David Mura is a critically acclaimed essayist, novelist, and poet who often reflects on the Japanese American experience through his writing. In his latest work, The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself: Racial Myths and our American Narratives, Mura critiques the unequal dominance Whiteness holds on racial narratives, and the erasure of white America’s racist history. In confronting the reality of America’s racial environment, Mura argues: “In America, racism doesn’t distribute the painful memories of our racist past equally in the psyches of people of color and white people. No, it is people of color who carry and hold an unequal portion of these painful memories.” 

Mura believes Whiteness emerges through depictions of an idealized, blemish-free history: 

“The problem isn’t [solely] what white people have done to Black people, but that Black people keep remembering what white people have done—and somehow that harms white people.” 

These white-washed historical narratives are attempts by white people to erase Black history because of the inherent threat it poses to maintaining White Supremacist ideology. Provocatively, Mura’s commentary on ideology leaves the reader questioning the normalization of narratives we encounter daily, and the ideologies they reflect. By extensively critiquing Whiteness as the ideal, dominant, ideology in America, Mura successfully challenges the racial status quo. 

Throughout his work, Mura’s reflections on identity—including the need to accurately avoid common stereotyping and other mistakes—is insightful in understanding how ideology is weaponized to maintain the power relations Whiteness creates. Mura incorporates Black storytelling to develop his own ideas and reinforce the ideas Black writers and activists have passed down for decades. In doing so, Mura provides the necessary perceptions and judgements on race to accurately reflect Black people’s perspectives, which White people have ignored for centuries. 

In my favorite chapter in this book, Mura thoroughly critiques the portrayal of Black people in contemporary media. When comparing the 1997 film Amistad – directed by Steven Spielberg, a white filmmaker – to the novel by Alexs Pate, an African American writer, Mura emphasizes the discrepancy between the two stories, despite them both originating from the same script: 

“When Pate comes to the scene with Sengbe in the slave ship, he presents it through Sengbe’s point of view. The qualities of Sengbe introduced in the African opening scene of Pate’s novel remain present; there is no mystery about who Sengbe is, no question that he does not see himself as a free man.”

Mura contrasts this to the film where, “The Black man is first seen as a slave or prisoner and a figure of violence. He has no name, no family, no village. He has no culture. His language is unknown.” 

The similarity between popular media in 1997 to the same historically used by the Master Narrative to ideologically oppress Black people is striking. Mura’s writing here is unrelenting and emotionally powerful, sounding as though ripped from a text written in the 1700s. “For over 400 years, we learned nothing!” is the feeling I get from Mura’s tone. But more than an emotional response, Mura unpacks and reveals the representation of Black people as people that Whiteness still cannot seem to get right. I believe readers can learn a lot about racial perceptions and judgements from this chapter alone. 

When I learned that Mura – who is a third generation Japanese American – grew up believing in assimilation and “wanting to be thought of as white,” I became excited to learn how he has developed his knowledge and perceptions on race and identity. As a Chinese American who grew up in Issaquah, WA, a predominantly white neighborhood, I also understood Mura’s motivation to critique Whiteness because of how it had such an ideological impact on former “bananas” like Mura and myself. While he touches on this in the book’s introduction, I wish he had explored further how he personally escaped white ideology, because I believe it would have helped in his discussion of how we move forward without regressing. But given that the book is not intended to be autobiographical, I consider this a minor critique. 

David Mura evolves pre existing ideas of race and ideology through his cohesive, historically accurate, moving, and powerful writing. I commend his ability to develop so many critiques and analyses on ideology in this book. Readers who share a similar desire to challenge normalized perceptions and narratives on race will find a historically accurate yet contemporarily relevant work that evolves their understanding of ideologies. 

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