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Biting the Hand:
Growing Up Asian in
Black and White America
in conversation with HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. and JAMAICA KINCAID
Harvard Book Store welcomes JULIA LEE—author of Our Gang: A Racial History of “The Little Rascals” and The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel—for a discussion of her new memoir Biting the Hand: Growing Up Asian in Black and White America. She will be joined in conversation by renowned scholars HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. and JAMAICA KINCAID.
A Return to In-Person Events
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About Biting the Hand
When Julia Lee was fifteen, her hometown went up in smoke during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The daughter of Korean immigrant store owners in a predominantly Black neighborhood, Julia was taught to be grateful for the privilege afforded to her. However, the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, following the murder of Latasha Harlins by a Korean shopkeeper, forced Julia to question her racial identity and complicity. She was neither Black nor white. So who was she?
This question would follow Julia for years to come, resurfacing as she traded in her tumultuous childhood for the white upper echelon of elite academia. It was only when she began a PhD in English that she found answers―not in the Brontës or Austen, as Julia had planned, but rather in the brilliant prose of writers like James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. Their works gave Julia the vocabulary and, more important, the permission to critically examine her own tortured position as an Asian American, setting off a powerful journey of racial reckoning, atonement, and self-discovery that has shaped her adult life.
With prose by turns scathing and heart-wrenching, Julia Lee lays bare the complex disorientation and shame that stems from this country’s imposed racial hierarchy to argue that Asian Americans must leverage their liminality for lasting social change alongside Black and brown communities.
Praise for Biting the Hand
“Biting the Hand―vivid, powerful, and empathetic―grapples with the story of how ‘America’ got made, is made, and will be made. The harshness of this story is often forgotten or misused. This book reminds us of some of its complicated truth.” ―Jamaica Kincaid, author of A Small Place
“An awe-inspiring memoir that traces Julia Lee’s search for her place in America. Lee sheds light on nuances of the Asian American experience that will ring familiar to anyone who has ever struggled to know where they stand. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of Korean Han, the Asian American experience, and the power of resilience.” ―David Chang, founder of Momofuku
“Biting the Hand messed me up, and I love it. The book was able to circle and ultimately pounce on something I’ve been afraid to write through for years. Julia Lee has really written a lush treatise on the politics of expectation. It’s phenomenal.” ―Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
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