A DIFFERENT MIRROR by Ronald Takaki

A DIFFERENT MIRROR

A History of Multicultural America

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A valuable survey of the American experience of several racial and ethnic minorities: readable popular history in the mode of Takaki's Strangers from a Different Shore (1989). Most multicultural histories focus on a single group and target a special-interest audience, but Takaki (Ethnic Studies/UC at Berkeley) opens the door wider by bringing together the viewpoints of Native Americas, Africans, Mexicans, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, and Jews, along with the changing attitudes of the ``civilized'' colonizing English and, later, WASP establishment. To the author, the ruling class incorrectly conceptualized America for centuries as a white country (``the lovely White,'' in Benjamin Franklin's words), only really confronting American racism after Hitler demonstrated where such ideology could lead. As in his Iron Cages (1979), Takaki avoids looking at groups in isolation: He stresses underlying cultural themes (the repeated debate among whites about whether racial ``inferiority'' is due to nature or nurture; the ruling class's strategy of appealing to race to thwart alliances of ``the giddy multitude'' of laborers and landless poor), as well as intergroup relations and mutual visions, both positive (a Mexican-Japanese labor alliance) and negative (the Irish--whose treatment by the English made them identify strongly with African-Americans--almost immediately adopted attitudes of racial superiority in the US). Along with standard historical sources, Takaki uses folk songs, poetry, and memoir to evoke the words and feelings of ordinary people. Condensing centuries of history into a chapter or two for each group unavoidably leads to oversimplification and occasionally familiar material; still, an excellent jumping-off place, with bibliographic notes pointing the way for further reading. (Photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: June 10th, 1993
ISBN: 0-316-83112-3
Page count: 520pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993




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