared experience of racism—that can form the basis of interracial coalitional politics.

Defining African American and Asian American comparative literature as a reading practice makes the category a capacious one. It includes any text by an African American or Asian American author that in some way imagines the relationship between the two groups. Most often this is represented in a text as a relationship between individual characters, but sometimes an African American or Asian American author will portray the other group in a representative manner (the “Negro” or “the Chinaman”). Works in which the comparison is expressed in metaphoric or abstract terms are also included: for example, the persistent depiction of Oriental objects of art by Harlem Renaissance authors such as Nella Larsen (in Quicksand [1928]) and Wallace Thurman (in Infants of the Spring [1932]) or the invocation of jazz in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1989). In other words, Asian American authors sometimes “use” figures of blackness as a way of conceiving their own place within the nation. Similarly, African Americans “use” Orientalist discourse as a way of reconceiving their own position within racial hierarchies.

W. E. B. Du Bois’s works are instructive of the multiple forms that a comparative Afro-Asian literature can take. In his novel Dark Princess (1928), the protagonist Matthew Towns falls in love with Kautilya, an Indian princess who eventually becomes the leader of a global anti-colonial movement. In the novel the relationship between Asian and African develops romantically and politically: in the relationship between the two central characters and in the coalition between the Afro-Asian groups that support them. Yet in Dark Princess and in multiple essays on the subject of the relationship between Asia and Africa, Du Bois engages in what Bill Mullen calls “Afro-Orientalism,” which is “a combination of passionate intellectual desire to wed African American political interest and African American support to Asian destiny, and at times incomplete, romanticized, or willful analysis of events there.”9 Thus works such as Du Bois’s that invoke the idea of the African American or the Asian American, even if those representations re-circulate problematic and even racist narratives of difference about the other group, make up an important part of the Afro-Asian literary canon. In fact, as often as one can say that the politics of these texts are liberatory, democratic, or radical, it is almost always the case that they rely upon conventional figurations of racial otherness. Such representations speak to how pervasive these narratives of racial otherness are and highlight the fact that there is no pure place or relationship outside of the realm of representation free from racialized thinking. In other words, there is nothing inherently or monolithically liberatory, radical, or democraticizing about this group of literary works simply because the authors imagine interracial coalitions or relationships.

The Problem of Comparison

In considering Afro-Asian literary history, it is important to note that this is an area marked by certain disagreements and controversies. The politics behind “comparison” is a fraught one, especially given the hierarchies of power with material and bodily consequences of exclusion, violence, and death. Comparative African American and Asian American literary studies is part of a larger turn within society broadly, and academic circles more specifically, toward a multiracial or intersectional paradigm for understanding race, one that shifts away from the black-white binary that has historically been the bedrock of American race relations and into which other groups tended to be subsumed. The comparative turn does not signal that anti-black racism on a local or institutional level has diminished or that incidents of anti-black violence have become rare; rather, it reflects a growing awareness of the multiracial nature of US society, not only in the contemporary moment but also historically. Given the relatively recent moves to understand markers of identity (race, gender, sexuality) in multiplicative and intersectional ways, comparative racial analysis reflects a desire to apply theories of racial heterogeneity to histories and narratives that may have only been considered within a black-white frame.

It is this comparative turn that has been critiqued by scholars such as Jared Sexton, who reads this desire to “complicate” the black-white binary as a “decentering of blackness,” or an attempt to shift attention away from the conditions of black people.10 Sexton argues that this decentering move ultimately exhibits an “antagonism” toward black experience and identity, which then becomes an obstacle toward “progress, silencing the expression of much-needed voices on the political and intellectual scene.”11 In comparative ethnic studies—of which comparative Afro-Asian literary history must be a part—“black identity appears as an antiquated state of confinement from which the ‘multiracial imagined community’ must be delivered.”12 Sexton rightly points out the progress narrative that seems to be embedded in the comparative move that unwittingly positions black people—yet again—as a more “primitive” or less complex expression of racial consciousness.

Sexton is not alone in his skepticism. Like Sexton, Colleen Lye is also critical of a comparativist rhetoric that is couched in terms of “needing to move beyond race as a matter of black and white” albeit for different reasons.13 Lye argues that the triangulation of race (replacing the black-white dyad with a black-white-Asian triad) reduces Asian American racialization to a “third term” whose only purpose in such a system is to “trouble” a binary. Lye argues that positioning Asian American identity as a complicating factor in existing American racial hierarchies is a conceptually thin place from which to think about Asian racial formation. For Lye, the “foundational status of antiblackness in conceptualizations of racism obstructs Asian Americanist endeavors to elaborate the non-derivative nature of Asian racialization.”14 Asian American Studies, in other words, relies entirely too much on antiblackness to theorize Asian racial formations, leading to a lack of real grappling with what it is that defines Asian American raciality. Lye calls this failure on the part of Asian American studies an “analogical dependency” that cannot figure out if “Asian American mobility confirms the persistent power of white privilege or whether it represents the detachment of whiteness’s symbolic power from material power.”15 Iyko Day, in analyzing the relationship between the racialization of capital and North American settler colonialism, offers another way of thinking about the relationship between “structural antiblackness” and Asian American racialization by pointing out the similar trajectory that Asian racialization has taken in Canada and the United States: from “yellow peril to model minority . . . from immigrant restriction and segregation, wartime internment of Japanese civilians, to the 1960s-era liberalization of immigration policy.”16 And yet, Day points out that Canadian racial politics and history do not include the same kind of “regime of plantation-based slavery” as in the United States. Day takes this to mean that “forces that exceed those that shape the social construction of blackness” are at work in Asian racialization and that a “transnational framework contradicts an understanding of anti-Asian racism as solely derivative of a prototypical racialization of blackness.”17 In other words, Asian racialization in the North American context is not based on a triangulated relationship between whiteness and blackness. For Day, the logics of settler colonialism explain the patterns of racialization, and the triangulation that interests her revolves around Native, alien, and settler populations.18

