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Japan and African Americans from the Russo-Japanese War to Pearl Harbor
- Ben Karp
From the Russo-Japanese to the Pacific War, mutual admiration flourished between Japanese nationalists and globally minded black Americans. The 1905 victory of the non-white Japan over a “white” Russia was such a public and momentous reversal of general assumptions about race and ability that the great black American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois could conclude; “the magic of the word ‘white’ is already broken, and the Color Line in civilization has been crossed.” Du Bois visited Japan in 1936 lending credibility to the empire’s colonial aspirations and claims that it stood against Western supremacy. Meanwhile, agents of Japan befriended Harlem street preachers and toured black colleges praising black resistance and promoting their own emerging Co-prosperity sphere as an achievement of pan-Asian harmony.
Ben Karp’s talk will outline African-American – Japanese relations from 1905 – 1941, demonstrating how the rise of Japan impacted black thinking about race and power and, in turn, how early twentieth century black writers and activists inspired Japanese nationalists to present their drive for empire as an expression of anti-racism not aggression. Most importantly, the talk will suggest why this historical correspondence, long ignored, still matters and can yet provide meaningful insights into race, nationalism and cross cultural politics.