Scott Kurashige

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Scott Kurashige


Scott Kurashige is a Professor at the University of Washington, Bothell.

Education

  • PhD, History, UCLA
  • MA, Asian American Studies, UCLA
  • BA, History, University of Pennsylvania[1]

Writing

  • The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, co-authored with Grace Lee Boggs (University of California Press, 2011); updated and expanded paperback edition with new preface and afterword with Immanuel Wallerstein (University of California Press, 2012).
  • The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton University Press, 2008) in the “Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America” series edited by William Chafe, Gary Gerstle, Linda Gordon, and Julian Zelizer

. Kurashige's articles have appeared in multiple anthologies and journals, including Afro-Hispanic Review, Amerasia Journal, Journal of Asian American Studies, and The Journal of American History.

Currently, he is working on four book projects on the following topics:

  • Economic crisis and radical activism in Detroit
  • Asian Americans in the media spotlight
  • Asian American community activism and the politics of multiracial urban space
  • A community-authored oral history of Japanese Americans in Detroit [2]

Student activist

In 1993 Scott Kurashige was a student activist, and graduate student in Asian Studies at the UOC, Los Angeles. He contributed an article to Freedom Road Socialist Organization's Forward Motion March/April edition, with assistance from George Cheng, and Jeff Chang.

Radicalization

Scott Kurashige is one of thousands whose lives were immensely touched by Yuri Kochiyama.

Not all of those people are Asian American, but for those who are, Yuri directly and indirectly helped us connect our own identity struggles to the broader and more radical struggle for human liberation.

Kurashige's first encounter with Yuri Kochiyama was in the fall of 1990. She was among the featured speakers at the landmark conference Malcolm X: Radical Tradition and a Legacy of Struggle, held in New York City to mark the 25th anniversary of Malcolm’s assassination.

In fact it wasn’t much of an encounter at all. We had driven into the city from out of town and I missed Yuri’s panel on the opening day. I only remember seeing this small-framed, bespectacled elderly East Asian woman sitting in the audience many rows away in a large auditorium. One of my friends spotted Yuri’s name listed in the program and recalled hearing of a Japanese American woman who was Malcolm’s close friend. Another friend said, “She must have been the woman whom people were constantly coming up to hug and kiss.
Scott Kurashige (top left) with Yuri Kochiyama and other participants at the Serve the People Conference at UCLA in May 1998

Having been immersed within the old Eurocentric curriculum "I never took seriously in high school, I went into college with little sense of direction or purpose. I was quite clear that I was too much of a slacker or smart ass to pursue the stereotypical Asian American path of science, engineering, or medicine. That left business as the default option. Money is the medium of exchange in a capitalist order, and it’s an easily quantifiable way to measure success when you don’t have higher cultural or humanitarian aspiration"s.

My politicization began in 1988, when I decided I ought to at least read the newspaper on a regular basis and become an “informed” American voter. For a variety of reasons—the controversy over Iran-Contra, the ballooning deficit, rebelling against my Republican-leaning father—I had developed a superficially bad taste for Reagan and Bush. During the primary season I somehow committed to Michael Dukakis (Jesse Jackson had seemed a bit too extreme) and subsequently volunteered for his presidential campaign during my sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dukakis was in his own way a decent and down-to-earth guy. Some years later, I even crossed paths with him riding the shuttle bus at UCLA. I thought about introducing myself and telling him of the formative role he had played in my turn toward radical activism. Who knows where my life might have headed if he had won? But combined with my increasing exposure to the sharp forms of racial segregation and class inequality that existed in Philly, Dukakis’s colossal defeat led directly to my search for a deeper and more radical analysis of social change that would take me far beyond the limits of mainstream political thought.
What I most immediately felt was the palpable divide between the wealthy campus and its impoverished surroundings (that have since been spectacularly gentrified). I changed majors from economics to history, and truth be told my focus was really African American history. The black/white contradiction was so sharp in the city that I felt I couldn’t make sense of my place in the world without studying it.
What I learned in those classes has stayed with me to this day. I still consider African American Studies to be one of my primary areas of work and scholarship. And yet, despite my altered course, my undergrad curriculum never truly addressed the concerns, dilemmas, and confusion I felt as an Asian American living in a city and nation that were largely defined in the binary discourse of race relations.
But the most important thing to recall is that the critical lessons in history and politics I received came from outside the classroom. The same is generally true for most young people today. At the University of Michigan, popular education and consciousness raising continues through extracurricular programs and events held in the Yuri Kochiyama Lounge and through outreach to high school students through the Yuri Kochiyama Project.