Sexton, Lye, and Day articulate some of the potential blind spots in comparative Afro-Asian analysis: that it attenuates the centrality of blackness in American racial politics, is wholly inadequate in understanding the history and construction of Asian North American racial formation, or that it occludes the way race is formed by the relationship between capital and settler colonialism. These are significant concerns that future studies of this topic will have to address. These critiques, however, do not undermine comparative racial studies more broadly or comparative Afro-Asian literary studies in particular. Rather, they point to how any comparative racial work must be grounded in specific theoretical paradigms and historical contexts and that such comparative work must not be seen as a replacement for the continuing critical study of blackness or Asian racial formations.

The 19th and 20th Centuries: Labor, Empire, and Color Lines

Issues of labor, citizenship, and “freedom” were part of the conversation surrounding African Americans and Asian Americans in the late 19th century. Slave labor has been constitutive of the nation in every aspect: politically, socially, and economically. The arrival of the Chinese in significant numbers in the mid-19th century occurred as the nation moved to the brink of Civil War; their presence in the American West constituted another aspect of how issues surrounding slavery, labor, and citizenship were discussed within the nation. The fear that the Chinese represented a backdoor threat to the nation—that they would be the unintended beneficiaries of the extension of citizenship to those of African descent—informed the debates surrounding immigration and emancipation in the decade following the conclusion of the Civil War. In the antebellum era, apologists for slavery, who advocated for the continuation of the slave trade, opposed coolie labor, arguing that its presence in the Caribbean was a sign of the “utter decay” total collapse of the “natural order.”19 The postbellum era witnessed a shift in Southern planter attitudes toward the coolie, who was now seen as a potential replacement for the freed slave.

In either case, both slave and coolie were considered “antithetical to freedom.”20 So imbricated were issues relating to black emancipation and Chinese exclusion that one could not be discussed without the other. As historian Moon-Ho Jung notes, the “language of abolition infused the proceedings on Chinese exclusion.”21 The Chinese coolie was an “enduring legacy of chattel slavery,” a figure that proslavery, antislavery, anti-expansionist, and pro-expansionist forces could uses to justify their politics and policies.22 In fact, Najia Aarim-Heriot calls the Naturalization Act of 1870, which extended citizenship to “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent,” “the first [piece of] national anti-Chinese legislation.”23 As these examples make clear, the interweaving of blacks and Asians can be found in a multitude of legislative documents and juridical documents of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Congressional debates about the Reconstruction Amendments included discussions about the status of the Chinese and debate focused on how the extension of citizenship to Africans could also allow for the naturalization of Chinese workers. John Hayakawa Torok makes the point that the “deliberate and careful choice of language in the Reconstruction amendments and laws, regarding words such as ‘citizens,’ ‘aliens, or ‘inhabitants,’” was a direct result of concerns regarding potential Chinese naturalization.24

As black authors and intellectuals grappled with their place in a nation that trumpeted equality and opportunity but relied upon the exploitation of their labor, systematic political disenfranchisement, and violent policing, they turned to the plight of the Chinese, who like the African was often constructed as antithetical to the US citizen subject. Frederick Douglass, in a speech delivered in 1869 that interrogates “the composition of our people [and] the relations existing between them,” explicitly opposed restrictions on Chinese immigration into the United States, characterizing the “large scale” immigration of Chinese people to the United States as inevitable. Douglass argues that the Chinese want to immigrate to the United States for the same reason as Europeans: their home country is overcrowded and its inhabitants are hungry and cannot find a way to support themselves or their families. According to Douglass, the Chinese desire to immigrate to the United States is matched by equal desire for them to do so on the part of certain Americans, especially those “Southern gentlemen” who still “believe in slavery” and who hope to replace the slaves who “work[ed] for nothing” with Chinamen who “will work for next to nothing.”25

The potential interchangeability of coolie for freed slave that Douglass references informs much of the anxiety surrounding Afro-Asian relations in this period. The fear is that the proximity of Chinese labor to African labor will mean that Chinese immigrants will unjustly benefit from African American inclusion. Justice John Harlan in his dissent to the landmark Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which declared segregation to be constitutional, disputes the logic of “separate but equal” accommodations by invoking a language of color blindness:

In the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens . . .The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway, is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.26

To drive home the injustice of black-white segregation, Harlan imagines a dramatic scene in which a “citizen of the black race” is not permitted to ride on a train coach meant for white passengers while a “Chinaman,” who is a member of a “race so different from our own” is able to do so. Harlan’s characterization of the Chinese as utterly foreign and therefore justifiably excluded from citizenship heightens the “wrong [done] this day” to black Americans. Harlan uses what Edlie Wong calls the “dialectical configuration of black inclusion/Chinese exclusion” to argue for the integration of the former over the latter.27 The liberalism that Harlan displays in his dissent has often been celebrated, but as Brook Thomas notes, Harlan advocated in multiple cases for US citizenship based on jus sanguinis rather than jus soli (i.e., citizenship by blood rather than by place of birth), a legal shift that would have completely excluded the Chinese and any other immigrant group that was of a “race so different from our own.”28 The “counterfactual thought experiment” in which Harlan engages has its literary enactment in Charles Chesnutt’s 1901 novel The Marrow of Tradition as well as in Wu Tingfang’s 1914 memoir America Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat, which chronicles his time living in the United States as the foreign minister for the Qing dynasty.29

