“YELLOW: RACE IN AMERICA BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE”

For so many New Yorkers last week’s shootings in Atlanta were an all too painful reminder of the hate Asian Americans encounter every day. Some of New York City’s leading voices have been sounding the alarm about the severity of this problem well before the Georgia attack. And as the investigation continues into the shootings- which many believe to have clearly been racially motivated- there’s also a push to counter the spread of hate here at home by raising awareness about the issues and history at hand. Tonight, as part of our Exploring Hate initiative, Frank Wu, Queens College President, author of “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White” and one of the voices driving this conversation both nationally and on campus joins us.

Aired on March 23, 2021.

TRANSCRIPT

> WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

FOR SO MANY NEW YORKERS, LAST WEEK'S SHOOTING IN THE ATLANTA AREA WAS AN ALL-TOO-PAINFUL REMINDER OF THE HATE ASIAN AMERICANS ENCOUNTER EVERY SINGLE DAY.

SOM AS THE INVESTIGATION CONTINUES INTO THE VIOLENCE, WHICH MANY FEEL WAS CLEARLY RACIALLY MOTIVATED, THERE'S ALSO AN EFFORT TO RAISE THE AWARENESS ABOUT THE COMPLEX HISTORY AT HAND.

OUR NEXT GUEST IS HELPING DRIVE THIS CONVERSATION NATIONALLY AND ON CAMPUS.

FRANK WU IS PRESIDENT OF QUEEN'S COLLEGE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AND AUTHOR OF THE BOOK 'YELLOW, RACE IN AMERICA, BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE.'

HE ALSO WROTE THE FORWARD TO THE RECENT REPORT FROM THE ASIAN AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK ON THE SURGE OF HATE DURING COVID.

AND HE JOINS US NOW AS PART OF OUR EXPLORING HATE INITIATIVE EXAMINING THE INTERSECTION OF ANTI-SEMITISM, RACISM AND EXTREMISM IN AMERICA.

WELCOME PRESIDENT WU.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME TO TALK ABOUT SUCH AN IMPORTANT SUBJECT.

ABSOLUTELY.

FIRST, I JUST WANT TO START WITH WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MESSAGE THAT YOU'VE BEEN AT LEAST TRYING TO GET TO STUDENTS ON CAMPUS AND OF COURSE THE LARGER NEW YORK COMMUNITY, ESPECIALLY FOLLOWING THE ATLANTA SHOOTINGS?

WELL, I CAME TO QUEENS COLLEGE BECAUSE THE BOROUGH WAS THE MOST DIVERSE PLACE NOT JUST IN THE CITY, NOT JUST IN THE NATION, BUT ON THE FACE OF THE PLANET.

QUEENS AS A COUNTY ACTUALLY HAS MORE LANGUAGES SPOKEN THAN ANY OTHER PLACE ANYWHERE, PROBABLY IN HUMAN HISTORY.

SO WE KNOW THAT FOR MANY OF OUR STUDENTS, THESE ISSUES ARE ALL TOO REAL.

MY MESSAGE TO THEM IS WE WILL BE A SAFE PLACE FOR YOU AS WE EMERGE FROM THIS PANDEMIC.

WE HAVE BECOME AWARE THAT AS WE REBUILD WE HAVE TO ADDRESS THE RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, THE RACIAL DISPARITIES THAT ARE JUST ALL AROUND US AND IT'S FINALLY BECOME APPARENT AND IT'S BEEN ACKNOWLEDGED.

MANY HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN, BUT NOW THE WORLD IS AWARE.

THIS IS SERIOUS.

IT'S A PATTERN.

IT'S A PROBLEM.

HOW DO YOU ADDRESS PERHAPS CONCERNS OR FEARS NOT JUST OF THE KIDS ON CAMPUS, BUT THE COLLEGE STUDENTS AND OF COURSE THE LARGER COMMUNITY IN QUEENS ABOUT THE CRIMES THAT MIGHT BE HAPPENING OR COULD CONTINUE TO HAPPEN IN THIS CHARGED EMOTIONAL CLIMATE RIGHT NOW?

RIGHT.

FOR ASIAN AMERICANS THE DIFFICULTY IS GETTING ANYONE TO PAY ATTENTION.

THESE ISSUES AREN'T NEW, BUT THE AWARENESS IS.

ASIAN AMERICANS HAVE BEEN AROUND SINCE THE UNITED STATES CIVIL WAR.

MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THAT.

THERE ARE SIXTH, EVEN SEVENTH GENERATION ASIAN AMERICANS.

THERE ARE AFRO ASIANS.

