Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOW Home Page
Home
Politics & Economy
Science & Health
Arts & Culture
Society & Community
Discussion
TV Schedule
Newsletter
For Educators
Archive
Topic Index
Search:
Talk Back Now
Finally someone is seriously trying to expand the issue of race in America beyond only black and white. This discussion is long over due! Talk back on the boards.

Take the Poll
When asked to define yourself what is your first answer?

American flag
4.12.02
Politics and Economy:
Frank Wu on Race in America


My friends sometimes ask why I'm obsessed with race. My answer is that we're all obsessed with race. I don't go walking down the street, thinking, "Here I go — an Asian American — walking down the street." I go about my daily business, and I have encounters that show me how significant yet subtle race is.

View the Commentary
Frank Wu
Frank Wu
on Race in America

Sometimes I run into a kid, a boy maybe 6 or 7 years old, usually white, occasionally black. When he spots me, he stops, smiles, and strikes a pose.

It's a karate pose. It's as if he sees me wearing a black belt; he imagines "fists of fury." He says some gibberish - "ching chong ching chong" - and howls and hisses. Then he throws a kick or a punch, laughs, turns, and dashes away. Now, I could chase this kid down the sidewalk, collar him, and say, "You're a bigot." But I would never do that. For I know why this boy behaves as he does. I credit him with the innocence of childhood. After all, if he turns on the TV or goes to the movies, and sees somebody like me, what am I doing? I'm a ninja assassin; I'm breaking cinder blocks with my head; it's CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. That child doesn't know that his clownish posturing connects to a pattern of trauma for me. When I was his age, kids would call me "chink" and "Jap" and "gook" and pull their eyes into a slant and chant "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, what are these."

All too often, we speak about race as if it is literally black and white, as if everyone fits neatly into two and only two boxes. In that equation, "American" means "white" and "minority" means black. Asian Americans and Latinos - the two fastest growing racial groups — are squeezed out. We become perpetual foreigners in our own homeland.

Whatever our own identities or our ideologies, this is a bad starting point. It gives us a distorted picture of reality.

I believe that those of us who are neither black nor white can further the dialogue about black and white. For example, I chafe against the image of myself as a Kung Fu expert, a geek, someone who can do calculus in my head.

Yet I know I have it relatively easy. For if I were African American, I'd face far worse. Then the image would be I'm a thug, a felon, dangerous. It all adds up. The kid who pretends to fight me likely won't deny me a job, refuse to rent me an apartment, or take my life. But as he grows up his head will fill with other images and attitudes — images that have the power to do much more harm than a moment of clowning around.

All of us — all along the spectrum of the color line — have a responsibility to think about what we're seeing and what we're saying about others. That's where racial justice begins.

Tell us what you think.

Additional Essays:


about feedback pledge © Public Affairs Television. All rights reserved.
go to the full archive