One of the seminal moments for Kurashige was meeting Yuri in 1991 at a small campus event organized by Ellen Somekawa for Penn’s Greenfield Intercultural Center. Yuri came by herself, taking a series of trains from Harlem and accepting a token honorarium. I was immediately transfixed—though I’m embarrassed to admit now that I was not simply moved by her wisdom, I was also amazed in an ageist fashion that she was still organizing at the age of 70! (n.b. I’m writing this while preparing for the political activities surrounding Grace Lee Boggs’s ninety-ninth birthday.)

We were blown away by Yuri’s sweeping view of history and fierce commitment to revolutionary activism, complemented by her unmistakable humility and eagerness to learn from others. I remember we were contemplating among the group how Asian Americans should respond to the community boycott of the Korean American-owned Red Apple Store in Brooklyn. When I said I thought it was important to find some common point of struggle, Yuri asked me to elaborate on that thought. Then she offered encouraging praise after I said something loosely coherent about African Americans and Asian Americans needing to come together to condemn the banks for redlining and exploitation of communities of color. I still have a tape recording of that presentation somewhere in storage.

Next I was given the honor to write her entry for the Japanese American National Museum’s history encyclopedia. Several years later, I went to see her in Harlem to ask if she would participate in the Serve the People Conference, which I helped coordinate in Los Angeles in 1998. In their joint appearance, Yuri and Grace Lee Boggs dropped bombs of wisdom and brought down the house. Many people have since told me what a historic and life-changing gathering that was. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the only time Yuri and Grace ever shared the stage.

Visiting Yuri in her high-rise apartment complex was an unforgettable experience. Fortified by countless tons of concrete, it was redolent of America’s aborted mid-20th century effort to provide affordable housing for the masses—the exact sort of structures that have been disparaged and torn down in big cities all over the map, beginning with the infamous demolition of Minoru Yamasaki’s Pruitt-Igoe and the more recent destruction of much-maligned but culturally rich places like Chicago’s Cabrini Green and Detroit’s Brewster Projects.

Kurashige's friend Eric Tang had told him that the first time he visited Yuri, his brother taught him to “bring a bear.”

While I utterly failed that first-time visitor test, I tried to atone by giving Yuri a plush UCLA bruin as a thank you for speaking at the Serve the People Conference. The following year I bought her a Cal bear when she spoke at the Asian Left Forum at UC Berkeley. For some reason, she decided to mention me twice in connection with these events in her autobiography, Passing It On. The fact that many other folks worked much more closely with Yuri than I did shows how much she went out of her way to acknowledge every respect paid to her and honor every contribution large or small to movement building.[3]

FRSO

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In 1996 Scott Kurashige was a contributing editor to Freedom Road Socialist Organization's Forward Motion.

He was also a member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization's Asian Pacific American Commission.

Forward Motion, Spring 1996

"Support Bill Ayers"

In October 2008, several thousand college professors, students and academic staff signed a statement Support Bill Ayers in solidarity with former Weather Underground Organization terrorist Bill Ayers.

In the run up to the U.S. presidential elections, Ayers had come under considerable media scrutiny, sparked by his relationship to presidential candidate Barack Obama.

We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack...
We, the undersigned, stand on the side of education as an enterprise devoted to human inquiry, enlightenment, and liberation. We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.

Scott Kurashige of the University of Michigan signed the statement[4].

AAU event

Friday, April 29. 2013 Asian Americans United Exhibit Closing Night & Special Forum on the Shifting Politics of Race at Cedar Works.

Exhibit Closing Night: (5:30 to 6:45 pm) Your last chance to view AAU’s exhibit, We Cannot Keep Silent, at the Philadelphia Folklore Project (735 S. 50th Street). Curated by Helen Gym, Ellen Somekawa and Joanie May Cordova. Featuring photos by Harvey Finkle and Kathy Shimizu, first person voices of boycott participants, and oral histories.

Special Forum (7pm): Speaker presentations followed by dialogue time. Light Refreshments will be served.

Speakers:

  • Scott Kurashige, Ph.D: Asian American Movements, Anti-Asian Violence & the Intersection with African American History
  • John Elliott Churchville, Ph.D., J.D.: African American Movements in Philadelphia & the Intersection with Asian American History.[5]

Ear to the Ground Project

Ear to the Ground Project;

We would like to express our deep respect and appreciation for everyone who took the time to talk with us, and the organizations that generously hosted us during our travels. Interviews were confidential, but the following people have agreed to have their names listed for this publication:

Most of those listed were connected to Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Scott Kurashige was among those on the list. [6]

References