UC Hastings College of the Law Dean Frank Wu gave a lecture on Thursday at HUB 269 regarding the future of civil rights in the United States. The lecture, “Race Beyond Black and White: The Future of Civil Rights,” described many issues facing Asian-Americans, regarding stereotypes and myths, representations of Asian-Americans in and outside of the academic settings and its effect on public policy.
At the beginning of the lecture, Wu recollected the memory of a child who “strikes a karate-kung-fu martial arts pose in order to challenge (Wu) to a fight.” Wu then stated that this was not an act of malice or hatred, but of race.
“The reason I say it’s about race is because (the child), when I see him scurrying off, doesn’t go up to everyone to challenge them, only when he see someone who looks like me,” Wu explained. In addressing the problems of race and how it is defined, Wu described two arguments which he had made in his book, “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White.”
The first argument that Wu makes is that race is not “black and white,” referring to an experience in college where he only found two to three books on Asian-Americans in his library. “I then went on to look up ‘Civil Rights and race’ — now there were hundreds of books.” However, Wu further explained, “What’s striking about these books is that they all had a black/white paradigm … that there were people who were black and people who were white and that’s it.”
Wu also argued that race and racism is not clearly divided between being “good and bad” because by following that assumption, it creates the fallacy that “there is nothing any longer to be concerned with,” Wu added that “there is no villain” in the modern-day problems involving race.
Wu went on to explain the “model minority” stereotypes affecting the Asian-American community. “It doesn’t matter you’re generically Asian, you’re a whiz-kid, rocket scientist genius,” Wu remarked jokingly. While Wu states that some may consider this myth to be “positive,” he adds that it is also “dangerous” to make these assumptions.
The dean further elaborated on how myths can negatively impact Asian-Americans by creating a certain degree of expectations. “When someone says, ‘Wow, the Asians are doing do well,’ what it really means is that the Asians are doing so well (so) why can’t you (as an Asian)? The second problem is it leads to resentment of Asian-Americans (by others).” Wu later added the aforementioned myths can be used to belittle members of other ethnic minorities who are not successful by using Asian-Americans as an example.
Wu described the “perpetual foreigner” as the stereotypical belief that Asian-Americans hold family roots to foreign countries, which therefore, makes them “not really an American.” He then went on to describe the story of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American in Detroit, who was murdered by assailants who held animosity toward the success of the Japanese auto industry, presumed to have caused rising unemployment in Detroit. Wu argued that the attacker’s perception of Chin as a foreigner contributed to the animosity and racial issues affecting Asian-Americans.
After describing the story of Chin, Wu closed the lecture with a Q-and-A. UCR political science professor Karthick Ramakrishnan asked a question regarding SCA 5, a proposed constitutional amendment by Democratic Senator Ed Hernandez of West Covina, which would overturn Proposition 208, a 1996 initiative that bans government institutions to take into account race, ethnicity and sex in job hirings, contracting and academic admissions.
Ramakrishnan says many Asian-Americans are fighting against the bill, which some say is “similar to the Chinese Exclusion Act.” Wu reaffirmed his view of support for providing further accessibility to all students in higher education and stated that the negative effects of this bill are caused by the skewed supply which cannot meet the demand of many students, causing problems for Asian-Americans who continue to compete with other students over seats.