Ronald T. Takaki, 1939-2009


“He couldn’t deal with it anymore.”—Troy Takaki

In January, I spoke with historian Dr. Ronald T. Takaki about his  book, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, for my WBAI radio show, NONFICTION. Specifically, we talked about the new Obama administration, and especially the president’s inaugural address, which he’d given mere hours earlier.

Almost exactly four months later, on May 26, Takaki, 70, ended his own life. He was, as his son said, above, seeking a way out of the pain and debilitation of multiple sclerosis., having suffered with the degenerative neurological condition for 20 years..

Had I known that I would never talk to Ron Takaki again, would I have spoken to him longer, more penetratingly, or differently, in some other way? Certainly. But, more, I’m honored that I had the chance to speak with him.

9780316022361_154x233I’d heard him talk in-person once before, at an otherwise middling race conference hosted by Michigan State University, about a dozen years earlier. He gave an explanation of the term “master narrative”—the history of the U.S. popularly held to be true by most people, and that our powerful institutions overwhelmingly support and reinforce.

For the most part, the master narrative is the story of white people, their victories, conquests, and supposed brilliance. Other people are attached to that tale, from time to time, like appliqués to a jacket. But the amazing race dominates the conversation.

Then, after explaining this concept, Takaki told his own version of the nation’s history. What I remember most is how, as he traveled through time in his story, different groups would appear, act, diminish, then reappear and repeat, over and over. It was almost like watching a master weaver, but one whose fabric was temporal and societal, not material.

With his sad and unfortunate death, our nation lost an irreplaceable educator and innovator. (Deeper, still, was his family’s loss of a husband, father, and grandfather.)

Thankfully, still, we have his ideas, in the form of his many books, and we also have his voice: Ronald Takaki is a guest today, on this encore presentation of my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, November 27, at 2 pm ET.

shemekia-copelandHe’s preceded by blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland, right, and director Joe Stevens, co-creator of the 2008, sound-systems-on-BMX-bikes short, Made in Queens.

You can hear their ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.



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