THERE ARE EVEN ASIAN AMERICANS ADOPTED BY WHITE PARENTS.

WE TRY TO PUT EVERYONE INTO JUST ONE OF TWO BOXES.

THE POINT I'VE TRIED TO MAKE IS, LOOK, THAT PICTURE OF THE WORLD JUST ISN'T ACCURATE.

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE LEGITIMATE, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE MIXED, PEOPLE WHO ARE JEWISH, PEOPLE WHO ARE ARAB, WHO ARE PROUD OF WHITE ETHNIC ROOTS.

WHEN WE TALK AS IF EVERYTHING IS BLACK AND WHITE, THAT DOESN'T GIVE US AN ACCURATE PICTURE, A GOOD UNDERSTANDING.

THE OTHER ISSUE IS WE LIKE EVERYTHING TO BE FIGURATIVELY BLACK AND WHITE, FOR IT TO BE VILLAINS AND VICTIMS.

WE WANT OUR BIGOTS TO BE WICKED AND IN YOUR FACE SHOUTING THEIR HATRED AND THAT'S NOT ALWAYS THE CASE.

OF COURSE.

AND THAT DOES SEEM TO BE SOMETHING THAT AMERICA STRUGGLES WITH, WHICH IS ACTUALLY SOMETHING THAT I FEEL LIKE YOUR BOOK HAS SORT OF TOUCHED ON BEYOND RACE, BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE.

AS YOU TALK ABOUT, AS YOU JUST MENTIONED, THE HISTORY OF ASIAN AMERICANS IN THIS COUNTRY, I'M ALSO WONDERING IF YOU COULD SORT OF ALSO ADD IN THE ISSUE OF HOW WIDE AND BROAD AND HOW MUCH DEPTH THERE IS WITHIN THE D DIASPORA.

WE PAINT WITH THIS BROAD BRUSH WHEN THAT'S NOT NECESSARILY THE CASE.

SURE.

GROWING UP I USED TO HEAR ALL THE TIME, WE ALL LOOK ALIKE, RIGHT?

IN MANY OF THESE HATE CRIMES WHAT HAPPENS IS IT'S MISTAKEN IDENTITY TWICE OVER.

SOMEONE GETS MAD ABOUT A REAL ISSUE.

RIGHT NOW IT'S COVID-19.

BEFORE IT WAS VIETNAM OR PEARL HARBOR.

THEY JUST GO AFTER ANYONE WITH THIS COLOR OF SKIN, TEXTURE OF HAIR, SHAPE OF EYES.

SOMETIMES THEY ATTACK SOMEONE WHO IS JAPANESE, KOREAN, BURMESE, NOT CHINESE.

AND THEY ATTACK SOMEONE WHO'S AN AMERICAN.

MAYBE THEIR FAMILY HAS BEEN HERE FOR THREE GENERATIONS LIVING IN CHINATOWN.

THEY'VE NEVER BEEN TO ASIA, RIGHT?

SO THEY HAVE THE WRONG ETHNIC BACKGROUND AND THEY'RE LOOKING AT A CITIZEN NOT A FOREIGNER.

NOW, IT WOULDN'T BE RIGHT IF THEY WENT AND FOUND SOMEONE RANDOM AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF WHO THEY WERE MAD AT.

BUT WHEN SOMEONE'S GOING TO SPIT ON YOU, WHEN THEY'RE GOING TO STAB YOU, WHEN THEY'RE GOING TO SHOOT YOU, THEY DON'T PAUSE AND SAY, DO YOU HAVE YOUR PASSPORT, BECAUSE IF YOU'RE A U.S. CITIZEN WE'LL LEAVE YOU ALONE.

NO.

THEY STILL SHOVE YOU TO THE GROUND.

ELDERLY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN FORCED TO BREAK BONES EVEN IF YOU'RE NO DIFFERENT.

SOME PEOPLE THINK ASIAN AMERICANS ARE ALL WELL TO DO OR IN THAT PEJORATIVE PHRASE FRESH OFF THE BOAT, WHEN MANY OF THEM ARE NO DIFFERENT THAN NEIGHBORS AND COWORKERS.

BUT THAT GIVES ME HOPE.

SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE REACHED OUT, COLLEAGUES, ACQUAINTANCES HAVE REACHED OUT AND SAID I WANTED TO CHECK ON YOU, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FATHER.

MY FATHER IS 85.

I AM SO TOUCHED BECAUSE I'VE NEVER SEEN THIS.

ON THE ONE HAND, IT'S A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY.

THERE ARE ALL THESE INCIDENTS.

WE SEE THE VIRAL VIDEOS.

