March 16, 2023

Supplementing the Peril–Model Binary with the Yellow–White Peril Binary

Paper abstract for the 2023 Association for Asian American Studies Conference in Long Beach, CA:
The theorization and historiography concerning the twists and turns of the peril–model binary has been one of Asian American studies’ great efforts for combating racism and white universalism. However, with the US imperial decline and (re-)rise of Asian universalisms, classroom presentations of the peril–model binary can sometimes have inadvertent negative effects. For example, in learning the history of Asian exclusion and postwar model minoritization (and on the global scale, US empire’s orientation toward universalizing liberal democracy), the undergraduate Chinese international student might regard the increasing sequestration of
China as proof of the binary in action, thereby validating Chinese nationalism and “defensive” military posture. How might Asian American studies classrooms present the peril–model binary in a way that does not fuel Asian universalisms? By supplementing the peril–model binary with the yellow–white peril binary, the former is better historically contextualized as an inter-imperial debate regarding the teleology of “civilization,” which is used by empires both East and West to justify war and racial violence. My presentation will highlight secondary literature in Asian/American studies and historical primary sources suitable for undergraduates to analyze the yellow–white peril binary across three eras: 1895-WWI (rise of Japan, when the “White Peril” was first debated), 1930s-60s (the US-Japan “race war” and competing liberal-pluralisms in the transpacific, shifting to the Cold War with a similar dynamic), and 1980s-present (competition over the administration of neoliberal individualism).

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