Attorney: Asian Perspectives Discounted in Race Poll

Frank Wu, Dean of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, asks why Asians were left out of the recent Pew poll on racial attitudes.


With all the talk about race, commentator Frank Wu wonders why one group always seems to be left out of the conversation.

Dean FRANK WU (Wayne State University Law School): I am always a little offended that discussions of race are, so often, just black and white. Not because I'm Asian American, but because I can easily see that our nation is much more diverse than that. Advancing our ideals of civil rights require speaking to, for and about all of us. Perhaps Asian Americans are excluded because the popular image of us has been the model minority myth.

According to this story, the immigrant generation arrives here with nothing but their work ethic. Opening a small business they operate 24/7. They then raise the American-born generation to become child prodigies who win every spelling bee, science fair, math competition and piano recital on their way to the Ivy League. The families buy fancy cars and big houses, inviting their cousins to come over, too. We've put a different face on the idea of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, proving that racial discrimination is a problem of the past. That's what people think anyway.

To be skeptical of this stereotype takes nothing away from the individuals of Asian descent who, indeed, have succeeded in realizing the American dream. The ethnic generalization may seem positive, but it is dangerous, nonetheless. The germ of truth is exaggerated and distorted. The assumption that Asian Americans have made it is not only wrong in so many instances, but also leads to other assumptions.

The notion is that we cannot face meaningful prejudice, even though the very image of oriental overachievers leads to resentment that we are wrecking the grade curve and taking jobs away from real Americans. Our concerns are not considered even if we offer evidence of experiences with bias. Complements can be reversed. To be good at math and science is to be good at only math and science. Lacking leadership and interpersonal skills, the bamboo ceiling holding back Asian Americans in the workplace has explained a way as our own fault.

Worst of all, the flattery is false. Asian Americans are compared to African-Americans in an inappropriate manner that ignores history. Asian Americans are used as pawns for an inflammatory taunt. Look at the Asians, they made it, why can't you?

The most profound writer on race predicted its current complexity. W.E.B. Du Bois, a century ago in the souls of black folks, said famously that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of a color line. But we always edit out the remainder of that wonderful quote — the relation of the darker to lighter races of men in Asia and Africa in the Americas and the islands of the sea. As Du Bois knew then, we all belong in the great dialogue of democracy.

It is clear now that we face a profound transformation within our lifetimes. We will undergo a change never before made by any society on the face of the globe. We will cease to have a single, identifiable racial majority. So the margins are making a new mainstream.

MARTIN: Frank Wu is dean of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit.

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