NOW THAT PEOPLE ARE AWARE, AGAIN AND AGAIN, HEADLINE AFTER HEADLINE.

BUT THE POSITIVE ASPECT IS ALL THESE FOLKS, RIGHT LEFT, LATINO, NOT JUST PEOPLE OF ASIAN BACKGROUND REACH OUT AND SAY, I'M HERE FOR YOU.

THAT GIVES ME HOPE.

SPEAKING OF THE HOPE THAT YOU HAVE, WHICH I THINK SO MANY PEOPLE ARE DESPERATELY HUNGRY FOR RIGHT NOW.

TO GIVE SOME MORE CONTEXT TO OUR AUDIENCE, YOU HAVE SOMETHING OF A UNIQUE BACKGROUND, YOUR UPBRINGING AND OF COURSE THE BEGINNINGS OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER THAT GIVES YOU A MUCH MORE CONOF A CONTEXT?

SURE.

I'M FROM DETROIT.

WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, THERE WAS A BRUTAL HATE CRIME.

SOMEONE NAMED VINCENT CHIN WAS BLUDGEONED TO DEATH WITH A BASEBALL BAT.

THE ATTACKERS WERE TWO AUTO WORKERS WHO WERE WHITE AND THEY BLAMED HIM FOR THE SUCCESS OF JAPANESE CARS.

NEVER MIND THAT HE WAS CHINESE AMERICAN.

I WENT AS THE FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN TO BE A FACULTY MEMBER AT ITS STORIED LAW SCHOOL.

THAT MADE ME -- WELL, I LEARNED AS MUCH AS I TAUGHT.

IT MADE ME REALIZE I AM PREJUDICED DESPITE MYSELF.

I ENJOY PRIVILEGE I DON'T EVEN NOTICE.

AND HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO JOIN AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY, THE HISTORIC BLACK STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY.

WHEN I RESEARCHED IT I REALIZED WHEN MALCOLM X SPOKE IN 1963, THE NEXT LINE YOU REMEMBER IS, WE CANNOT WALK ALONG.

THE JAPANESE AMERICAN CITIZENS SENT A DELEGATION UNDER HOT SUN THERE TO BE WITH HIM.

WHEN MALCOLM X WAS KILLED, HIS CLOSEST ASSOCIATE -- HE'S DYING IN THE AUDUBON BALLROOM.

THERE'S A PETITE ASIAN WOMAN HOLDING HIS HEAD.

SHE WAS PART OF HIS INNER CIRCLE.

THOSE WERE FOLKS WHO SET AN EXAMPLE FOR ME, BECAUSE THEY KNEW THIS STRUGGLE WAS ONE THEY COULD JOIN AS AN ALLY.

HOW MUCH OF A MORE THOROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF THE COMPLEX AND INTERWOVEN NARRATIVE OF RACE, AGAIN, BEYOND BLACK AND WHITE AS YOUR BOOK SAYS, IS CRITICAL TO NOT ONLY BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND BUT ADDRESS THE ISSUES THAT WE'RE FACING NOW?

IT'S SO IMPORTANT JUST TO START WITH THE FACTS.

IT'S NOT OUT OF ETHNIC PRIDE THAT I WANT ASIAN AMERICANS TO BE INCLUDED.

PEOPLE WHO ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE, THERE ARE FOLKS ON THE OTHER SIDE WHO WILL RECRUIT ASIAN AMERICANS AND CELEBRATE THEM AS THE MODEL MINORITY, HOLD THEM UP WITH FALSE FLATTERY AND SAY AFRICAN-AMERICANS, LATINOS AND OTHER PEOPLE, LOOK AT THE ASIANS, THEY MADE IT, WHY CAN'T YOU?

AN INAPPROPRIATE COMPARISON.

MY HOPE IS WE CAN ENTER THIS PICTURE POSITIVELY AND SAY HOW CAN WE BUILD THESE BRIDGES.

WE REALIZE THERE ARE COALITIONS.

WE'VE JUST FORGOTTEN ABOUT THEM.

THERE HAVE BEEN LABOR MOVEMENTS THAT HAVE BEEN JOINED BY PEOPLE OF EVERY ETHNIC BACKGROUND WHO HAVE REFUSED TO BE DIVIDED.

THERE ARE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE AFRO-ASIAN.

JAZZ GREAT CHARLES MINGUS WAS CHINESE.

IT WAS HIS GRANDFATHER THAT HE WAS PAYING HOMAGE TO ON THE ALBUM COVER.

THERE'S THIS HISTORY THAT GOES BACK.

