When the subject of race is discussed in the United States, most people only speak black and white.
Frank H. Wu, a Howard University law professor, is trying to change the scope of that discussion with his new book “Yellow Race in America: Beyond Black and White.”
Wu tackled issues both historic and timely during a two-hour discussion of racial and ethnic profiling for the Temple Issues Forum last Thursday. Temple was just one of the over 40 stops on Wu’s promotional book tour.
By making a comparison between the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans and the suspicion many Americans now have for Arabs and Muslims, Wu attacked the practice of racial profiling.
He said the belief that all Arabs and Muslims are hijackers is a common mistake.
“Let’s not confuse the war on terrorism with a war on a particular race or faith,” said Wu. “Anger deters our judgment.”
Wu said that America is only hurting itself by racially profiling all Arabs and Muslims because they probably know the most about our enemies.
Traveling over 50 years into history, Wu bridged the past and the present by comparing the Arab and Muslim’s current situation to that of the Japanese Americans during World War II.
During the war years, the Japanese could not own land because of the Alien Land Law Act. Wu added that the Japanese could not become U.S. citizens because Asian immigrants were barred from becoming US citizens in 1942.
“This bar was not lifted until 1952. Only free white and African-Americans could naturalize,” Wu said.
Wu said the Alien Land Law Act really speaks about race because of the racial bar that defined who could be a citizen and who could not.
“You might have a bachelor’s degree but you still wouldn’t be able to get a job,” said Wu.
“You would have found your life to be separate from others,” he said.
In addition, anything that could potentially be used as a weapon was taken away from the Japanese. Finally, the Japanese were given 48 hours to gather their belongings before being sent to what Roosevelt at the time called “concentration camps.”
In an interview with the Temple News, Wu talked about why he is traveling across the country talking about race and the many problems accompanying the subject.
“I just want to engage in dialogue and learn something new from everyone I meet,” he said.
Wu has attempted to see life through the eyes of all minorities, acknowledging the many stereotypes that seem to be nearly indestructible.
“I’m not always thinking about race when I walk down a street. But this is what people notice first and foremost and they do treat you differently based on their impressions,” he said. “If I can experience this, then I can imagine what’s worse.”
While he does not have a solution to the problems plaguing current American race relations, he does have a suggestion. Wu encourages people to enter situations that will make them uncomfortable. He said that once this sense of discomfort is acknowledged and adapted to, the mix of races will make a difference.
“Woody Allen once said that half of success is showing up,” Wu said. “I say the other half is showing up again.”
Patricia Sites and Pooja Shah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org