Edith Eaton (whose pen name was Sui Sin Far) also represents the conflictual relationship between the Chinese and blacks in her memoir Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian, and in her non-Chinatown short fiction such as “Away Down in Jamaica,” a story that was recovered by Martha J. Cutter in 2004. In Leaves from the Mental Portfolio, which includes the several months in Eaton’s life when she worked in Kingston, Jamaica, for local newspaper Gall’s Daily News Letter, Eaton finds herself identifying and aligning herself with the black Jamaican workers rather than the colonials, expatriates, and military officers with whom she lives and fraternizes. As a woman able to pass as white, Eaton finds herself listening to the casual racism of the white colonial settlers; and in at least one case, she “outs” herself as a Chinese person at the end of a dinner conversation in which the guests have debated whether or not the Chinese are human or not. While “Away Down in Jamaica” does not on first glance seem to address questions of Chinese American or diasporic identity, the story nevertheless raises questions regarding what Sean X. Goudie calls a

disturbing irony: at exactly the moment when the United States relied on immigrant and ex-slave labor at home and West Indian colonial labor abroad for its capitalist and territorial expansion, white Americans turned ever more resolutely to supremacist attitudes to justify this trend.30

Critics have theorized that Eaton’s movement through the British Empire and the American West (from Canada to Jamaica to San Francisco) and particularly her time in Jamaica heightened her sense of herself as one of the “brown people of the earth.”31 Whatever the reason, her writings about blacks in Jamaica evince a sympathy and sense of connection that carries over into her more famous works set in Chinatown.

W. E. B. Du Bois is the African American intellectual and writer who has written most extensively on the past, present, and future of Afro-Asian relations. Whether analyzing the significance of Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) in “The Color Line Belts the World” (1906), expressing support for Indian independence from Great Britain in “The Clash of Color: Indians and the American Negro” (1936), or writing about his visit to China under the premiership of Mao Zedong in “Our Visit to China” (1959), Du Bois consistently looked to Afro-Asian connections to explore the possibility of national and transnational revolutionary struggle. This construction of Asia is often decidedly Orientalist in its orientation, for as Bill Mullen notes, Du Bois “tended to invest Asia and the Asiatic with his most far-flung hopes and desires as they pertained to a range of issues that preoccupied him.”32 This faith in the radical and dynamic potential of Afro-Asian relations is showcased in his favorite novel Dark Princess. Du Bois challenges novelistic conventions in order to imagine the political potential of Afro-Asian alliances.33 Never a typical novelist to begin with, Du Bois meshes multiple modes of narration in Dark Princess that are not traditionally found in the same text (romance, realism among the most prominent); this intermingling of narratives modes in a work that interrogates citizenship as the most privileged form of political subjectivity dismantles the link between the novel as a genre and the nation as a geopolitical entity.34

The Fictions of Afro-Asia

The story of Afro-Asian internationalism, or “Black America’s call to Asia and Asia’s reciprocal response,” spans from the mid-1950s to the 1970s.35 Vijay Prashad has argued that the publication of Richard Wright’s The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (1956) “inaugurates [the] tradition of Afro-Asian studies.”36 The Bandung Conference, which was convened in Indonesia in 1955, was a gathering of representatives from twenty-nine Asian and African countries seeking to forge political alliances and a new, postcolonial, democratic order that did not rely on the Cold War/East-West alignment imposed by the United States and the Soviet Union. In The Color Curtain, Wright “struggle[s] with the question of the meaning of race and its potential utility as a basis for solidarity among black and Asian peoples.”37 Jeffrey Folks notes that Wright’s “attitude toward African and Asian cultures often reflected the deepest divisions in his own psyche, based on his bitter struggle to achieve his own position in Western society.”38 The Color Curtain reflects that division, highlighting the racial, religious, and political cleavages within and between the participating nations that the conference could not ignore. Wright himself often assumes the superiority of the West in building and sustaining democratic institutions. For example, Wright notes the “secular, rational base of thought and feeling in the Western world,” which in his eyes justify the “West’s assuming the moral right to interfere sans narrow, selfish political motives.”39 Yet like many African American intellectuals before him, Wright saw African American civil rights as inseparable from the liberation struggles of colonized people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Wright explains to his wife that he must travel to Bandung because “I’m an American Negro; as such, I’ve had a burden of race consciousness. So have these people.”40 On the one hand, Wright’s belief that the shared “burden” of racial difference binds together American blacks and the peoples of Asia and Africa relies upon the logic of “similarity” that Grace Hong cautions against. Yet Andrew Jones and Nikhil Singh argue that “in Wright’s movements from the ‘Black Belt’ of Mississippi to the South Side of Chicago to Paris and Jakarta, we can once again discern . . . a striving to articulate an alternative universality’ against the existing racial limitations of modern imperialisms, nationalisms, and humanisms.”41 The “alternative universality” in which Wright invests his hope appears throughout Wright’s work and partially explains Bandung’s appeal to Wright: the conference represented an attempt on the part of Africa and Asia and other colonized nations to resist the imperial project under its most recent guise of Cold War politics.

