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Samurai among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life (Critical American Studies) [Kindle Edition]

Diane C. Fujino
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

An iconic figure of the Asian American movement, Richard Aoki (1938–2009) was also, as the most prominent non-Black member of the Black Panther Party, a key architect of Afro-Asian solidarity in the 1960s and ’70s. His life story exposes the personal side of political activism as it illuminates the history of ethnic nationalism and radical internationalism in America.

A reflection of this interconnection, Samurai among Panthers weaves together two narratives: Aoki’s dramatic first-person chronicle and an interpretive history by a leading scholar of the Asian American movement, Diane C. Fujino. Aoki’s candid account of himself takes us from his early years in Japanese American internment camps to his political education on the streets of Oakland, to his emergence in the Black Panther Party. As his story unfolds, we see how his parents’ separation inside the camps and his father’s illegal activities shaped the development of Aoki’s politics. Fujino situates his life within the context of twentieth-century history—World War II, the Cold War, and the protests of the 1960s. She demonstrates how activism is both an accidental and an intentional endeavor and how a militant activist practice can also promote participatory democracy and social service.

The result of these parallel voices and analysis in Samurai among Panthers is a complex—and sometimes contradictory—portrait of a singularly extraordinary activist and an expansion and deepening of our understanding of the history he lived.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1052 KB
  • Print Length: 475 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0816677867
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (2 May 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0080NO1YK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Kindle Edition
Something doesn't add up here --

Let's speculate first that Aoki was an informant : there were always some very out of control, unstable characters on the periphery, around the more focused and righteous Panthers -- Seale and Newton's accounts will support that statement, as will George Jackson's. (That was also true of pre Panther movements -- look at the records of spies and double agents that hung around the Nation of Islam in Malcolm X's time. )It is possible that Aoki as a young man, was torn in many directions, and was tempted by the dollar bill. That is possible. And many of us may have done the same in his shoes -- we cannot say for sure we wouldn't. Brought up in the toughest ghettos and brutal streets, interned in a racist concentration camp, marginalised by white racists who contemptuously considered Asians a joke, just 'gooks' and railway track workers, not 'real men' like Anglo Saxons -- who knows how you or I would react to all that hate? Who knows how we would react to survive as very young men and teenagers in those conditions Aoki found himself ? We do not know how we would behave. Are we perfect? I'd say we are not.

But -- if he was an FBI plant, then other parts of the story simply do not add up -- if he was a spy, surely he'd have split from the scene as soon as he could, or as soon as he'd made his money -- surely, it would be dangerous to hang around the scene after having been a plant. But Aoki stayed around the Panthers and their causes for his whole life, long after the state was interested in watching them. Aoki stayed with the Panthers when they were no longer a powerful danger to the state, and were just a group of dignified elders. Now, think about it -- does that sound like the kind of man who was a spy and an informant?
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars many questions to meditate on 24 Aug. 2012
By Red Eyes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Something doesn't add up here --

Let's speculate first that Aoki was an informant : there were always some very out of control, unstable characters on the periphery, around the more focused and righteous Panthers -- Seale and Newton's accounts will support that statement, as will George Jackson's. (That was also true of pre Panther movements -- look at the records of spies and double agents that hung around the Nation of Islam in Malcolm X's time. )It is possible that Aoki as a young man, was torn in many directions, and was tempted by the dollar bill. That is possible. And many of us may have done the same in his shoes -- we cannot say for sure we wouldn't. Brought up in the toughest ghettos and brutal streets, interned in a racist concentration camp, marginalised by white racists who contemptuously considered Asians a joke, just 'gooks' and railway track workers, not 'real men' like Anglo Saxons -- who knows how you or I would react to all that hate? Who knows how we would react to survive as very young men and teenagers in those conditions Aoki found himself ? We do not know how we would behave. Are we perfect? I'd say we are not.

