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East Meets Left: Politics, Culture and Asian-American Jazz

Jon Jang
Miya Masaoka
Vijay Iyer
Fred Ho

If jazz is any barometer, the issue of race in the U.S. is still largely two dimensional: black and white. For a supposedly progressive art form, this is deeply troubling. And it’s baffling that jazz historians still argue the African and European antecedents of jazz as if they were locked in a property dispute.

Given jazz’s great past achievements as a unifying cultural force, it’s a shame that the jazz-and-race polemic seems terminally stuck on the distinction between the ownership of and an easement to a century-old well. If jazz were literally such a well, no court would deny access to any of the parties after decades of shared use, even if one party holds clear title. Therefore,.if the issue of responsible use and stewardship is to be reflected through the discussion of race through jazz, the binary black-and-white model has to be jettisoned to reflect the rapid diversification of the U.S. population, 10 million of whom cited “Other” as their race on the 2000 Census.

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