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Yellow by Frank Wu: A Snapshot

yellow

I have read Yellow over the course of the past year. I did not read it consistently, but mainly used it to talk with students I work with and to provide them excerpts I thought might be useful in their own identity development. Last month, I decided to pick it back up, reread a couple of chapters, and finish the book. I do not think I can aptly provide a comprehensive review of Frank Wu’s Yellow without dedicating the next couple of weeks to it, rereading even more chapters and sections. This book was dense, full of references and real life examples. As much as I would love to do that, I unfortunately do not have the time. I do want to share my thoughts and provide a snapshot of the text, hopefully conveying where I thought Wu’s ideas shined through and some critiques in his writing.

I am predisposed for Yellow to resonate with me because even though I do not share ethnic heritage with Frank Wu, I do share the experience of being from Eastern Asian origin. In the API (Asian Pacific Islander) communities, I do not hear about activism or social justice work as much as I would hope. I think there are many reasons for this separation and systems of power and oppression work really well to keep communities of color apart and against one another. Yellow was the first academic text I found and read that critically examines race and racism beyond the binary of black and white, focusing heavily on Asians and Pacific Islanders. Because of Wu’s own identity, this is the experience and the lens he is writing from. Asian is such a huge term, amalgamating hundreds of different cultures, spanning across a slew of countries, we really need to break down the word Asian and come up with new terminology. I was hoping for a more well-rounded perspective including more of South Asian and Western Asian peoples and experiences.

235258Wu’s writing style comes off as very rational and logical. He takes cultural phenomenons, such as the model minority myth, and microaggressions, such as asking an Asian person if they eat dog, and approaches his explanations and arguments for social justice by going through each possible argument and showing the shortcomings, ultimately coming to one argument he thinks is correct. While very helpful for me to process his different arguments, I thought the writing lacked a certain emotion that I think anti-racism work needs. This could very well be my own perceptions mixed in with my socialization about how particularly Asian men need to appear emotionless in order to get anywhere in this country. However, I am always a big proponent of showing emotion in social justice work. This work is personal. This work touches our core. It makes us angry, frustrated, sad, filled with grief. This work is also relational. Without sharing emotion, I do not think we can form strong relationships and learn from each other’s experiences. I think as soon as we get away from the emotional side of this work, we lose what it is all about: all of our intersecting identities, the wonderful person they make, and how we build community from it.

Although from an Eastern Asian perspective, Wu does a fantastic job pulling in current events and historical events that have supported and impacted racism across all communities of color. Wu recognizes the terms that the United States was found upon (slavery and colonization) and gives a commentary on how our country’s history plays a big role in how racism is seen and experienced today. I felt like Wu not only validated the experiences of other people of color, but gives voice and credit to what has already been done and the trials that other communities have faced.

Two sections in the book stood out to me the most. The first was titled, “The Best ‘Chink’ Food.’ Wu opens with a logical conundrum: What does an Asian person answer when they are asked, “Do you eat dogs?” This strikes a chord with me because growing up, particularly in Middle School (6-8 grade), my friends (mostly Asian) and I would be asked on occasion if we ate dogs. As a middle schooler, I probably answered with a simple ‘NO!’ and possibly went on to say I had a pet dog who I loved very much.  Wu explains very logically why the question about dog eating is a lose-lose-lose scenario for Asian people. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw the weight and the real intention behind the question. The asker, whether subconsciously or consciously, is asking to validate their stereotypes of the ‘exotic’ and ‘barbaric’ eating of dogs by Asian cultures. Answering ‘Yes’ will other the respondent right away. In a simple summary: Answering ‘No’ separates the respondent from Asians who do eat dogs, placing the respondent as ‘one of the good Asians.’ Ultimately in my reflections, my best response to this question would be… “What do you mean by that question?” to start talking about the underlying power dynamic of the question itself.

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The second is the concentration Wu puts into coalition building in the final chapter. When I work within my own community, I am constantly frustrated at the disconnect of API folks and the other communities of color. This is not to say all Asian people are disconnected, but in my experience, it has been hard for me to motivate API communities to stand in solidarity or build coalitions with other communities of color. During the Civil Rights movement, there were prominent API activists who stood with the black community such as Yuri Kochiyama who was closely associated with Malcolm X. Moreover, the Black Panthers drew from Maoist tenets, creating Black Maoism. Leaders of the movement even visited Beijing to learn more about the Maoist movement. This type of solidarity between communities does not happen as much as it needs to presently. I see the power of the model minority myth setting the foundation for this disconnect as one of the biggest proponents of anti-blackness and anti-browness in API communities. White supremacy has been using Asians to maintain power and the status quo, promising the privileges of Whiteness but never fully accepting them. It is time to get back to coalition building!