Although Prashad argues that the liberation agenda of Bandung and the Third World movement has largely dissipated (thanks to the workings of transnational organizations such as the International Monetary Fund) and that the “secular anticolonialism” that drove the politics of Bandung has been replaced by a “cruel cultural nationalism” based on “religion, reconstructed racism, or undiluted class power,” its influence was potent for at least twenty years after the conference.42 The Bandung Conference influenced a generation of US activists and intellectuals across the racial spectrum. It provided “an epistemological framework for . . . scholars and activists who worked both to forge connections across lines of artificial, but historical, race and to study the history of these interactions.”43 We can see the effects of the Bandung Conference on Afro-Asian representations, in which Afro-Asian alliance is primarily imagined as a global phenomenon with the potential to influence nationally-based radical movements.

Vietnam and Beyond

While Bandung highlights the global underpinnings of Afro-Asian literary representation, events occurring within the United States were also impactful in terms of late-20th-century comparative African and Asian American literatures. The rise of civil rights movements in the 1950s and 1960s as well as shifts in US immigration policies starting in the 1960s also had a profound impact upon Afro-Asian coalitional politics and representation. US Cold War politics and military campaigns in Southeast Asia led to the deaths of millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians, creating refugee crises that spilled into other parts of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. African American men bore the brunt of this imperial violence as draftees into the US military. Yusef Komunyakaa writes about his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam in his volume Dien Cai Dau (1988). In the poem “Tu Do Street,” the narrator walks into a Vietnamese bar that caters to white American soldiers, and despite the spatio-temporal distance from his childhood, the narrator states “I’m a small boy/again in Bolgalusa.”44 Music plays in the background, and alcohol is readily available. But the narrator’s attempt to catch the eye of the “mama-san” is futile as she pretends to ignore him. The poem implies that even in Vietnam, in a bar run by the Vietnamese, American racial practices cannot be bent or broken without grave consequences. The arbitrary—and violently enforced—lines between black and white are echoed in the divisions between American and Vietnamese soldiers. The narrator makes the point that the black soldiers, white soldiers, and Viet Cong soldiers are linked together in ways other than through warfare: “We fought/the brothers of these women/we now run to hold in our arms./There’s more than a nation inside us, as black & white/soldiers touch the same lovers/minutes apart, tasting each other’s breath.”45 Komunyakaa’s attempt to draw a connection between the various combatants is established on the bodies of the Vietnamese women who are important only in terms of their relationship to men: they are sisters and lovers but never depicted as having a life or desires outside of the heterosexual, patriarchal economy of desire. Vietnam in the poem offers itself as a space for African Americans to meditate on the limits of anti-black racism. Komunyakaa’s best-known poem is “Facing it,” which depicts his first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The poem describes the narrator staring at the highly polished stone. Despite the fact that the monument consists of a hard stone surface, the line between the visitors and the names carved into the stone is always blurring: sometimes the narrator thinks that he sees “[n]ames shimmer on a woman’s blouse/but when she walks away/the names stay on the wall.”46 At the end of the poem, the narrator sees that “a woman’s trying to erase names:/No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”47 In these poems, the narrator suggests that the trauma of the Vietnam War is deeply embedded in the bodies and psyches of not just those who fought but all citizens; the narrator is paranoid, however, of the nation’s powerful desire to “erase” the history of the war and its dead from its consciousness.

Opposition to the Vietnam War was fundamental to many black political organizations, from the Nation of Islam to the Black Panther Party. Muhammad Ali’s famous declarations upon refusing induction into the US Army to serve in Vietnam—“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong” and “no Vietcong ever called me nigger”—reflected a sense of solidarity between black Americans and those living under colonial, postcolonial, and neocolonial conditions. Eldridge Cleaver, a founding member of the Black Panther Party, tied black freedom in the United States to the liberation of former colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Soul on Ice (1968), Cleaver follows a long line of black internationalist philosophy when he writes that the “American racial problem can no longer be spoken of or solved in isolation.”48 Cleaver writes that the black man can only “live in dignity and self-respect,” if the “nations of Asia, Latin America, and Africa are strong and free.” During the period of colonial rule in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, black Americans, “held tightly in the vise of oppression,” were not allowed to voice their solidarity with other oppressed people. But now, Cleaver writes, the “only lasting salvation for the black American is to do all he can to see to it that the African, Asian, and Latin American nations are free and independent.”49

As these examples indicate, black public intellectuals and activists in this period tended to identify more strongly with Asian nations and nationals rather than with Asian Americans. Daryl Maeda notes that at an opening rally in San Francisco’s Portsmouth Square for the Red Guard Party, a Chinese American political group that took its inspiration and rhetoric from the Black Panther Party, Black Panthers Chairman David Hilliard called Chinese Americans “the Uncle Toms of the non-white people of the US.”50 Hilliard then admonished the crowd that “if you can’t relate to China then you can relate to the Panthers.”51 In the case of the Black Panther Party, Mao’s Little Red Book was a cornerstone of their educational programs well as “central to the ideologies and practices of an entire generation of black revolutionaries,” whether Black Panthers or not.52 While the Black Panthers and others were less interested in allying with Asian American groups, several Asian Americans were active in black social movements. For example, Grace Lee Boggs worked closely with her husband James Boggs in the Detroit area on socialist and labor issues. Yuri Kochiyama was associated with black radicals and famously held up the head of Malcolm X after he was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. Richard Aoki was close friends with Huey Newton and Bobby Seal joined the Black Panther Party soon after its founding and eventually took on a leadership position as a field marshal and was a founder of the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA).53 And while Frank Chin called the Red Guards nothing more than a “minstrel show,” his many works often constructions of Asian American masculinity by comparing it to African American masculinity.54

