Sept. 18, 2020 - Frank H. Wu, president of Queens College, City University of New York discussed his perspective on the Asian-American experience and how it must lead to allyship with the historic struggle for Black equality as part of the Dean's Distinguished Speaker Series. His talk, "Asian Americans at a Crossroads During COVID-19: Allyship and the Future of Civil Rights" was held via Zoom on Tuesday.
"As a people, all of us, we stand in this crossroads as we address not only the pandemic, but the problems of racial discrimination," Wu said. "As much as we have made progress on the ideals we share, there are still disparities and violence that results in death.
"This is a moment fraught with tension and anxiety, and yet I have hope in the power of words, rhetoric principles and coalition building."
Wu described how in some instances throughout U.S. history, Asian-Americans were considered the 'model minority' compared to other people of color. He said such prejudices can lead to an exaggerated or distorted image of the Asian-American community.
"Asian-Americans get brought into the discussion not to unite, but to divide," Wu said. "It leads to inaccurate comparisons. My concern is when we generalize on a racial basis, because we know how dangerous racial stereotypes are.
"The problem with the model minority myth is it's just not factually accurate. Asian-Americans are the least likely group in America to be promoted to management in Silicon Valley. They face bullying and hazing at high levels."
Wu pointed to several notable instances of anti-Asian-American sentiments, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Such discrimination has occurred recently because of the pandemic.
"I believe we face a moral dilemma for individuals in communities as Asian-Americans are being blamed for COVID-19 - not just for being contagious but for being culpable" Wu said. "Not just the notion that they are vectors for infection, but that somehow as a people they are to blame."
Wu concluded his remarks in what he described as an abiding belief in the American dream among Asian immigrants.
"They continue to come and hope to share in the share of the prosperity of this nation through the opportunity available," he said. "They seek to make their future on these shores.
"Diversity and democracy are twin ideals. Both processes require our engagement and our participation. That is ultimately what our society has been built upon. It is up to us to make good on these ideals."
Wu was born to Chinese immigrants who settled in Detroit. Wu has emphasized diversity and inclusion throughout his career, serving as the first tenured Asian-American faculty member at the historically black Howard Law School and as the youngest dean in the nation at Wayne State Law School. He authored “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White,” where he argues for a new paradigm of civil rights that goes beyond black-white, while also addressing subtle forms of racial discrimination that remain prevalent.
Co-sponsors for the event included the UHLC Asian American Law Student Association, the Asian American Bar Association of Houston, the UHLC Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the Houston Bar Association and Houston Young Lawyers Association.