By Catherine Kane ’26

Asian languages and cultures professor Arthur Mitchell teaches Japanese culture, politics, and literature.

Have you read any standout books recently?
I really enjoyed a book I read about race in a Japanese context—it’s written in Japanese by Ayu Majima, a historian in Japan, and the title translates to The Melancholy of Skin Color. Majima is the first person to talk explicitly about the inferiority complex that a lot of Japanese people have towards whiteness, or, white people.

The book relates to a project on race that I want to do on the historical development of culture in Japan. There is an element of white assimilation: they adopted the clothing, customs, and, to some extent, the language of the West to such a thorough and exhaustive extent. There was a loss of identity that went along with that assimilation. In Japan, it’s often discussed in terms of westernization or modernization, but those terms paper over the core racial dynamics at play.

Any all-time favorite books?
I’m really excited about Represent and Destroy, by critic Jodi Melamed. It’s about how many of the liberal anti-racism efforts have deflected energies away from actual anti-racist work. Melamed points to the delusion in academia that we are moving the equity needle by simply diversifying the content of our syllabi. By putting all of our energies there, we’re not actually doing anything to address broader issues in the world. It’s great for me because my role in academia is implicated in what she’s criticizing. It’s making me reflect on the type of anti-racist work I do within my classes and within my work.

What’s one book you would recommend to everybody at Macalester?
I was blown away this summer by Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman. Even though it is geared toward high school educators, so much of what is said applies to the work that I do at Macalester. It examines the type of biases and prejudices that enter into grading practices and recommends ways to eliminate those aspects of the grading system, while also putting in place a system that creates a relationship with your students of trust and collaboration, rather than judgment and control. I’m experimenting with that this semester.

March 6 2023

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