Maxine Hong Kingston makes this internationalist, countercultural moment the subject of her only novel, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1989). We catch glimpses of the rhetoric of the politics of antiwar and liberation movements as we follow Wittman Ah Sing, the evocatively named protagonist of the novel, who is a recent graduate of Berkeley and who spends the novel avoiding the draft, trying to collect unemployment benefits, visiting his family, pursuing love interests, and writing his epic play all within the span of a few days. Tripmaster is an example of how Asian American affirmations of belonging and presence can subtly remove African American experience and culture from the landscape of the nation. In the case of this particular novel, that unwitting erasure becomes most palpable in its representation of jazz. The importance of jazz to Tripmaster Monkey is reflected in the book’s subtitle. His Fake Book references directly references a jazz term. Kingston defines a “fake book” as a compilation “of basic tunes, songs, and chords. Sometimes it would be just the beginning of a tune, then [jazz musicians] would improvise. So I was trying to write a prose book with a basic plot, suggestions for social action, for trips. I hope to trip the reader out and have them improvise further.”55 In Kingston’s telling, Tripmaster Monkey is the literary equivalent of a fake book: it is a series of basic sketches that depend upon improvisational performance and response in order to be fully realized. This vision of the novel redefines it not only structurally but also politically.

While jazz offers a useful framework for thinking about genre and the relationship between art and politics, in Tripmaster, it is almost always decoupled from its particular history of its production and dissemination. In other words, Tripmaster Monkey looks to African American cultural practice to supply a framework and lexicon for developing Asian Americanist art, politics, and community without naming or referencing the history of violence, displacement, and oppression that produced the conditions of that art’s emergence. Wittman continually laments the fact that Chinese Americans lack a visual, linguistic, and sonic vernacular through which to articulate their antiracist critique. In one pointed passage, he complains, “Where’s our jazz? Where’s our blues? Where’s our ain’t-taking-no-shit-from-nobody street-strutting language? I want so bad to be the first bad-jazz China Man bluesman of America.”56 To Wittman, jazz and the blues exemplify resistant, masculine, subversive cultural practices, and his assertion that Asian Americans do not have the same kind of rich linguistic and cultural tools to combat anti-Asian racism echoes the lamentations of many Asian American cultural nationalists of the 1970s who looked to African American subjects and history as models for resistance. Indeed, one of the ways that Wittman and many other Asian nationalists of the time period resisted white racism was by adopting the rhetoric/vernacular of the Black Nationalist movement. Upon hearing some of Wittman’s poetry, Nanci Lee, one of Wittman’s potential love interests, tells him “You sound black. . . . I mean like a Black poet. Jive. Slang. Like LeRoi Jones. Like . . . like Black.” Wittman responds in an aggrieved and aggressive manner, slamming the furniture, jumping on the desk, scratching himself, and asking her mockingly, “‘Monkey see, monkey do?’ . . . ‘Huh? Monkey see, monkey do?’ . . .‘Monkey shit, monkey belly.’ ‘A lot you know,’ he said, ‘A lot you know about us monkeys.’”57 Nanci’s comment that Wittman’s poetic voice “sound[s] black” taps into Wittman’s fear that his work is derivative, an imitation of the truly resistant voices that black subjects represent. He is angry, essentially, because she marks the imitative qualities of his language and tone rather than recognizing the originality of his Chinese American poetic voice. Black speech is aligned with authenticity and resistance, while Chinese American speech is, in Mackin’s word, “recycled.” But the structure of desire that black speech produces echoes the earlier construction of jazz—the art without the artist, the political rhetoric without the politics that enabled it. Black speech and black music are fetishized; they are metaphors for a certain kind of justice work but evacuated of that community’s history—its material, physical, and economic particularities—in the service of exploring Chinese American subjectivity.


Kingston’s novel, written during the mid- to late 1980s, looks back with a strong sense of nostalgia for the potential freedom offered by multiracial political liberation fronts. The reason that nostalgia pervades these narratives in the 1980s (Prashad comments upon this as well in the depressingly titled essay “Bandung Is Done”) is because by the 1980s, the nation was undergoing a shift in its political landscape. The state’s retrenchment of civil rights protections, its slow but steady retreat from affirmative action programs and other civil rights initiatives, its increasing divestment from urban communities and communities of color (in terms of infrastructure, educational opportunities, healthcare), and its more invasive and ultimately more violent policing practices (often in the name of peace, prosperity, and property value) have had profound impacts on communities of color and particularly African American communities. Significant changes were wrought within the Asian American community starting in the 1960s, with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which eliminated quotas and prioritized the recruitment of skilled labor, and intensifying US military involvement in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Both events lead the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from countries in Asia that had traditionally been shut out of the United States: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to name the most obvious. The influx of such diverse populations from Asia into the US strained the limits of the already fragile panethnic underpinnings of contemporary Asian American identity.

