LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Dan Wu, the founder of Atomic Ramen and a community activist, delivered a lecture to an audience in person and on Zoom Wednesday to discuss the effects of systemic racism and white supremacy on Asians and Asian Americans.
The University of Kentucky Office of China Initiatives (OCI) hosted Wu, whose talk was called "Yellow Peril to Model Minority: How Systemic Racism & White Supremacy has kept Asians Quiet & Controlled in America."
Wu, who arrived in the United States from China when he was eight, weaved his life story into a broader story about societal views and attitudes toward Asian Americans over the past 200 years.
He brought the audience back to the 1850s, when the California Gold Rush brought Chinese people and others from around the world to the United States.
However, Wu noted, their expectations of striking it rich were quickly shattered.
"What they found facing them were laws, taxes, and violence," Wu told the audience.
The mistreatment and discrimination of Chinese and other Asians culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed into law 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.
Wu said the attitude toward Asians in the 19th century was embodied by the phrase "the yellow peril."
"The yellow peril was a late 19th century idea about the faceless, nameless hordes of 'yellow people' from the Asia Pacific, that would, by sheer numbers, overwhelm white and European nations, cultures, values, and civilization itself," Wu explained to the crowd.
In the 1960s, he said, the idea of the 'model minority' began to take hold, which categorized Jewish and Asian people as smart, industrious, law abiding, and productive members of society.
Wu said these two pernicious ideas help explain the racist view of Asians in America.
"Two sides of the same racist coin," he remarked.
Wu's speech comes weeks before Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It also comes in the wake of the killing of eight people in Asian-owned businesses in Atlanta last month. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.
"For a lot of people who don't know the context of history, it feels like an isolated incident," he said in an interview with LEX 18 after his lecture. "What I really wanted to do with this talk was put it into historical context and to say, 'No, this is a much larger picture of white supremacy and systematic racism in America from day one.'"