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Imagining a Black Pacific: Dispossession in Afro-Korean Literary Encounters

Huh, Jang Wook

"Imagining a Black Pacific" traces a literary history of political and cultural interaction between African Americans and Koreans from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. It argues that black and Korean authors explored literary modes of antiracial solidarity against the Japanese and U.S. empires. Building on diverse archives of U.S. missionary and Korean Christian texts, State Department records, and military documents, as well as literary works, periodicals, and jazz songs, this dissertation examines the mediums and modalities of Afro-Asian aesthetic connection that invoked human freedom and liberation in transnational and multilingual contexts. Black intellectuals and Korean writers drew a parallel between the racialized U.S. and colonized Korea to contest the racial formations of the Japanese empire in an Asian cultural space until the end of the Pacific War. This cross-racial comparison challenged the imperialistic imposition of U.S. politics upon the Pacific Rim during the Cold War era.
"Imagining a Black Pacific" is an interdisciplinary project that explores three facets of "Afro-Korean" connectedness: the trans-Pacific literary trajectories of W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Langston Hughes, Eslanda and Paul Robeson, and J. B. Lenoir; the enduring elaborations of black radicalism by Korean writers such as Yun Chi-ho, Han Heuk-gu, and Bae In-cheol in Korea; and U.S. missionaries' intervention in cultural exchanges between African Americans and Koreans. Examining these three distinctive transcultural encounters, my work brings into focus the complicated configurations of an Afro-Asian alliance. It highlights the self-reflexive disorientation of so-called Afro-Orientalism and explores the experimental commensurabilities between U.S. racism and East Asian colonialism, facilitated by Afro-Korean critical inquiries into two forms of imperialism in Korea, namely, Japan's colonization of Korea and U.S. military intervention in Korea.
While scholars have focused critical attention on the political alliance between African Americans and Asians, Korea has gone long unexplored in Afro-Asian conjunctures. By extending the scope of Afro-Asian convergences, this dissertation not only fills in Korea's absence in previous studies but also reconstructs lost legacies of black internationalism in the Pacific. In particular, it reconsiders Afro-Orientalism by exploring Koreans' deployment of African American cultural sources to engender anticolonial discourses. At the same time, it uncovers black intellectuals' investigations of racism in Asian and U.S.-Asian contexts. Afro-Korean connections, or the interplay between African Americans' antiracial sensibility and Koreans' anticolonial consciousness, made sensible the hidden forms of racism in the Japanese and U.S. empires beyond the black-white racial binary. By bridging the long-standing gulf between black and Korean cultures, this study opens up new scholarly terrain in the fields of African American literature and culture, comparative race studies, and Asian/Pacific studies.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Edwards, Brent Hayes
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 13, 2014
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