As the nation’s demographics changed, as urban neighborhoods were neglected and then burned and fears of “illegal” immigrants flooding the nation’s borders first came to the forefront, there was a growing sense during the 1980s that the nation was undergoing a diminution of the greatness that had historically defined it. As Min Hyoung Song put it, for many Americans, “the future became a place of national decline.”58 While Song dates this national decline to the start of the 1990s, others have located it a decade earlier, in the 1980s, during the “‘belle époque’ of the Reagan era,” an era defined by “multicultural promise and racial nightmare,” in which state and corporate resources were shifted away from the majority of individuals at the same time that a rhetoric of multicultural inclusion reached its zenith.59 The nation seized upon news stories involving the conflict between Asian Americans and African Americans, fully developing the narrative of Afro-Asian conflict that first began percolating in the mid-20th century. Stories about Asian Americans entering Ivy League universities in large numbers at the same time as newspaper reports on crime in inner-city/ghetto neighborhoods were carefully produced so as to obfuscate the historical conditions and state interventions that gave rise to such conditions.

That easy narrative of Afro-Asian conflict was seemingly affirmed by what is popularly known as the Los Angeles Riots. Over the course of several days—from April 29, 1992, to May 4, 1992—the city of Los Angeles burned in response to the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged in the beating of Rodney King. The riots have produced a number of literary works that directly portray the violence of those days—or were at least inspired by it. Los Angeles has long been a favorite setting for American cultural representations of apocalyptic violence or cataclysmic natural disasters, but the riots also made it an epicenter for narratives of interracial conflict.60 Although novels such as Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle (1996) and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange (1997) do not directly depict the Los Angeles riots, they certainly are part of a thread within African American and Asian American literatures toward thinking about race through the space of Los Angeles.

Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 is perhaps the best-known work to emerge out of the Los Angeles Riots. Smith conducted over three hundred interviews in order to assemble the play—all of the words in the play are from these interview texts.61 Los Angeles Times critic David Ulin called Twilight: Los Angeles “the most comprehensive literary response to the riots . . . written and performed by an outsider who channels the cacophony of voices at the city’s heart.”62 Smith’s play highlights indeterminacy and failure, particularly the failure of language to articulate the interviewees’ thoughts on the riots and their meaning.63 As Min Song puts it, “What directs Smith’s editorial choices are those moments in a person’s self-presentation when her or his speech breaks up, loses its coherence, leaves the speaker hunting for a world or a phrase that might help with regaining the thread of thought suddenly come undone.”64 We can see this in the interview of Mrs. Young-Soon Han, a former liquor store owner whose business was burned during the riots.

  • I wish I could
  • live together
  • with eh [sic] Blacks,
  • but after the riots
  • there were too much differences.
  • The fire is still there –
  • how do you call it? –
  • igni. . .
  • igniting fire.
  • (She says a Korean phrase phonetically: “Dashi yun gi ga nuh”) (p. 249)

The speech is a bitter disquisition on what Mrs. Han sees as African American joy over the violence that the riots inflicted on Korean American businesses. Mrs. Han repeats many of the racist stereotypes connected to urban African Americans (that they overly rely upon welfare or food stamps; that they don’t work or pay taxes), even as she acknowledges that she feels “in a way . . . happy for them.”65 Mrs. Han’s pause before the word “Blacks” is particularly telling, signaling the irreparable break between herself as “I” and “Blacks.” Any sense that the nation may have that the fire of the riots has burned itself out is a fiction; but again, Mrs. Han cannot adequately express the anger, resentment, and fear that undergirds American race relations: she stumbles over the word “igniting” before resorting to her mother tongue to express her meaning.

Discussion of the Literature

Scholars of comparative African American and Asian American literatures have often focused on a particular period as a means of exploring their intersecting literary histories. Julia H. Lee’s Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896–1937 (2011) and Edlie Wong’s Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship (2015) examine the period around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Helen Jun’s Race for Citizenship (2011) starts in the postbellum period and ends with an examination of neoliberalism in the early 21st century. Daniel Kim focuses on the mid-20th century in Writing Manhood in Black and Yellow: Ralph Ellison, Frank Chin, and the Literary Politics of Identity (2005). James Lee’s Urban Triage: Race and the Fictions of Multiculturalism (2004) pays particular attention to the decade of the 1980s when the widespread embrace of multiculturalism was interlinked with the abandonment of urban communities of color. Richard Wright’s The Color Curtain (1956) offers firsthand account of the 1955 Bandung Conference; the Afro-Asian solidarity that the Bandung Conference expressed is foundational to the interracial analysis of Bill Mullen’s Afro-Orientalism (2004) and Vijay Prashad’s Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity (2001), both of which are historically wide ranging and look to Afro-Asian politics as inimical to the workings of the state and late capital.

The Los Angeles Riots loom large in the field of comparative African American and Asian American literary studies, primarily because of this event’s seeming capacity to capture the implacable antagonism between black Americans and Asian Americans and the rift between one minority as “marred” and the other as a “model.” For example, Min Hyoung Song’s Strange Future: Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots (2005) examines the “strange” cultural narratives that emerged in the wake of these urban riots and the profound anxiety they index. These works tell a story of national decline, in which the country’s future is further blighted by violence, suffering, and misery; and yet, despite the pessimism pervading these works, Song argues that their aesthetic innovations point to the possibility of a more just and livable tomorrow.

