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Three questions with...
2022 Fellow Ellen D. Wu

Your Fellows project will tell a new story about Asian Americans, looking at diversity, data, and democracy. What led you to choose these topics as the three major themes of your project?

At the heart of my project lies a burning question: Where do Asian Americans fit in a country built on the Black-white racial divide? I’m particularly interested in how this conundrum has played out policy-wise, especially as the concept of “minorities” came into vogue for addressing racial disparities during and after World War II.

Just who counts as a “minority” besides Black Americans has long been up for debate. That fuzziness has allowed for a diversity of groups to make claims. For generations, Asian Americans have tried to “prove” their beleaguered minority status in order to access rights and resources. They furnished data illustrating their “underrepresentation” as evidence. But such metrics have spawned unintended consequences, including the peculiar branding of Asian Americans as an “overrepresented minority” as demographics changed. This twist invites us to approach anew our presumptions about “proportionality” and “representation” as tools for achieving equality and justice in democratic life.

Your previous book, The Color of Success, which explored the history of the “model minority,” was released in 2014. How has the conversation on racial justice, particularly Asian American issues, changed since your last book’s release? How have these changes influenced your current work?

The Color of Success came out just as #BlackLivesMatter and Ferguson captured the nation’s attention. I didn’t expect it to find so many readers outside of academic circles. But its history of “model minority” typecasting speaks to a growing urgency among Asian Americans to dismantle anti-Black racism, particularly where we have been implicated in feeding it. This yearning inspires my current work.

At the same time, a vocal minority of Asian Americans began to organize to end affirmative action. They’ve been very effective in putting major universities (Harvard, UNC) on the defensive. Then with the pandemic Asian Americans experienced intensities of hostility and violence. After the horrific shootings in Atlanta and Indianapolis in spring 2021, we saw an unprecedented—and frankly astonishing—outpouring of concern for Asian Americans. While these are not feel-good circumstances, they do confirm to me that Asian Americans are important figures in the history of racial justice.

As part of your project, you have taken on social media research following the use of #StopAsianHate on Twitter. What were some of the challenges and advantages of this form of research? Were you surprised by any of your findings?

Social media obviously figures enormously into race-making today—how racial identity gets produced, embraced, contested, reappropriated, and so forth over time. The amount of data is endless, but even analyzing a tiny sample provides empirical heft to what we sense intuitively.

Asian American Twitter was difficult to study before 2021 because there wasn’t really a hashtag that had gone super-viral for an extended time. Then came #StopAsianHate. My team of graduate students pinpointed celebrities who amplified the hashtag, which helps explain why 2021 was such a turning point. Olivia Munn was one of the earliest users. BTS’s tweet from March 29 became the most retweeted of 2021. Perhaps most sobering was discovering how few tweets paired #StopAsianHate with #StandWithSikhs—a hashtag that arose in the wake of the Indianapolis FedEx facility shooting just a month after the Atlanta tragedy. This divergence underscores the constraints of the #StopAsianHate framework.

Surveillance State: Inside China's Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control

A groundbreaking work of investigative nonfiction on life in China's burgeoning surveillance state.

Publication date: September 6th.

Available for pre-order through our bookselling partner Solid State Books here

By: Josh Chin, Class of 2020, and Liza Lin

Learn more

Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us

A highly anticipated book which compels us to examine how the stories we tell about mental illness shape our sense of who we are.

Publication date: September 13th.

Available for pre-order through our bookselling partner Solid State Books here.

By: Rachel Aviv, Class of 2019

Learn More

Hot Off The Press

Fellows on what they would be doing if they weren't in their current position:

1: I'd be in public health research. — Vann Newkirk, Class of 2020

2: Working for a wildlife refuge in southern Africa, or in Kenya. Seriously, it sounds like heaven. — Janet Reitman, Class of 2022

3:  Thinking and dreaming. — Hassan Abbas, Class of 2018

Two Cents

CJ Hunt's film The Neutral Ground was nominated for a News & Documentary Emmy in the category of Outstanding Historical Documentary.

Abrahm Lustgarten wrote about Barbados and climate change for the cover of the New York Times Magazine. 

Caleb Gayle's book, We Refuse to Forget, was reviewed in the New Yorker.

Anna Louie Sussman was selected as a 2022-2023 visiting journalist with the Russell Sage Foundation.

Sheri Fink's book Five Days At Memorial was adapated into an Apple TV+ series by the same name, premiering August 12th. 

Lauren Michele Jackson interviewed actress Tessa Thompson for Harper's Bazaar's August cover story.

Two Cents

New America events we recommend you check out. Now.



LSX Summit: Innovative Ways to Communicate the Science of Early Learning

Join the Learning Sciences Exchange (LSX) fellows as they showcase their innovative projects to translate childhood development research for parents, educators, and the public. Learn more.


Future Security Forum 2022: Securing Democracies

Join New America and Arizona State University’s Future Security project for a day of sessions that will assess the state of global affairs. Learn more.

New America Events

The podcast explores a conspiracy theory about the band the Scorpions, but to me it was really about all of the weird and upsetting ways the CIA has used popular culture to shape public opinion—sometimes without the culture-producers themselves even being aware of it. 
— Eve L. Ewing,
Class of 2018

Learn more

Serge has the richest prose, and the most incisive, self-critical, brutal way of writing history as it happens. 
— Molly Crabapple,
Class of 2020

Learn more

Gives the historical context to understand today's electoral disenfranchisement. 
— Melissa Segura,
Class of 2019

Learn more

Reading this month

Fill out the form below for a chance to win a copy of We Refuse to Forget by Caleb Gayle, Class of 2021.

Please submit by Monday, August 8th to be considered.

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