Just heard from Oliver that the historian Ron Takaki passed away yesterday at the age of 70. Major bummer. When I was a student at Berkeley, Takaki's books (especially Strangers From a Different Shore and Iron Cages) were the ones you didn't sell back to Ned's. His lectures were like five hundred kids having simultaneous epiphanies. I remember attending a debate between Takaki and Ward Connerly on affirmative action at some point in the late 1990s. I don't remember what either of them argued, I barely remember the sound of either man's voice, I just remember that Takaki seemed so patient, graceful and generous compared to his blustery foe. It is easy to be moved by the loud and didactic; but Takaki's mellow rage--this is what I wanted.
Berkeley is a strange place to go to school, hung up as it is on its past glories, all those 60s survivors still around, teaching and mentoring and in some way overdetermining the next generation's experiences. I don't still believe in everything I did as a late-teen, hearing it all for the first time, but I still hold dear the feelings from that time--the thrill of unread and undiscovered books, the undergraduate fanaticism, the belief in the uniqueness of your youth. So much of it had to do with being around people like Takaki. He inspired us to stay up late and construct picket signs and read Gramsci and Fanon and chase down every random reference from class and quiz our parents and grandparents about their histories and learn how to go limp if the cops showed up. He dared us to outdo his generation, even if it was homework for his class that went unfinished.