Book Review: The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles

by

kuroshige

I found another book that will soon grace my library, “The Shifting Grounds of Race:  Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles,” written by Scott Kuroshige. Below is a review by Princeton University Press.  Please share your comments/review if you have read the book.

Los Angeles has attracted intense attention as a “world city” characterized by multiculturalism and globalization. Yet, little is known about the historical transformation of a place whose leaders proudly proclaimed themselves white supremacists less than a century ago. In The Shifting Grounds of Race, Scott Kurashige highlights the role African Americans and Japanese Americans played in the social and political struggles that remade twentieth-century Los Angeles.

Linking paradigmatic events like Japanese American internment and the Black civil rights movement, Kurashige transcends the usual “black/white” dichotomy to explore the multiethnic dimensions of segregation and integration. Racism and sprawl shaped the dominant image of Los Angeles as a “white city.” But they simultaneously fostered a shared oppositional consciousness among Black and Japanese Americans living as neighbors within diverse urban communities.

Kurashige demonstrates why African Americans and Japanese Americans joined forces in the battle against discrimination and why the trajectories of the two groups diverged. Connecting local developments to national and international concerns, he reveals how critical shifts in postwar politics were shaped by a multiracial discourse that promoted the acceptance of Japanese Americans as a “model minority” while binding African Americans to the social ills underlying the 1965 Watts Rebellion. Multicultural Los Angeles ultimately encompassed both the new prosperity arising from transpacific commerce and the enduring problem of race and class divisions.

Below is a blurb from the author. You can find additonal write-up here.

My study couples two interconnected levels of analysis. At the most immediate level, this book is an account of how Black and Japanese Americans battled for housing, jobs, and political representation in Los Angeles as members of distinct ethnoracial groups. Drawing connections between seminal “Japanese” events like World War II internment and “Black” events like the civil rights movement, I compare and contrast the socioeconomic status and political standing of African Americans, Japanese Americans, and whites over the course of much of the twentieth century. My research further reveals how Black and Japanese Americans responded to instances of interethnic competition, as well as the degree to which they embraced opportunities for cooperation within oppositional social movements. As the narrative unfolds, it explains why Black and

Japanese Americans faced common forms of racial discrimination prior to World War II but were subsequently thrust onto different historical paths.
On a second and broader level, this book is a case study of how race functions in a multiethnic context. By highlighting the triangular nature of relations between African Americans, Japanese Americans, and whites, my study provides multiple vantage points from which we may contemplate how diverse residents of Los Angeles saw their place within a multiracial order. Exploring the range of meanings these residents attached to both segregated and integrated communities, it offers a sense of how the multiethnic city was experienced on the ground. But it also shows how the ground itself shifted over the course of the twentieth century. What I mean by this is that the book’s central categories of analysis—“African American,” “Japanese American,” and “white”— were historically contingent constructs. Racial definitions varied over time and space in conjunction with demographic, economic, and political changes that resituated Los Angeles within a regional, national, and global order. Most obviously, a host of terms have been employed to identify these groups, many of which are now anachronistic and some of which have always been pejorative—“Negro,” “Black,” “colored,” “Japanese,” “Oriental,” “Caucasian,” as well as a host of vulgar epithets.

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