4. Ethnic America Undercover: The Intellectual and Minority Discourse

Crystal Parikh

in An Ethics of Betrayal

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780823230426
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235070 | DOI:

Series: American Literatures Initiative

4. Ethnic America Undercover: The Intellectual and Minority Discourse

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This chapter considers narratives that actualize the metaphor of minority subjects as intelligence agents—racialized spies who are indeed “traitors” of their “own people.” It begins with a stalemated issue that has faced U. S. ethnic studies since its inception, the divide between academic work and community experience. This division underpins charges that ethnic studies is out of touch and ineffective in producing change in the “real world” and that its practitioners exploit the community for professional advantage. To address this question, the chapter turns to two spy narratives, Américo Paredes's George Washington Gómez and Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker, both of which confront the anxiety that ethnic insiders might come to serve as traitorous informants against their community. The novels allegorize intellectual work, in this case, ethnic studies, as “intelligence work.” They conceive of the institution as neither a space where one discovers an authentic racial identity, nor one that generates inadequate, second-order representations of racial identities that are essentially located elsewhere. Rather, the university serves as a crucial site, in conjunction and in conflict with other locations, for the making and unmaking of racial identifications.

Keywords: minorities; intelligence agents; traitors; ethnic studies; George Washington Gómez; Native Speaker

Chapter.  14103 words. 

Subjects: Social and Political Philosophy

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