Re-Thinking Race

Media, politicians, social and political groups and individuals use the term "racism" casually and inaccurately, thereby stripping the concept of its meaning, argues Lawrence Blum in I'm Not a Racist, But...: The Moral Quandary of Race. Not all interracial difficulties involve racism, he contends, but society does not have the vocabulary to discuss racial overtones with greater subtlety. Thus people and institutions fearful of being called racist feel defensive when racial issues are raised, perpetuating the status quo of race relations. Blum (Moral Perception and Particularity), professor of philosophy and of liberal arts and education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, asserts that only "certain especially serious moral failings and violations" merit the designation "racism." Discussing various scholarly perspectives on the construction of racial categories, Blum calls for a balance between "ridding ourselves of the myth of race" and understanding the role of race in social inequality and in history. (Cornell Univ., $29.95 260p ISBN 0-8014-3869-1; Feb.)

Beginning with a recap of his childhood bewilderment with the paltry selection of appealing Asian characters in 1970s American pop culture, Frank H. Wu, associate professor at the Howard University School of Law, describes the alienation experienced by Asian-Americans in the 20th-century in Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. An activist and journalist (the Washington Post, the Nation, the L.A. Times, etc.), Wu discusses key moments and phenomena in Asian-American history: the WWII internment camps, the 1992 L.A. riots, the "model minority myth," the virulent anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. during the 1980s' recession (exemplified by the murder of a Chinese American engineer by two white auto workers, fined $3,780 for the crime) and periodic fads involving "Asian-ness" in American media. His sobering, astute, compelling investigation locates the particulars of Asian-American experience with racism in this country's spectrum of ethnic and cultural prejudice. (Basic, $26 352p ISBN 0-465-00639-6; Jan.)

Challenging the perceptions that "race riots" in the U.S. and South Africa are always perpetrated by people of color, Sheila Smith McKoy, an assistant professor of English at Vanderbilt University, explores the history of some of the two countries' most violent moments in When Whites Riot: Writing Race and Violence in American and South African Culture. Focusing on events like Wilmington N.C.'s race riot in 1898 and Mmabatho, Bhoputhatswana's 1994 pre-election riot, McKoy explores in various media the way public attention gets diverted from white violence. Several participants in the Soweto Uprising, for instance, describe how a peaceful protest by black school children one afternoon became a violent three-day rebellion after the police fired upon the crowd. While media in South Africa and elsewhere alleged that the police were provoked by the crowd's violence, McKoy contends that, in fact, the white police rioted, spurring the community to throw rocks and burn buildings. Her unflinching look at horrifying events offers an important take on race-based violence. 12 b & w photos. (Univ. of Wisconsin, $45192p ISBN 0-299-17390-9; $19.95 paper -17394-1; Dec.)

Judith Halberstam takes issue with transgender biography that "recasts the act of passing as deception, dishonesty, and fraud." Brad Epps explores the immigrant experience of interrogation upon crossing borders. Sharon Ullman looks at the early 20th-century phenomenon of male impersonation in relation to the " 'New Woman'" campaign of first-wave feminists. In Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion, editors María Carla Sánchez and Linda Schlossberg have assembled relevant cultural criticism by 10 scholars. Familiar names like Brandon Teena, George Orwell and Charles Atlas are discussed alongside less known figures like early Mexican-American author María Amparo Ruiz de Burton and a popular vaudevillian of indeterminate gender named Biscauex. (New York Univ., $55 304p ISBN 0-8147-8122-5; $18.50 paper -8123-3; Nov. 1)

