The Politics of Race

Leta E. Miller

in Music and Politics in San Francisco

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780520268913
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520950092 | DOI:
The Politics of Race

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Chinatown was at once forbidden and irresistible, repulsive and alluring, its reputed danger more than counterbalanced by its attraction as an exotic Other: a little slice of the Orient in the heart of one of America's great cities. Never mind that San Francisco's Chinatown—the largest such community in the United States—with its lack of women and its reliance on providing services to the surrounding white community, hardly resembled Guangdong, much less China as a whole. White tourists flocked to the area to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of one of the world's oldest civilizations (and, incidentally, to gape at what they viewed as its present depravity)—providing, of course, that they could tour its streets under the protection of guides, many of whom hastened to show them its seamiest dives. Thanks to this reputation, numerous eyewitness reports of prequake Chinatown survive. These writings take on an uncanny and depressing similarity: a slovenly area filled with dazed opium smokers and gamblers, offering prostitution services to whites and Asians alike, emitting overpowering odors. And most of these travel reports take for granted the superiority of Western Civilization.

Keywords: San Francisco; Chinatown; white tourists; prostitution

Chapter.  8167 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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