If We Called Ourselves Yellow

For more than a century it's been a racial slur. But there's also a movement to reclaim the term. So, what about Yellow?
Source: LA Johnson

I'm on the phone with a history professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, named Ellen Wu. We're talking about skin color, identity and how people like us — Americans of East Asian-descent — can describe ourselves.

Wu and I agree that there are many words we could use: Asian American, East Asian, East Asian American. People with roots from South Asia or Southeast Asia sometimes refer to themselves as brown, which seems like a useful shorthand. But for a bunch of reasons, brown doesn't work for East Asians. I'm wondering if there's a parallel word for us.

I pose this question, a little hesitantly: What about yellow?

Wu sucks in a breath. Her gut reaction is, No! The word, she says, is too fraught. Using it would be like painting our skin with a sickly, mustard sheen, or writing a nasty word on our foreheads. "Yellow" has long been considered noxious. To some, it's on par with Chink, Gook, Nip or Chinaman.

And yet. And yet. I sort of love yellow. The idea of calling myself yellow stirs in the pit of my stomach, the same place where belly aches and excitement form. It feels at once radical and specific. Though it's a slur — in fact, because it's a slur — it's the type of word that could force people to face its long, storied history of racism and resistance directly, every time they heard it.

So, what about yellow?

is of watching after school with my

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