IT'S ALWAYS BEEN THERE.

WE'VE JUST FORGOTTEN IT OR IT'S BEEN COVERED OVER.

THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TALK RIGHT NOW ABOUT PUSHING FOR BETTER STRONGER HATE CRIME LEGISLATION FOR ANTI-ASIAN CRIMES BUT FOR ALL HATE CRIMES.

AND I'VE BEEN ASKING SO MANY PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT SEEMS TO BE A CONTENTIOUS ISSUE OF JUST GETTING SOMETHING CONSIDERED TO BE A HATE CRIME.

ARE TOUGHER LAWS THE ANSWER?

DOES THERE NEED TO BE PERHAPS TRANSPARENCY AND DOES IT NEED TO COME FROM THE FEDERAL LEVEL OR CAN WE RELY, AS SOME PEOPLE WOULD PREFER, ON A STATE TO STATE METHOD OF ADDRESSING THESE ISSUES?

WE NEED MORE ENFORCEMENT.

WE NEED TOUGHER LAWS.

WE NEED THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

YES TO ALL OF THAT.

I'LL EXPLAIN WHY.

THE LAW HAS ALWAYS LOOKED AT A PERSON'S SPENT.

IF YOU RUN SOMEONE OVER NEGLIGENTLY, THAT'S DIFFERENT IF YOU'RE DRUNK OR YOU INTENTIONALLY RUN THEM OVER.

THE HATE CRIMES LAW WE HAVE NOW IS UNLESS SOMEBODY COMES AT YOU AND SHOUTS AT YOU 'I AM A WHITE SUPREMACIST AND I AM COMING AFTER YOU,' YOU CAN'T GET THE PROSECUTORS TO PRESS THOSE CHARGES, YOU CAN'T GET THE JURY TO CONVICT.

EVEN KILLERS KNOW RIGHT AWAY TO SAY, OH, THIS WASN'T ME.

YOU LOOK AT THIS ATLANTA CASE.

THE POLICE OFFICIAL IN CHARGE, OH, HE WAS JUST HAVING A BAD DAY.

THIS IS AFTER EIGHT PEOPLE WERE KILLED AND THE KILLER CONFESSED, RIGHT?

SO NO ONE'S WONDERING IS HE GUILTY, HE DID IT.

BUT PEOPLE WANT TO SAY, AS IF TO EXCUSE HIM, BECAUSE HE SAID HE'S NOT A BIGOT, THEN IT'S OKAY.

YOU KNOW, A LOT OF THINGS, MAYBE WE CAN'T SEE INTO SOMEONE'S HEART.

WE DON'T KNOW FOR SURE THEY WERE RACIST ALL THE WAY THROUGH.

MAYBE THEY WEREN'T, BUT THE EFFECT IS RACIAL, THE CONSEQUENCES ARE RACIAL, BECAUSE THE SUFFERING IS RACIAL, DIRECTED AT ONE COMMUNITY THAT'S TRAUMATIZED AND TERRORIZED.

SO THIS RECENT CASE ALSO SHOWS SADLY WHY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO BE INVOLVED, BECAUSE THE LOCAL OFFICIALS -- THAT POLICE OFFICER THAT WAS TAKEN OFF THE CASE ALSO WAS POSTING ON SOCIAL MEDIA ABOUT THE CHINA VIRUS.

SO IT'S NO WONDER HE DIDN'T TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

SIX OUT OF EIGHT OF THOSE PEOPLE WERE OF ASIAN DESCENT.

HOW MUCH MORE EVIDENCE DO YOU NEED THAN THE PERSON DROVE AROUND TO ASIAN BUSINESSES SPECIFICALLY TARGETED A MINORITY GROUP AND THEN ADMITTED TO KILLING ALL THESE PEOPLE?

THAT CASE, THAT'S A PRETTY CUT CASE BUT EVEN THEN THERE'S THAT IS ALL HESITANCY BECAUSE THE LAW IS WRITTEN NOW UNLESS THE PERSON JUST ADMITS NOT ONLY DID I KILL THESE PEOPLE, BUT LET ME SAY I'M A BIGOT.

EVEN MURDERERS KNOW NOT TO DO THAT.

UNFORTUNATELY WE HARE GOING O HAVE TO LEAVE IT THERE.

PRESIDENT WU, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO JOIN US AND GIVING US A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON ABOUT RACE IN AMERICA AND HELPING US BETTER UNDERSTAND WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW AND WHAT'S HAPPENING.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US AND HOPEFULLY WE'LL SPEAK AGAIN SOON.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

ABSOLUTELY.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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