AFTER 1989: Race After Multiculturalism

The '90s are back! Although they're being resurrected as the age of Cosby sweaters, animated gifs and 16-bit Nintendo soundtracks, the 1990s were stranger and more complex than youth culture nostalgia. As the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Cold War came to a close, the US found itself in the age of multiculturalism, premised on the belief we could all just get along, and a decade divided with tense, often surreal, racial spectacle. The Asian American Writers' Workshop presents an alternative racial history of the 1990s through a feisty five-part event series that's part symposium, part late night talk show, part Youtube nostalgia-fest.

AFTER 1989: Race After Multiculturalism

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Race?

Monday, March 5, 2012, 7PM 
powerHouse Arena, 37 Main Street  Brooklyn, NY
Free to the public


Featuring: HAROLD AUGENBRAUM (National Book Foundation), ROBERTO BEDOYA (Tucson Pima Arts Council), SACHA JENKINS (Ego Trip Magazine), ASHOK KONDABOLU (Das Racist), JEFFERSON MAO (Ego Trip Magazine), LATOYA PETERSON (Racialicious), HIMANSHU SURI (Das Racist), THUY LINH TU (NYU), VICTOR VAZQUEZ (Das Racist)
Exhibits: The Canon, NEA Litigation

Much of ‘90s multiculturalism was less about race than inventing polite ways to talk about racial taboos. Terms like “diversity” and “political correctness” blunted the unsavory aspects of dealing with racism, even as the right struggled to make English the national language and tamp down transgressive art, multicultural threats to the canon, and Ebonics. To kick off AFTER 1989, Ego Trip Magazine, the folks who gave us The Big Book of Racism, curates a slideshow of racialized advertisements—with call and response by hip hop trio Das Racist, who will judges the caliber of the images from quirky, race-conscious to downright, “Yo, that’s racist!” National Book Foundation Executive Director Harold Augenbraum, early proponent of Latino and Asian American literature, discusses the canon. Roberto Bedoya discusses the litigation between artist Karen Finley and the National Endowment for the Arts at the height of the Culture Wars—for which he was co-plaintiff. NYU Professor Thuy Linh Tu interviews Latoya Peterson, editor of Racialiciousthe preeminent blog at the intersection of race and pop culture—to break down how the Internet has unleashed the Pandora’s Box of racial discourse. 

A project of The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, where we’re inventing the future of Asian American intellectual culture.

White Noise

Thursday, March 8, 2012, 7PM
CUNY Graduate Center, The Proshansky Auditorium, 365 5th Avenue, New York, NY
Free to the public


Featuring: DAN CHARNAS (The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop), NEGIN FARSAD (50 Funniest Women, Huffington Post) CHRISTIAN LANDER (Stuff White People Like), DAVID ROEDIGER (Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class), REIHAN SALAM (Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream), JAMIA WILSON (Women’s Media Center), NEELA VASWANI (You Have Given Me a Country)

Exhibits: Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” Grunge, Sassy Magazine, Multiracial White Identity, The White Audience

Titled after Don DeLillo’s White Noise, in which identity politics reaches its reductio ad absurdum in a Hitler Studies department, our second AFTER 1989 installment explores the curious phenomenon of white ethnic identity in the 1990s. Think back to a time when Bill Clinton was called the “first African American President,” when Samuel Huntington claimed we were in a “Clash of Civilizations,” when the militia movement erupted in the Waco shootout and the Oklahoma City bombings—and when Asian Americans were positioned as “honorary whites” in the affirmative action debates. We’ve asked influential US labor historian and pioneer of critical whiteness studies, David Roediger (Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, University of Illinois), to join Christian Lander, the mind behind the meme and NY Times bestselling book Stuff White People Like, and National Review Contributing Editor Reihan Salam to talk about white racial formation. Dan Charnas explains what Vanilla Ice can tell us about race. American Book Award-winner Neela Vaswani, a multiracial author of Indian and Irish descent, talks about her white ethnic heritage. Jamia Wilson (CSPAN, CBS News, Good Magazine) talks Sassy Magazine and Negin Farsad (Nerdcore Rising, The Watch List on Comedy Central) talks about doing stand-up for white audiences.

A project of The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, where we’re inventing the future of Asian American intellectual culture.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Friday, March 16, 2012, 7PM
Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art, 80 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY


Featuring: KAZEMBE BALAGUN (Brecht Forum), ELIZABETH MENDEZ BERRY (The Nation), JEFF CHANG (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop), HUA HSU (Grantland), HIRAM PEREZ (Vassar College), JAY SMOOTH (Ill Doctrine), SALAMISHAH TILLET (A Long Walk Home)

Exhibits: Family Matters, “We are Tiger Woods,” “Selling Out”