Several edited collections have been published that take up the specific issue of comparative Afro-Asian relations. The essays in Afro-Asian Encounters: Culture, History, Politics (2006) edited by Heike Raphael-Hernandez and Shannon Steen cluster in the areas of cultural studies, examining Afro-Asian representations in genres such as fiction, popular film, hip-hop, and martial arts from Canada, Guyana, Japan, Trinidad, and the United States. Fred Ho and Bill Mullen’s volume Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans (2008) contains essays that focus on the potential radicalism of Afro-Asian relations. Grace Hong and Roderick Ferguson’s Strange Affinities: The Gender and Sexual Politics of Comparative Racialization (2001) does not focus solely on the interactions between African Americans and Asian Americans but takes up, more broadly, questions and politics related to comparative racialization. Readers who are interested in more generalized theoretical explorations of this topic may also consider a special topic issue of the PMLA edited by Shu-mei Shih that is devoted to the problems and possibility of comparative racialization theory.

The connections between African Americans and Asian Americans has been productively studied in fields other than literary studies. Historians have long been interested in how the Chinese “coolie” was positioned as a potential labor solution for the end of chattel slavery in the United States. The relationship between black slavery and Chinese labor is the focus of several books, most notably Moon-Ho Jung’s Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (2006), Lisa Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents (2015), and Lisa Yun’s The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves of Cuba (2008). Jennifer Lee’s Civility in the City: Blacks, Jews, and Koreans in Urban America takes up the question of interracial relations particularly between Jewish and Korean “merchants” and African American customers in New York City and Philadelphia from a sociological perspective. Claire Jean Kim’s Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict in New York City examines the Red Apple Boycott and similar movements in New York City from a political standpoint. Urban geographer Laura Pulido examines the intersections of urban space (particularly the city of Los Angeles), race, gender, and politics in her works, of which Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles (2005) is the best known.

The American Studies Association is an organization of scholars, activists, and writers devoted to interdisciplinary and global approaches to the study and teaching of US culture and history.

Asian American Writers’ Workshop is a non-profit arts organization that develops, publishes, and publicizes Asian American creative writing.

Global South Studies at the University of Virginia is a collective of scholars and editors working to outline the issues of Global South Studies.

MELUS: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States is a scholarly organization devoted to the study and teaching of American literature broadly conceived.

Further Reading

Aarim-Heriot, Najia. Chinese Immigrants, African Americans and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848–1882. Urbana IL: University of Illinois Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Day, Iyko. Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Ho, Fred, and Bill V. Mullen, eds. Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Hong, Grace Kyungwon. “‘Something Forgotten Which Should Have Been Remembered’: Private Property and Cross Racial Solidarity in the Work of Hisaye Yamamoto.” American Literature 71, no. 2 (1999): 291–310.Find this resource:

Hong, Grace, and Roderick Ferguson, eds. Strange Affinities: The Gender and Sexual Politics of Comparative Racialization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Itagaki, Lynn. Civil Racism: The 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion and the Crisis of Racial Burnout. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Jun, Helen. Race for Citizenship: Black Orientalism and Asian Uplift from Pre-Emancipation to Neoliberal America. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Jung, Moon Ho. Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Jung, Moon Ho. “Outlawing ‘Coolies’: Race, Nation, and Empire in the Age of Emancipation.” American Quarterly 57, no. 3 (2005): 677–701.Find this resource:

Kelley, Robin D. G. “People in Me.” Colorlines, 1999.Find this resource:

Kim, Claire Jean. Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict in New York City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Kim, Claire Jean. “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans.” Politics and Society 27, no. 1 (1999): 105–138.Find this resource:

Kim, Daniel. Writing Manhood in Black and Yellow: Ralph Ellison, Frank Chin, and the Literary Politics of Identity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Lee, James. Urban Triage: Race and the Fictions of Multiculturalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Lee, Jennifer. Civility in the City: Blacks, Jews, and Koreans in Urban America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Lee, Julia H. Interracial Encounters: Reciprocal Representations in African and Asian American Literatures, 1896–1937. New York: New York University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Lowe, Lisa. The Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Lye, Colleen. “The Afro-Asian Analogy.” PMLA 123, no. 5 (2008): 1732–1736.Find this resource:

Maeda, Daryl. “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen: Constructing Asian American Identity through Performing Blackness, 1969–1972.” American Quarterly 57, no. 4 (2005): 1079–1103.Find this resource:

Mullen, Bill. Afro-Orientalism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Prashad, Vijay. Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Pulido, Laura. Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Raphael-Hernandez, Heike, and Shannon Steen, eds. Afro-Asian Encounters: Culture, History, Politics. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Shih, Shu-Mei. “Comparative Racialization.” PMLA 123, no. 5 (2008): 1347–1362.Find this resource:

Song, Min Hyoung. Strange Future: Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Wong, Edlie. Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Yun, Lisa. The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2008.Find this resource:


(2.) W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Color Line Belts the World,” in W. E. B. Du Bois: A Reader, ed. David Levering Lewis (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), 33.

(3.) Joseph Keith, “Comparative Race Studies and Interracialisms,” in The Cambridge Companion to Asian American Literature, eds. Crystal Parikh and Daniel Y. Kim (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 183.

(5.) Hisaye Yamamoto, “A Fire in Fontana,” in Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories, intro. King-Kok Cheung (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001), 157.

(6.) Yamamoto, “A Fire in Fontana,”150.

