Welcome to the Jungle: America After Vietnam
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Author's Bio

Born in 1966, Frank H. Wu received his B.A. from John Hopkins and then his Law Degree from Michigan Law School in 1991. Currently, he is Dean of Wayne State Law School, a position he plans to leave in 2008 due to his wife's failing health. Prior to this, Wu was Dean of Howard Law School, the first Asian Dean of a historically black college. In his spare time, he enjoys motorcycling, raising his pet dogs, and theatergoing. Wu was formerly a regular featured columnist for IMDiversity.com's Asian American Village.

Beyond the Back of the Bus

     April 4, 2007: Don Imus walks into his New Jersey studio where he broadcasts his nationally syndicated Imus in the Morning-- a talk show that deals with contemporary events with a shock-and-awe approach. Although signed as a "shock-jockey," today's broadcast would prove to be different. While commenting about that NCAA Women's Basketball Championship, Imus commented that the players from Rutgers's University were "some nappy-headed hos."1 Imus's racial remarks sparked a national debate on race relations. Reverend Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson became intimately involved with the discussion that circled news networks like CNN and FOX News 24/7 and made headlines in almost every major newspaper. But as the debate about race relations grew, there was, ironically, an absence of diversity in the discussion about race. Everything was a very polarized black-and-white. When the Don Imus's discussion made the front page of Time Magazine's April Issue, the word "Asia" or "Asian" was absent from the entire article. This is what intrigued me about Frank H. Wu's 2002 book Yellow. Wu acknowledges that popular culture "speak[s] of 'American' as if they mean 'white', and 'minority' as if they mean 'black.'"2 Wu, as the subtitle of his book suggests, attempts to delve into the discussion of "Race in America Beyond Black and White".
     In his first chapter, East is East, East is West, Wu asserts that there is, in fact, racism against Asians. However, the racism against Asians is not obvious and direct--Asians are not literally forced to the back of the bus. Rather, the racism is a subtle discrimination. In one example, Wu comments about the finals of the 1998 Winter Olympics where Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinsky, both representing America and both American citizens, contended for the gold and silver medals. When Lipinsky won the gold, MS-NBC printed the headline that "American beats out Kwan." Had Kwan won, would they have printed "American beats out Lipinsky"? Why no just cut to the chase and print "White beats Asian". That is, after all, what they meant. The implications are endless. In another example, Wu comments about how movie producers where initially hesitant to make a film version of Amy Tan's best selling novel, The Joy Luck Club because "there [were] no Americans in it." Actor Christopher Lee smugly remarked to the (probably white) movie producers that "there are Americans in it. They just don't look like you."3 Several people note that the cast is primarily Asian; which, given the story and characters, should not be notable at all. Wu then describes his childhood where he was the only Asian child in his predominantly white neighborhood. As a result, all of his early notions about Asia and Asian culture came from his favorite cartoon TV show-- Johnny Sokko, a fictional Japanese cartoon that involved flying robots.
     In the second quarter of his book, Wu describes some of the major myths regarding Asians. He starts off with the common myth, especially in academia, that Asians are the "model minority." Many people often ask why Asians would be opposed to such a fuss, as most people would kill for a positive image, that they show an indifference towards the "consequence of a negative image."4 Regardless of how positive an image it is, the fact that it is wrong should, alone, anger most people. Despite the fact that Asians only account for about four percent of America's population, many resist paring the words "civil rights" and "Asians" due to the popular notion that Asians are all doing well. When he talks about the word "overachiever," Wu ponders "what... is it that individuals have achieved over--what others expected of them or what they deserve?"5 Wu claims that as Asians attempt to succeed in western culture, they are ultimately unsuccessful, as "[Asians] cannot win by winning."6 Wu notes that when Asian prodigies master the violin or piano, they are applauded for their technical mastery, while they "are criticized for being without passion... bereft of a human soul."7 James Treires, an economist who wrote for Newsweek, talked about the impact of Asians on "working Americans"; implying, for whatever reason, that Asians cannot be working Americans. Treires caps his argument off by saying that the new immigrants' gains were being made at the working American's, where he equates Americans and whites, expense. Wu caps off his discussion of Asians as they have become "the New Jews"-- a phrase extremely popular when talking about college admissions and Asians. Anti-Semitism is not a new topic. Jews have often been blamed for the death of Jesus Christ, been associated with banking, and been used as a scapegoat. Because part of the hatred towards Jews stemmed from their success financially, it is simple to transition that same hate to Asians for doing well educationally and financially as well.