Two decades ago, Rodney King famously asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?” The question might as well have served as the defining question of the multicultural moment, in which the US attempted to dream about what a pluralistic society would look like—from GOP Family Values to the black middle-class aplomb of Family Matters, whether in elite college admissions or Star Trek: The Next Generation. Hua Hsu (Grantland, The Atlantic Monthly) revisits the notion of “selling out,” that street cred-sapping compromising of authenticity that would be completely unintelligible to a contemporary artist. Kazembe Balagun (Brecht Forum) discusses Family Matters and black kitsch.  Hiram Perez (Vassar College) interprets the universal “Cablinasian” identity of Tiger Woods. Salamishah Tillet (UPenn, co-founder of A Long Walk Home) talks feminism and the legacy of Anita Hill. We conclude with a roundtable with cultural critic Jeff Chang (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation), journalist Elizabeth Mendez Berry (cited as an inspiration by Jay-Z) and DJ Jay Smooth (Ill Doctrine) to answer the decades-old question, “Why can’t we all just get along?”. The event takes place at MoCADA’s show, THE BOX THAT ROCKS: 30 Years of Video Music Box and the Rise of Hip Hop Music & Culture.

A project of The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, where we’re inventing the future of Asian American intellectual culture.

Are Asians Black?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012, 7PM
Museum of the Chinese in Americas, 215 Centre Street, New York, NY
$5 Admission; Tickets for sale at door


Featuring: LISA ARRASTIA (principal at United Nations International School), PAUL BEATTY (White Boy Shuffle, Tuff), EDDIE HUANG (Cooking Channel), NICHOLAS LEMANN (The Big Test), KAI MA (New American Media award-winner), WESLEY YANG (New York Magazine)

Exhibits: “Those Asian American Whiz Kids,” “Meritocracy,” “The Chinese Take-Out Joint”

We all think we know the answer to this question—Asians are not black, right? But in the nineteenth century, one California court actually determined that Chinese Americans were black—since they were not, after all, white. This panel—titled after Janine Young Kim’s seminal essay, itself a ‘90s product—discusses how Asians and Blacks have been positioned as not just different, but set against each other, whether in the L.A. Riots or college admissions. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the LA Riots/LA Uprising/Sa-i-gu, but what’s often unremarked upon is how quickly a Black-White conflict (the LAPD vs King) transformed into a multiracial one, enfolding Latino residents and Korean shop owners. Novelist Paul Beatty (White Boy Shuffle) and AAWW’s Kai Ma (former editor of Koream Journal) present about the Riots, as we show video footage from Visual Communications. Blacks and Asians were also pitted against each other during the ‘90s debates over college admissions, consisting of attacks on affirmative action (Prop. 209) and right-wing tracts (The Bell Curve and The End of Racism) that set blacks against an Asian American model minority stereotype. These will be discussed by educator Lisa Arrastia (author of Starting Up: Critical Lessons from 10 New Schools), Columbia Journalism school dean Nicholas Lemann (The Big Test: The Secret History of American Meritocracy) and Wesley Yang (New York Magazine and 2011 Artist Fellowship recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts). Chef Eddie Huang (Baohaus, Cheap Bites on the Cooking channel) talks about Chinese take-out joints, name-checked by Jadakiss, as a site of black-Asian interactions.

A project of The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, where we’re inventing the future of Asian American intellectual culture. This presentation is co-sponsored by Artists & Audiences Exchange, a NYFA public program, funded with leadership support from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).


Tuesday, March 27, 2012, 7PM
Brecht Forum, 451 West Street, New York, NY
$6 Admission

Purchase Tickets Here

Featuring: SOPHIA CHANG (A Better Tomorrow), CAROLINA GONZÁLEZ (WNYC), DREAM HAMPTON (Vibe, Rap Pages, Jay-Z’s Decoded), VIJAY PRASHAD (Trinity), RINKU SEN (Applied Research Center), JOHN KUO-WEI TCHEN (NYU)

Exhibits:  Wu-Tang Clan, “Heritage Holidays,” Gender + Hip Hop

DJ hit replay! Or shall we manually rewind this nostalgic cassette tape with a discerning finger to your favorite awkward 1990s multiculti blunders? The ’90s gave us “Sister Souljah moments,” the OJ Simpson hearings, the rise of xenophobic legislation (Prop 187 and 209) and homophobic punditry on national television (Jerry Falwell vs the Teletubbies). Carolina González (WNYC, Nueva York: the Complete Guide to Latino Life in the Five Boroughs) discusses the rise of “The Crossover,” by which ethnic pop products migrate to the mainstream. Music producer Sophia Chang talks Wu-Tang Clan and John Kuo-Wei Tchen (New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture) sits us down for the origin stories of “heritage holidays” and “multiculturalism centers.” Vijay Prashad (The Karma of the Brown Folk) gives a short talk on how the demise of multiculturalism has left racism alive and kicking in colorblind Obama-America. Prashad joins a panel conversation with dream hampton, Vibe contributing writer and collaborating author of Jay-Z’s Decoded, and Rinku Sen (Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization), president of the Applied Research Center and publisher of Colorlines

A project of The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, where we’re inventing the future of Asian American intellectual culture.