(8.) Kyungwon Hong, “‘Something Forgotten Which Should Have Been Remembered,’” 292.

(9.) Bill Mullen and Cathryn Watson, Introduction, W. E. B. Du Bois on Asia: Crossing the World Color Line (Jackson, MS: Banner Books, 2005), xiv.

(10.) Jared Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 250.

(11.) Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes, 252.

(12.) Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes, 6.

(14.) Lye, “The Afro-Asian Analogy,” 1733.

(15.) Lye, “The Afro-Asian Analogy,” 1734.

(16.) Iyko Day, Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press), 23.

(17.) Day, Alien Capital, 23.

(18.) Day, Alien Capital, 24.

(20.) Caroline Yang, “Indispensable Labor: The Worker as a Category of Critique in China Men,” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 56, no. 1 (2010): 67.

(21.) Jung, “Outlawing ‘Coolies,’” 678.

(22.) Jung, “Outlawing ‘Coolies,’” 678.

(23.) Najia Aarim-Heriot, Chinese Immigrants, African Americans and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848–1882 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 150. Likewise, Moon-Ho Jung calls the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 the “origination of the modern immigration system” (678).

(24.) John Hayakawa Torok, “Reconstruction and Racial Nativism: Chinese Immigrants and the Debates on the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and Civil Rights Law,” Asian American Law Journal 3 (1996): 57.

(25.) Frederick Douglass, “The ‘Composite Nation’” (1869).

(26.) Plessy v. Ferguson. 163 U.S. 537. No. 210 (1896).

(28.) Brook Thomas, “The Legal Argument of Charles W. Chesnutt’s Novels,” REAL: Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature 18 (2002): 310–311.

(29.) Wong, Racial Reconstruction, 4. For more on the relationship between Harlan’s dissent, Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, and Wu’s American through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat, see Julia H. Lee, Interracial Encounters, 48–80.

(30.) Sean X. Goudie, “Toward a Definition of Caribbean American Regionalism: Contesting Anglo-America’s Caribbean Designs in Mary Seacole and Sui Sin Far,” American Literature 80, no. 2 (2008): 297.

(31.) Edith Eaton, “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian,” in Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Stories, eds. Amy Ling and Annette White-Parks (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 225.

(33.) See Julia H. Lee, Interracial Encounters, chapter 6.

(34.) Julia H. Lee, Interracial Encounters, 139–141.

(35.) Mullen, Afro Orientalism, 76.

(37.) Kevin Gaines, “Revisiting Richard Wright in Ghana: Black Radicalism and the Dialectics of Diaspora,” Social Text 19, no. 2 (2001): 80.

(38.) Jeffrey J. Folks, “‘Last Call to the West’: Richard Wright’s The Color Curtain,” South Atlantic Review 59, no. 4 (1994): 78.

(39.) Richard Wright, The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference, 1956 (Jackson, MS: Banner Books, 1994), 219.

(40.) Wright, The Color Curtain, 15.

(41.) Andrew Jones and Nikhil Pal Singh, “Introduction,” positions: east asia critique 11, no. 1 (2003): 7.

(42.) Jones and Singh, Introduction,” 7.

(43.) Prashad, “Bandung is Done,” xiii.

(44.) Yusef Komunyakaa, “Tu Do Street,” in Dien Cai Dau (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988), 29. Komunyakaa was born James William Brown in Bogalusa, Louisiana.

(45.) Komunyakaa, “Tu Do Street,” 29.

(46.) Yusef Komunyakaa, “Facing It,” in Dien Cai Dau (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988), 63.

(47.) Komunyakaa, “Facing It,” 63.

(48.) Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968 (New York, NY: Delta Books, 1992), 149.

(49.) Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 151–152.

(51.) Maeda, “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen,” 1085.

(52.) Maeda, “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen,” 1085.

(53.) For more on Asian American activists in black political organizations, see Maeda’s “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen,” 1086–1087.

(54.) Maeda, “Black Panthers, Red Guards, and Chinamen,” 1079.

(55.) William Blauvelt, “Talking with the Woman Warrior,” in Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston, eds. Paul Skenazy and Tera Martin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998), 77.

(56.) Maxine Hong Kingston, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), 27.

(57.) Kingston, Tripmaster, 32.

(58.) Min Hyoung Song, Strange Future: Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 1.

(60.) See films such as Earthquake (1974); Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991); Escape from LA (1996); Volcano (1997); The Day After Tomorrow (2004); Hancock (2008); 2012 (2009); Battle Los Angeles (2011); Sharknado (2013); and San Andreas (2015).

(61.) The published play text of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 contained over forty-five interviews. The version of the play that was filmed as part of the PBS series Great Performances ran about ninety minutes; the interview/performances were spliced with archival footage of the riots and the shooting of Latasha Harlins as well as newly filmed material, including a roundtable conversation between public figures and intellectuals.

(62.) David Ulin, “Critics Notebook: Literature of the 1992 L.A. Riots Is Fragmented,” Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2012.

(63.) Lynn Itagaki notes that this instability of signifier extends to naming the riots themselves. Sometimes the events are referred to as a “riot” and at other times they are called a “rebellion” or “civil unrest.” We refer to them here as the “Los Angeles Riots” as this seems to be the most commonly used moniker, although we recognize that the use of the term “riot” has a highly racialized and antiblack charge to it.

(64.) Song, Strange Future, 102.

(65.) Anna Deavere Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1994), 246.