     Predictably, Wu touches on the issue of affirmative action. Most interestingly, Wu emerges supporting affirmative action, even though he realizes that Asians will be hurt the most. He argues that affirmative action will benefit the whole of the nation, even if at the expense of the minority. Instead, it will help Asians in other areas, such as business and politics, to "shatter glass ceilings." When topics like color blindness and meritocracy come into play, Wu argues that they are ideals. He believes that that support different ideals about the community and hold different criteria for into his inter-racial coalition (discussed later). This conflict would make any interest in membership unappealing to many. In his mind, "the means do not justify the ends."8 Additionally, he argues against racial profiling, despite the fact that he acknowledges that it can be both non-racial and rational.
     Wu then debates issues of Asian and Asian-American culture. He then discusses issues such as the infamous "do Asians eat dogs?" myth and how "reducing the inhabitants of the Asian continent to dog eaters, defining them by a minor aspect of the multifaceted ways of life, becomes absurd."9 He points out the myth of dog eating to show the division in understanding between American and Asian culture. He, unsurprisingly, points out that cultures are fundamentally different, and that for the white America to automatically assume its superiority over others, such as Asian cultures, is na?ve. When Europeans first entered the areas such as the South Asian islands, one of the white Europeans missionaries' early goals was to cloth the people of the island. The missionaries thought it was immoral for the Asians to walk around naked. But when one examines the two societies: a predominantly northern, European-based culture that experiences snow and rain on a constant basis, and a sunlit, tropical island that almost never drops below 90 degrees, its understandable why the islanders would walk around naked (it's hot) and why the Europeans would walk around heavily clothed (it's cold). What the Europeans failed to realize was that the Asians did not walk around naked because they were in any way immoral. It was because it was too hot to wear clothing. Wu finishes his book by vaguely arguing for an inter-racial coalition. At the same time, he acknowledges that coalitions serve mainly to help end racism through more political and legal means. While coalitions can help bring the prices of homes down, or helping reform education, Wu acknowledges that coalitions need the support of white people and cannot solve the fundamental racism that some Americans feel towards minorities.
Although Wu's book begins by appealing to people of all races, so much so that he feels he must prove to others that Asians do in fact suffer from racism and discrimination, by the end of the book, Wu writes to fellow Asians who have suffered discrimination. By the end, he seems to want to advance, not Asians, but "us." His vindication seems personal, rather than objective when he writes such phrases as "just as Asian Americans can identify with whites, we [Asian Americans] may be able to coax whites into identifying with us."10 While most of his book seems to simply recount the history of the racism that Asian-Americans have suffered, and their particular causes, he rarely offers any solutions beyond the vague, standing-on-a-soapbox preaching that many of us have heard before. His fundamental view on racism is somewhat confusing. He concedes that a color-blind world and one where we embrace our heritage are mutually exclusive- as acknowledging our heritage requires that we look at color.      Historiography provides much of Wu's fodder, as he often justifies his arguments about racism using statistics-- for example, even though Asians have more doctorate level degrees then whites, they earn less in comparable jobs then said whites- or, more commonly, tells largely known stories about racism against Asians-- interment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the 1996 "Asian Connection" campaign finance scandal, and the Wen Ho Lee case-- that could just as easily be found in the textbook for "Asian-American History 101." His bias towards the subject is, sadly, quite exhaustive. The fact that he is an Asian American, who recognizes that he suffered the same "subtle racism" as a boy, opens his book with the quote "I remember when I was Johnny Sokko (the fictional Japanese cartoon hero)" forms the an obvious link between Wu's personal history and racism. 