Unclear Borders

In 1994 the Clinton administration upped the neo-protectionist ante by doubling the budget for fences and trained agents along the border between Mexico and the U.S. Journalist Joseph Nevins's Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the 'Illegal Alien' and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary explores this concerted effort to prevent illegal border crossings in the context of the mid-90s economic boom and the hundreds of thousands of legal Mexican immigrants. Examining physical, political and economic attributes of the Border culture often abstracted in postmodern literary and cultural criticism, Nevins argues that Clinton's program has done little to keep undocumented immigrants from entering but has increased the dangers for them as well as inflamed anti-immigrant tendencies in the U.S. Mike Davis's introduction will help draw attention to this astute book. (Routledge, $17.95 paper 288p ISBN 0-415-93105-3; Jan. 11) The WWII internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans by FDR's Executive Order 9066 is a painful, still-obscured moment in U.S. history. In Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress, Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro recounts the 20-year battle undertaken by Seattle activists seeking official apology and financial compensation for the imprisoned citizens and permanent residents. Shimabukuro interweaves testimonies from the activists and inhabitants of the camps, accounts of other wartime phenomena (government seizure of homes and businesses, loyalty questionnaires) and descriptions of activism and consciousness-raising (the Day of Remembrance, "I survived E.O. 9066" T-shirts and Seattle's 1992 exhibit Executive Order 9066: 50 Years Before and 50 Years After). Since September 11, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other public figures have cited the internment camps to warn against hostility towards Muslim-Americans; this book offers a clear-sighted cautionary tale about the possible outcomes of xenophobia and fear. (Univ. of Washington, $16.95 paper 184p ISBN 0-295-98142-3; Dec.)

Paper Portals to History

In The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Southeast, Theda Perdue (Cherokee Women) and Michael D. Green (The Creeks), University of North Carolina professors of, respectively, history and American studies, track the various Southeastern peoples from the pre-Columbian period of societal development through the invasion by Europeans, the colonial era, the exile of the "Five Civilized Tribes" to Oklahoma and the experience of those who stayed in the Southeast. Taking a decidedly more conventional, less postmodern approach than its counterpart on Asian America (see below), this volume examines not only the history but also the methodologies, attitudes and assumptions common to the historical study of American Indians. Photos. (Columbia Univ., $45 356p ISBN 0-231-11570-9; Dec.)

Gary Y. Okihiro (Margins and Mainstreams), professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, presents a compelling survey of 200 years of Asian-American experience and of its scholarly treatment in The Columbia Guide to Asian American History. Providing both a metanarrative about inherent historiographical problems, such as assumptions made in chronologies, and the histories and chronologies themselves, Okihiro discusses the persistent underestimations of the Hawaiian population before Captain Cook reached the islands in 1778; the relegation to textbooks, however exemplary, of Asian-American women's history; and the role of labor in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. (Columbia Univ., $45 352p ISBN 0-231-11510-5; Dec.)

Film Notes

Dietrich fans, sit up and take notice. Marlene Dietrich: Photographs and Memories, compiled by Jean-Jacques Naud and captioned by Maria Riva, offers hundreds of photographs of the pack rat's possessions (her dog tags, her cigarette case, her clothing and letters to and from lovers), and, of course, snapshots and publicity stills of the incomparable Dietrich herself (in her "Eisenhower battle jacket" and in her gowns and jewels). Touching reminiscences from Josef von Sternberg and Jean Cocteau, among others, round out this valuable addition to the wealth of books dedicated to the German actress who became one of America's greatest icons. (Knopf, $40 288p ISBN 0-375-40534-8; 262 b&w photos, 32 pps of full-color photos; Nov.)

What do Anna and the King, Basic Instinct and La Dolce Vita have in common? All have faced censorship for political, religious, sexual or social reasons. In the vein of 100 Banned Books (and from the same imprint) comes Forbidden Films: Censorship Histories of 125 Motion Pictures. The title says it all, almost—but in addition to outlining each film's troubles with decency boards, however formal or informal, Dawn B. Sova offers plot summaries, production details and suggestions for further reading. And since each film entry can be digested in under five minutes, it's both a handy basic reference and a good coffee break read. (Checkmark, $55 384p ISBN 0-8160-4017-6; $16.95 paper 352p -4336-1; Nov.)

Hollywood may shelve its bomb movies and Law & Order may cut the Twin Towers out of its opening credits, but it's full steam ahead for Jerome F. Shapiro's Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film. From "prototypical bomb films" such as 1927's Metropolis to modern farces like The Naked Gun 2½, Shapiro, an assistant professor at Hiroshima University, examines hundreds of movies that deal with survival in the face of destructive power. It's a dense and scholarly volume, and one that film students will pounce upon. Others might, too, if they buy Shapiro's thesis that "atomic bomb cinema is the paradigmatic site of struggle over cultural power for our times." (Routledge, $85 384p ISBN 0-415-93659-4; $24.95 paper -60-8; Nov.)

Songwriting Greats

When Hank Williams died in the backseat of a car at age 29, he left behind grieving fans, friends and family, as well as eight guns, eight pairs of boots, 11 hats and a saddle. Hank Williams: Snapshots from the Lost Highway by Colin Escott and Kira Florita gathers together just about every last piece of paper having anything do to with country music's greatest and most tragic star (hence the postmortem inventory). Much of the material is new: included in this volume are the handwritten lyrics to 30 songs never recorded or published, private family correspondence and some 150 previously unpublished photographs, including Hank's first baby photo. (Da Capo, $35 192p ISBN 0-306-81052-2; Nov.)

With "God Bless America" sung at every public event and Irving Berlin's name on the lips of every network anchor (Berlin wrote the anthem in 1938) there's bound to be new interest in The Complete Works of Irving Berlin. Editors Robert Kimball and Linda Emmet focus on Berlin's lyrics, of course, but also provide brief biographical vignettes in this oversized compendium. That the master of American music wrote alternative, humorous verses to what's now his most famous song ("God bless America/ Land I enjoy/ No discussions with the Russians/ Till they stop sending arms to Hanoi") is just one of the small but fascinating revelations. Illus. (Knopf, $60 576p ISBN 0-679-41943-8; Nov.)

November Publication

With such noted writers as Joan Didion, Mary Jo Salter, Alice Walker and Gloria Steinem, this compilation of images and words commemorating some of the world's most powerful women is invaluable. Legends: Women Who Have Changed the World Through the Eyes of Great Women Writers, edited by John Miller, celebrates eminent women like Anna Pavlova, Jane Goodall, Mother Theresa, Oprah, Frida Kahlo and Virginia Woolf from the perspectives of other women luminaries. Brief biographies of the 50 women featured are provided at the end. (New World Library, $19.95 paper 128p ISBN 1-57731-042-X; Nov.)

October Publications

Whether lamenting the paucity of power in revolutionary-era Congress or asking a friend to find him a wife in Carolina, founding father Alexander Hamilton was earnest, passionate and articulate. In Hamilton: Writings, Joanne B. Freeman (Affairs of Honor), assistant history professor at Yale, has assembled 170 letters, essays, reports and speeches from 1769 to 1804. Describing himself as "[c]old in my professions, warm in my friendships," Hamilton indeed exhibits a range of expression, emotion and restraint. Extensive wartime correspondence, 51 contributions to The Federalist, the famous speech to the Constitutional Convention, courtship letters and many more items will interest all fans of American history. (Library of America, $40 1,134p ISBN 1-931082-04-9; Oct.)

In the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan hosted a daily national radio program, for which he wrote his own commentary. In Stories in His Own Hand: The Everyday Wisdom of Ronald Reagan, edited by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, 30 of his broadcasts and 6 pieces written at other times are collected alongside facsimiles of the original handwritten documents. Offering inspirational words on many key events, institutions and experiences—death, marriage, Christmas, religion, sports, war, the media—Reagan waxes warm and fuzzy and sometimes critical. He comes down on antiwar protesters and lauds American soldiers with a story of 10 veterans who asked to go back to help the Vietnamese after being discharged; he demonstrates the "civilizing influence" of women with a story of a brave hostess in colonial India. Fans of Reagan and of heartwarming Americana will enjoy this little book, with a foreword by George Shultz. (Free Press, $21 144p ISBN 0-7432-2655-0; Oct.)

Canadian photographer and motivational speaker Barry Shainbaum offers readers a well-intentioned but rather feebly executed volume in Hope and Heroes: Portraits in Integrity. Some 47 public figures chosen for their good deeds or inspirational messages pose for pictures that range from Maya Angelou in a living room to Martin Sheen in handcuffs. Unfortunately, the accompanying text, written by Madelaine Palko and Shannon Fitzgerald, is workmanlike at best. But when psychic and spoon-bender Uri Geller follows Arun Gandhi, Mahatma's grandson, it's hard not to agree that at least the choice of people is intriguing. (Hushion House, $37 112p ISBN 0-9688645-0-3; Oct.)