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In Pursuit of A Double-Edged Sword: The Politics of Racial Liberalism and Racial Triangulation in Seattle, 1940-1975

  • Author(s): Chen, Su-Shuan
  • Advisor(s): Molina, Natalia
  • Dorr, Kirstie
  • et al.
Abstract

“In Pursuit of A Double-Edged Sword: The Politics of Racial Liberalism and Racial Triangulation in Seattle, 1940-1975” examines the historical constructions of racial liberalism in Seattle and analyzes their impact on the sociopolitical standing of the city’s Asian Americans and African Americans, its two largest nonwhite communities. Between 1940 and 1975, programs and accomplishments in the area of racial politics reinforced a widespread notion that Seattle, a city amenable to liberal policies and social experimentation, had few racial problems. While many major cities experienced outbreaks of racial violence and witnessed development of expansive ghettoes during this period, Seattle was never site to any race riots, nor did it have any ghettoes comparable in size or deterioration to those that would capture the national spotlight in the 1960s. Bolstering perceptions of Seattle as a paragon of race relations were a series of prominent undertaking by city officials and residents that sought to promote core tenets of racial liberalism--such as racial integration, multiculturalism, and cosmopolitanism—as well as allocate unprecedented levels of civic resources and government assistance funds to nonwhite populations. Using four such projects as case studies, I explore the implications that Seattle’s brand of racial liberalism bore for national constructions of racial hierarchies and white privilege during the height of U.S. liberal politics. Throughout my analyses, I will demonstrate that racial liberalism was a double-edged sword for Seattle’s nonwhite populations. Even though Asian Americans and African Americans gained unprecedented access to socioeconomic mobility and governmental resources, a critical examination of Seattle’s racial liberalist projects reveals that socioeconomic gains were very limited and were frequently circumscribed by political devices that served to reinforce white privilege and racial triangulation of the city’s Asian Americans and African Americans. In the end, racial liberalism and racial triangulation served to position the city’s Asian Americans and African Americans against one another in competition for resources while still allocating the lion’s share to white populations. Such developments in a city that labeled itself to be a paragon of racial liberalism is thus highly instructive of how comparable projects functioned on a national scale.

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