11 At the time of this book's writing and printing, Wu was Dean of Howard Law School, a historically black college--notably, the first Asian professor the school had seen and the first Asian dean of a law school. He also received his Law Degree from the University of Michigan Law School. The fact that most of his background is in law, and not history, casts doubt on his ability to discuss the cultural issues; as seen in the latter half of his book. On the other hand, Wu is particularly good at discussing the more legal effects of racism, such as affirmative action. Given the fact that Wu's book really brings nothing new to the table, he typically does well at subjects that have been discussed at length in other books and lectures. When we presented the discussion about dog eating, Wu had the potential to take the discussion to the next level, although he could not.
     Jeremy Lott, of the Reason Foundation, and David Lau, of the Yale Book Review, both disparage Wu's book. While both feel that it was by no means bad, it was simply another book in the Asian American movement. It leaves a lot of stones unturned. Such stones he did turned have been turned numerous times before. Personally, I would have to agree with the critics. Wu likely tried to make Yellow for Asian-American racism what Uncle Tom's Cabin was for the abolition movement. Instead, it is just another book that deals with Asian American racism. Wu's deep background as a lawyer manifests itself in throughout the book and seems to be largely responsible for his ability to write well when dealing with typical issues such as the model minority myth and affirmative action. But his legal background does not serve him when dealing with less concrete issues such as society and differing values, with his entire arguments summed into nice little sound-bytes such as "...[people who love diversity] would like to be discriminating about diversity."12
     In recent history, only one real change has been made regarding racism and Asian-Americans since the 1970s. I agree with Wu when he states "as a nation, we have become so seemingly triumphant at vilifying racist that we have induced denial about racism."13 For example, society today is so "politically correct" that we are more concerned with not hurting people's feelings then allowing people to express themselves freely. However, this is more of a move from the overt racism shown towards minorities, such as Asians only being allowed to be laundry-men during the 1850s in California, to more covert racism, like Asian Americans receiving a lower return on investment on their education when compared to whites.
Obviously, the 1970's mark as a time when many Asian immigrants, including my parents, came to America to escape war in many Southeastern countries. Earlier, during the 1950's, the Korean War drove many Koreans to escape a war torn country in favor of America. Obviously, this large influx of immigrants has changed the landscape of racism against Asians. One of affirmative actions effects, the racial quotas in top universities, has only come into questions now that Asian-Americans have been implanted in this country. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see the large effects of this mass migration, as we are now living the effects.      When I found Frank Wu's Yellow, the book wasn't in the history section of Barnes & Nobles. It was in the current affairs section. With a topic that has only recently gained momentum, I find it hard to look back on the topic with a historical eye. Racism against Asian-Americans is nothing new. Neither is racism itself. But the large, recent influx of Asian Americans, especially in areas such as Orange County, has changed the face of the anti-orientalism. Sadly, Wu's book Yellow does not add much to the discussion about racism in America, but simply rehashes old sayings. Asian-American racism still lacks the book that stands head and shoulders above the rest, one that serves as the definitive source for all new-comers to the subject. Young people are still impressionable, and need the right source to lead them. As Wu states "it is the young... who will lead".14


1. Imus called women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos". http://mediamatters.org. Apr 4, 2007. June 6, 2007. 2. Wu, Frank H. Yellow, Race in America Beyond Black and White. 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY. Basic Books. 2002 pg. 20 3. Wu, Frank H. 21 4. Wu, Frank H. 40 5. Wu, Frank H. 40 6. Wu, Frank H. 68 7. Wu, Frank H. 68 8. Wu, Frank H. 145 9. Wu, Frank H. 224 10. Wu, Frank H. 339 11. Wu, Frank H. 1 12. Wu, Frank H. 250 13. Wu, Frank H. 13 14. Wu, Frank H. 342

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