When he’s walking the streets of San Francisco, kids challenge him to karate matches. Yet Frank Wu is no karate master. His identity as the chancellor and dean of The University of California Hastings College of Law is daily superimposed and racialized by those around him.

As the author of “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White,” Frank Wu offers a unique perspective on racial identity.

“It’s a prank. It’s trivial to him. He doesn’t know how traumatic it was for me when I was a little kid,” Wu said. “It’s not just that I was offended as an Asian-American. I’m offended as someone with a sense of humor. This thing has been done before so many times, and it’s been done better. There needs to be new material.”

On November 17 Wu discussed race and the subtle forms of racial discrimination, inviting people of all backgrounds to see what is between black and white. He acknowledges that race is a widely talked about subject, but he will offer a new paradigm of thought about race.

“We talk as if everything is about villains and victims when it’s not,” Wu said. “I’d like to expose the shades of grey in the way in which races are subtle and complicated.”

Joy Lei, the coordinator of the YELLOW event, explains the significance of Wu’s ideas for the UCSC campus.

“Dean Wu will guide us through an examination of race in the U.S. that complicates the traditional ways race has been understood in our society,” Joy Lei, coordinator of the YELLOW event said in an e-mail.

Looking back on his encounter in San Francisco and experiences growing up in Detroit, Michigan as the only Asian-American, Wu discussed bullying and its detrimental effects on those subjected to it.

“What’s striking is that Asian Americans face that issue in being bullied more than anyone else. Even though that kid doing the karate moves isn’t really doing anything, it is because sometimes it leads to bullying in a way that is really horrific and causes permanent psychological damage,” Wu said. “It starts with a little thing. What does it mean when you’re a kid and you face this every day? It sends you a signal that you don’t belong.”

For the recent event, Wu hoped to have engaged in dialogue rather than lecture, explaining that democracy is based in dialogue and on the ability to give and take.  As an individual with a career in education, Wu stresses the importance of the participation of youth and describes its power to create change.

“Young people are the greatest force of change possible. Young people can interact in a form that can transform our understanding of race on a daily basis” Wu said. “It’s not enough to say that racism is bad. It’s important for us to see that it is not enough to just acknowledge. There’s a problem and there is so much more to do and young people have the right and responsibility to play a central role.”

Specifically on youth in education, Wu sees a college campus as a positive circumstance in terms of student diversity.

“It’s crucial because that interaction as equals, as friends in a place where you’ve come to learn, you don’t find that anywhere else,” Wu said. “This is what ultimately brings about change.”
Wu stresses that his proposal of a new paradigm is not centered on blame or negative feelings.

Frederick Chung, a fourth year student, attended the event and describes it as a positive experience.

“It was inspiring and reassuring in that diversity is still happening and that there’s no real end to it,” Chung said.

In light of diversity issues afflicting the campus over the last year, Wu’s discussion was a gateway to a bigger campus conversation.

“This is important to the UCSC community because we need an open and on-going dialogue about race and the various ways it affects the campus climate and students’ experiences,” Lei said. “A more complicated and better understanding of race will inform such a dialogue.”

Wu deviates from the blame and resentment often seen in most attitudes on race.

“I want to focus on the positive. I want people to see that learning about race isn’t about feeling guilty or people blaming you for the bad things that you’ve done,” Wu said. “It’s about learning to understand each other and learning in a way that ultimately helps each and every one of us. I want people to see their self interest in becoming more knowledgeable about race.”