Okinawa’s ‘Reversion’ 50 Years On

Yuichiro Onishi

University of Minnesota Twin Cities

What Would W. E. B. Du Bois Say About Occupied Okinawa?

In December 1936, W. E. B. Du Bois visited Japan for the first time, amid the gathering war clouds and volatile imperial world order. He was on a six-month-long world tour that took him to Germany and the Soviet Union, witnessing polities built upon Fascism and Communism. He also journeyed across Siberia to Manchukuo, the Japanese settler colonial state, as well as various cities in China. His thought of East Asia and Japan’s place in it veered into the uncritical embrace of pan-Asianism, which would become the cornerstone of Japan’s expansionist policy by the late 1930s to legitimize aggression and colonial rule across Asia. The daily papers printed the news of his arrival, but Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun did make a minor error: it described him as the father of Indigenous people’s struggles in the United States. Du Bois apparently told the reporter during a brief stop in Nagasaki that he had read about Hokkaido and Ainu people and expressed interest in colonies, Indigeneity, and the future of darker peoples.

My presentation takes up this amusing case of misrecognition as an opening to situate Du Bois’s late career at midcentury in relation to occupied Okinawa, especially its coloniality created through militarization in the early years of the U.S. occupation period in the 1950s, during which the U.S.-Japan Cold War alliance solidified. I am particularly interested in activists and intellectuals of the Black Left in the orbit of Du Bois’s life that dedicated themselves to the cause of peace and engagement in anti-colonial politics.

Yuichiro Onishi is Associate Professor of African American & African Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is the author of Transpacific Antiracism (NYU Press 2013) and co-editor of Transpacific Correspondence (Palgrave 2019).