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.
Wu’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.
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.