First Page

Introduction to Volume Seven: Confessing Racial Schizophrenia Last spring I taught a class in literary theory, a course I have taught so many times before that it has become almost routine. Since I need to run through all of the methods of literary criticism in a single semester, race criticism only gets one week; indeed, it shares that one week with postcolonial criticism. One student, knowing I also teach classes in Asian American and multi-ethnic literature, asked me which of Derrick Bell’s two terms I believe in, defined by Lois Tyson as racial idealism: the conviction that racial equality can be achieved by changing people’s (often unconscious) racist attitudes through such means as education, campus codes against racist speech, positive media representations of minority groups (Delgado and Stefancic 20), and the use of the law (Bell, “Racial Realism” 308).[...] Racial realism, in sharp contrast is the conviction that racial equality will never be achieved in the United States and that African Americans should, therefore, stop believing that it will. (382) Due to the bare-bones nature of the course, I had never even gone over these specific terms with students before, let alone been asked to testify as to my own beliefs. On one level, the question posed to a white scholar and educator focused for the last twenty-five years on ethnic American literature seems to have an obvious answer. Of course I believe that whites are capable of overcoming prejudice and that education changes our world for the better. If I didn’t, I would have found a different job a long time ago. However, I could not deny that my own view of the world has been profoundly shaken in the last few years. One key factor was a series of racial hate crimes that occurred on my own campus. Some young men in the dorms began racially taunting their African American suite-mate with the phrase “three-fifths” and even locked a u-lock around his neck. The fact that not only were these college students—people who had been deemed to have the intellectual capacity for college and achieving within the top thirty percent of their high schools (the measure for admission to California State Universities)—they also used a term that they must have learned about in some school lesson about the Missouri Compromise. They were not being transformed by education but were instead using distorted bits of education for the purposes of racial hazing. This incident has made we rethink the faith I have always placed in education as a force to transform us for the better. This feeling of disconnect between my faith in the enormous potential of education, literature, and the law to engender equality, and the recognition of the limitations of social change was heightened in my mind this year by the U.S.



Document Type

Editor's Introduction


A short meditation on teaching ethnic American literature in 2016, acknowledgments, and a summary of this volume's contents.



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