Monday, February 2, 2009

Scott Kurashige's "The Shifting Grounds of Race"

Scott Kurashige is an associate professor of American Culture, History, and Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at the University of Michigan and currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. He is the author of The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton University Press, 2008), which received the American Historical Association’s 2008 Albert J. Beveridge Award “for the best book in English on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada from 1492 to the present.” His writings on race, politics, and culture can be found on Huffington Post.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Shifting Grounds of Race and reported the following:
Writing on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, I would like The Shifting Grounds of Race to be viewed as a history of the new America that is being born in the twenty-first century. The story I tell, particularly from the perspective of Black and Japanese Americans is of the twentieth-century transformation of Los Angeles from a provincial, Anglo-dominated town into a multicultural, global city.

My book was essentially complete before the presidential primaries began, and I make no attempt to predict the results. However, what it offers is a “window into the multiethnic conflicts and coalitions of a new political world in which people of color comprise not only the majority of the world’s population but also a majority of Los Angeles, California, and eventually the United States.” “In this way,” I propose, “we might see the future in the past.”

As Obama’s story--of being raised by a white mother, growing up around Asians in Hawaii and Indonesia, searching for his Kenyan father, finding a home on the South Side of Chicago, and ascending through politics to assume the leadership of the free world-- becomes part of our national identity, our view of U.S. history is changing right before our eyes.

Page 99 presents an image of the old America. It recounts the desperate efforts of Japanese Americans to prove their loyalty to the nation in the shadow of World War II. Ultimately, no demonstrations of patriotism could stave off their being placed in government-run concentration camps. Like the poet Langston Hughes, all they had asked for was to “let America be America.”

We are now at the dawn of a new era, and we will all have a chance to shape what America will become.
Read an excerpt from The Shifting Grounds of Race, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue