I highlight three moments that illustrate the ways through which Asian Americans became racialized as “not-black” during the mid-twentieth century. First, in the midst of the debate surrounding the Moynihan report in the mid-1960s, the popular media, social scientists, and government officials drew on the established idea of exemplary Chinese American households to make explicit comparisons between Chinese and African Americans, whose families they characterized as pathological. Second, public discussions of Japanese Americans’ recovery from the trauma internment, framed as a “success story,” proposed that Japanese Americans’ postwar mobility serve as a model for solving the socio-economic crisis of African Americans. And third, proponents of Hawaiian statehood in the 1940s and 1950s described the islands as a racial paradise, in contrast to the troubled American South, and framed admission as a reward to’s Asian residents for conducting themselves in a non-confrontational, harmonious, and implicitly not-black manner. These examples suggest that the presence and actions of Asians in American society simultaneously complicated, yet reinforced, the central black-white racial paradigm during the early years of the Cold War and the Civil Rights era.
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