Just out! “When You Can’t Tell Your Friends from the Japs: Reading the body in the Korematsu case.” Journal of Transnational American Studies special issue in honor of Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, spring-summer 2012 (4(1)).
Fred Korematsu, plaintiff of the landmark 1944 case Korematsu v. United States, famously had cosmetic surgery on his face to try to escape the ‘internment,’ the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. This article examines the popular and legal discussion of his surgery at that time, which show that fears of Japanese spies and the supposed inability to distinguish Japanese, captured in the famous Life magazine article “How To Tell Your Friends from the Japs,” directly influenced the courts’ rulings on the legality of the internment. The deliberate decision of the Supreme Court to excise this issue from the Korematsu opinion, which disclaimed racism as a root cause of the internment, is exposed through archival documents and drafts that betray a deep interest in his surgery, as do the government and lower court documents. As a heroic figurehead of civil rights, Korematsu complicates the discussion of surgical patients as complicit, drawing attention instead to the legalized discrimination that drives such choices. Likewise, key Supreme Court cases benefit from a close reading of the issue of mutable appearance and racial passing, as they show a common anxiety and inability to define race precisely on the body.
The issue is available for free online.
I was delighted to be able to participate in an issue to honor Sau-ling Wong and her many contributions to the field of Asian American studies. In particular, her idea of “food pornography” is always a hit with students!
“The Foreigner in Yoknapatawpha: Rethinking race in the global South” was published in a Philological Quarterly special issue: The New Southern Studies and the New Modernist Studies in Spring & Summer 2012 (90(2&3): 199-228).
Though it’s not a well-known fact, there was a small but very visible Chinese minority in Mississippi throughout the years of Faulkner’s active writing career, and one that came to national fame in a Supreme Court case about whether they should be put in white or black public schools. When Joe Christmas first arrives in Jefferson in Light in August, a sulky, light-colored man with no money and city clothing, the townsfolk label him a “foreigner.” His name and indefinable appearance allow him to exist in an undefined limbo between black and white until he transgresses social boundaries in both directions, unlike the lone Chinese man in The Town and the Chinese population in real life. Starting with the definition of foreignness in Light in August and reading through Intruder in the Dust (1948) and The Town (1957), I examine the role of the the Chinese as the most visible exponents of the foreign as a new party in Faulkner’s tortured generations of Southern history, comparing his surprisingly elastic social structures with the contemporaneous restrictions on the growing Chinese population in legal and social arenas. Gong Lum v. Rice (1927), the landmark Supreme Court case that turned away from the singular consideration of African Americans as the “colored race” to define the Chinese as one of the “colored races” resonates with the white supremacist in Light who asserts superiority over “any and all other races.” Ike McCaslin, one of Faulkner’s characters, voices hatred of the “spawning” and “breeding” Chinese, among other races, but even Faulkner’s extension of racial hysteria over miscegenation to include the Chinese who were moving into the Delta offers, as well, the possibility of eventual social intermixture and inclusion in his American South.
This article won PQ‘s annual Hardin Craig Prize for the article that has best advanced scholarship in its field.
Link here (requires Chadwyck subscription).