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.
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, we invited Harold Augenbraum, Roberto Bedoya, Ego Trip Magazine, Das Racist,
Thuy Linh Tu and Latoya Peterson editor of Racialicious to break down exactly what do we talk about when we talk about race?
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. We’ve asked Dan Charnas, Negin Farsad, Neela Vaswani, Reihan Salam, Christian Lander, and David Roediger to join in on the fun.
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. Kazembe Balagun, Hiram Perez, Salamishah Tillet, Hua Hsu, Jay Smooth, Jeff Chang, and Elizabeth Mendez Berry attempt to answer the decades-old question, “Why can’t we all just get along?”.
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—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 transformed into a multiracial one, enfolding Latino residents and
Korean shop owners. Eddie Huang, Paul Beatty, Kai Ma, Wesley Yang, Nicholas Lemann, and Lisa Arrastia share their thoughts.
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). Sophia Chang, Carolina González, Jack Tchen, dream hampton, Vijay Prashad, and Rinku Sen take us down memory lane.