The dialectical configuration of black inclusion/Chinese exclusion is at the center of Edlie Wong
's book Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship
(New York University Press, 2015). At the end of the 19th
century, the southern United States was experimenting with a transition from a dependency on uncompensated, coerced labor in the form of black chattel slavery, to a system of (nominally) voluntary, wage labor i.e. Chinese contract labor (coolieism), modeled most prominently in nearby colonial Cuba. Wong poses the important question of whether coolieism constituted a form of slavery or was indeed, a transition to free labor. In so doing, Racial Reconstruction
explores the implications of mutually constitutive African American and Chinese American racialized identity formations, the Chinese Question, and the Negro Problem being coterminous: Chinese exclusion--the exception that proved the rule--helped America define itself as a free nation in the wake of racial slavery.
Wong's use of unusual documentary sources such as the underexamined archive of Anglo-American Cuban travelogues and invasion fiction by both African and European Americans, limns the changing racial landscape of Reconstruction-era immigration policies and conceptions of citizenship that shaped Asian-American cultural politics and impacted African American life.
Professor Wong's next project, mentioned toward the end of the interview, concerns apprenticeship
and not indenture as indicated.
Mireille Djenno is the Librarian for African, African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.