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Crossing Racial Boundaries

Frank Wu's "Yellow" Examines Asian American Life

In Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, Frank Wu advances his premise that America's problem of race is about more than just black and white, and that Asian Americans should be included in the discourse. Examining the example of Asian immigrants can achieve such aims as revealing "the inconsistencies between the color blindness that is invoked against affirmative action and the color consciousness that becomes apparent in the denunciation of immigration." The experiences of Asian Americans can demonstrate that someone who may have been hurt by racism might still perpetrate racial discrimination, not recognizing their own actions as being prejudiced.

Yellow contains some important lessons, and is densely packed with information. The author gives us a lot of information to process -- sociological case studies; statistical analyses on income comparisons, minority populations and census numbers; theories advanced by prominent politicians, writers and academics; as well as Wu's own personal experiences. His is a worthy attempt to fill in the gaps regarding the study -- so much of Asian American history having been "omitted and distorted" -- although considering he began composing the book while he was a teenager and has over a hundred essays published on the subject, the book's substantiality seems less staggering.

Wu shows how the refusal to acknowledge that Asian Americans face racial discrimination causes more damage than most of us realize. By discussing the difficulties that Japanese immigrants encountered -- being prohibited from naturalizing or owning land -- and their internment during World War II, he reveals the extent to which the quandary is rooted in America's beginnings. To his credit, Wu spends as much time deliberating the contemporary crises (such as the campaign finance scandal) and considering solutions for tomorrow. Neither does he neglect to devote attention to the much harsher discrimination that African Americans deal with, being a teacher at Howard University.

As a law professor, Wu often frames his treatises in the form of lengthy arguments in which he picks his subject apart, bit by bit, all the way to the end of the chapter, such as the section in which he successfully challenges the moral minority myth. When discussing the "perpetual foreigner" syndrome, he provides concrete examples of how using appropriate analogies can reveal the nature of a person's perceptions.

Even though he often has to point out the obvious (regrettable, but necessary), Wu invites his readers to think for themselves. The errors of rational discrimination and racial profiling; diversity, assimilation and multiculturalism; intermarriage and the mixed-race movement; the power of coalitions -- there is hardly a topic he doesn't cover. His is a hopeful assertion that Asian Americans will add their many distinct voices to the exchange and join in on dialogues that cross racial boundaries.

Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White
By Frank Wu
Hardcover - 348 pages (January 2002)
Basic Books; ISBN 0465006396