My overall experience with Yellow was a positive one. This is definitely an academic book I will keep in my library. I can see myself returning to many different sections within the book to continue my understanding of the API community within the conversations of race in the United States.

Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White

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Discussion

13 thoughts on “Yellow by Frank Wu: A Snapshot

  1. This does sound more academic, then most books I read. But your review really delved into why it was important and how it can increase your awareness of the API Community

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Tori @ InToriLex | September 16, 2016, 11:03 AM
    • Thank you for stopping by! I want to try to find a book less academic than Yellow, but still confronting the same issues of race outside the black-white binary and where the API community fits. I think it could make an engaging fictional story!

      Like

      Posted by Brendon | September 17, 2016, 9:25 AM
  2. Language that lands so many different kinds of people is inherently flawed. I feel the same way about the terms Latino/Hispanic/Latinx, though I proudly identify as Latino in political sense and Mexican in a more personal sense.
    I’m totally with on the point that social justice work needs passion and emotion. I do hope that outside of his writing, he combats social justice with with the passion it deserves. I expect he does, given that he wrote a book such as this.
    I’d like to read more about the model minority myth and how that affects API communities in particular. Does this book address the topic critically and honestly, do you think?

    This was such a thoughtful and smart review/analysis Brendon. I’d not heard of this book until now and it also sounds a bit too academic for my tastes (at this point in my life), but it does sound like a compelling and important work.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Read Diverse Books | September 16, 2016, 7:47 PM
    • Wu does address the myth in an entire chapter and how ‘success’ for Asian communities under the myth is a failure for race relations. For lighter academic reading on the myth I would recommend articles by Sam Museus. I believe you can find some of his writings on Google Scholar for free.

      I hope to read and give thoughts on another academic book this year: Asian Americans in Higher Education, which should address the myth as it pertains to Asians in the university.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting 🙂

      Like

      Posted by Brendon | September 17, 2016, 9:41 AM
  3. The first sentence should read: “Language that lumps so many different kinds of people together is inherently flawed.”

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Read Diverse Books | September 16, 2016, 7:49 PM
  4. I’m so glad that this book really resonated with your current thoughts. I agree that discussing micro-aggressions and exploring how they can be unpacked by simply asking why is so important. Many of my friends pose that question either during those encounters and/or afterwards, upon reflection on social media. It seems like the American API experience is quite diverse and distinct but also shares come common experiences with the Australian API community. I have Filipino heritage and occasionally read Peril – an online magazine about uplifting creative and critical Asian-Australian voices, which I thought might be of interest: http://peril.com.au/

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Glaiza | September 17, 2016, 7:42 PM
  5. Great review. This sounds like a very serious book to be read with full attention. I enjoyed the gist of it. But perhaps it isnt a book for me right now.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel | September 19, 2016, 10:47 AM
  6. I completely understand what you mean about the disconnect between diverse communities. Particularly in America, I feel like our history has taught us that we all need to look out for our own, or we will get burned. I am ethnically white, but religiously and culturally a Jew. It’s been a challenge to get other diverse groups of people to meet and build relationships with my community. They see us as part of the problem, not as another diverse group of people to share experiences with. While Jews aren’t as publically abused as other ethnicities, it’s still a shame we can’t bond together more. It’s important for diverse groups of people, of all background, to bond together and share their life experiences. If only we could fear each other less…
    This sounds like a really insightful book! I can’t wait to hear about your experience reading Asian Americans in Higher Education.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku | September 19, 2016, 11:54 AM
    • Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience! I definitely see what you have described with your community in my professional work around race -> Jewish communities lumped in with Whtie communities, culture lumped in with race. And for me, culture adds a whole other layer to the conversation of anti-racism work. The Jewish community has suffered horrible atrocities and oppression globally based on ethnicity and beliefs (including in the US), but in the US race conversation holds privilege in Whiteness. I am all about coalition building and not just between minoritized communities, to deconstruct privilege and share experiences. I think you make an excellent point:

      “it’s still a shame we can’t bond together more. It’s important for diverse groups of people, of all background, to bond together and share their life experiences.”

      And I absolutely agree creating these relationships will start breaking down boundaries put into place by racism. I think some communities of color are resistant to coalitions because of all the hurt piled up by White supremacy. I see the same reason on why the API community is so disjointed with the model minority myth.

      I want to thank you for sharing and providing a lot for insight. I think you bring up great points on intersectionality and how it matters in conversations about social justice.

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by Brendon | September 19, 2016, 12:48 PM

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