But -- if he was an FBI plant, then other parts of the story simply do not add up -- if he was a spy, surely he'd have split from the scene as soon as he could, or as soon as he'd made his money -- surely, it would be dangerous to hang around the scene after having been a plant. But Aoki stayed around the Panthers and their causes for his whole life, long after the state was interested in watching them. Aoki stayed with the Panthers when they were no longer a powerful danger to the state, and were just a group of dignified elders. Now, think about it -- does that sound like the kind of man who was a spy and an informant? Would YOU hang around a bunch of people, for your whole life, who you'd been plotting against? Would you stay around, long after you'd been paid by the state? Would you stick around men you'd betrayed and sold out?

It doesn't add up.

Then there is always the third possibility -- maybe Seth Rosenfeld ( the guy who tells us Aoki was an FBI spy) needs to sell his book. Maybe he needs to make his money, any way he can. Not only that -- there is ample evidence that the state has always done anything it possibly can to paint the Panthers in as bad a light as they can, to destroy their legacy of empowerment.

I urge you to read the statement from one of his contemporaries, the Jamaican-Chinese Black Panther, Lee Lew-Lee, and I quote, "Richard Aoki has always been held in the highest esteem by everyone - and I mean by every last comrade who knew him - and that should be good enough for everyone.

For me, there are two ways to look at this allegation made by Seth Rosenfeld.

Either Richard used his knowledge of the system to game the system and f***d up an old and dead FBI agent who was trying to settle an old final score from back in the day. (Maybe he was the ONE guy who successfully double-crossed the agent?)

Or it was an attempt to smear his name in the `60s that lay dormant as a document time bomb, only to be misunderstood 44 years later...We must remember that people were "bad jacketed" all the time back in the day and these documents may have been from a result to do the same back in say 1968-1969."

(C/f San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper,August 23, 2012).
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating biography 18 Sept. 2012
By M W - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having known Rich Aoki during the early 60s and being shocked by the recent news that he was a government informer for 17 years, I decided to pick up this book and see what the author has to say in his defense. It is apparent she was not familiar with the allegations when she wrote the book and nothing in it refers to or suggests Aoki's connections with the FBI. I found the book to be quite interesting, the story of a young Japanese-American who became alienated from the U.S. government, and Franklin Roosevelt in particular, for sending the entire West Coast Japanese community to desert prison camps without any due process whatsoever. His extensive family in California, many of whom were citizens, was given 24 hours to pack up, and then their homes and real estate assets were confiscated, never to be returned and with no compensation!! The author prints verbatim Aoki's reminiscences and then finishes each chapter with notes from her research verifying his recollections. By and large she found his statements were accurate and true. There are some questions which are not answered: there is no mention in the book as to how Aoki made his livelihood during the early 60s when he was apparently informing on the Panthers, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Young Socialist Alliance. How was he being supported? He says his Mom, who he lived with as a young adult, was earning minimum wage. His father was a criminal who lived hand to mouth. So where did Aoki get the money that paid for the guns he donated to the Black Panthers? Here was Rich Aoki with highly expensive rifles giving them away freely to Huey Newton and other Panthers without a second thought! His explanation that he didn't go with his Panther co-members that famous day they traveled to Sacramento and entered the legislative chamber of the Cslifornia State Capital building armed to the teeth with Aoki's guns because he "didn't think it would be an important action" "or maybe I had a mid-term that day" doesn't sound convincing. Nonetheless, although Aoki seems a bit self-important throughout, I found the book compelling and greatly informative. It shows and explains the mind-set of a Japanese-American whose background during WWII caused him to adopt the anti-American values of the ethnic and political minorities he found around himself as a young adult. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in sorting out who Richard Aoki was and wants to understand some of the damage done to America by our government imprisoning its Japanese citizens during the War.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 7 April 2015
By Scott J. Matsuda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
good item/quick del
0 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars ??????????????????????????????? 15 Sept. 2012
By phatso - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The author's comments after each section are tiresome and laborius. She cites numerous sources that attempt to lend credibility to her work. This work reads more like a manifesto for equality issues which in itself is admirable however this biography reads more like a text book.

A book that one can't finish soon enough.
6 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oops! 21 Aug. 2012
By Clock The Wolf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Oops! Richard Aoki was an FBI snitch. Oh well.I sure hope not to much time was spent writing this work. Wonder what sort of weird logic they'll have to come up with to justify it...
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