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Listen MKE is an initiative created by WUWM, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library to help Milwaukee's north side residents get the information they want and need.

Listen MKE: Across A Racial Divide Between Black & Asian Communities

WUWM / Facebook
(From top left, clockwise) Daphne Chen, James Causey, Shary Tran, Sherwin Hughes, Jara McLarren and Charern Lee discussion the racial divide between Asian American and Black Americans.

WUWM has been partnering with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library on an initiative called Listen MKE. Its goal: help north side residents get the information they want and need.

Racial tensions between Black and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have been an ongoing source of concern in Milwaukee and elsewhere in the nation.

Moderators James Causey and Daphne Chen of the Journal Sentinel lead a conversation on Facebook Live to talk about this important issue and what can be done about it. Guests included Shary Tran, executive board member of AAPI Coalition of Wisconsin and co-founder of ElevAsia; Sherwin Hughes, on-air host at 101.7 FM The Truth and a long-time Milwaukeean who has talked about the subject on the air and Charern Lee and Jara McLarren, a couple who have found love across the divide.

Hughes said members of both AAPI and Black communities harbor racial stereotypes about the other group before they ever even interact with each other.

“[Asian people], many know some of these stereotypical negative images that permeate the media about African Americans. So, when they come to this country, that’s one thing that’s very easy for them to understand, that African Americans are less than, we’re criminals, you know, every negative stereotype,” he said.

Hughes said he remembers seeing racist stereotypes of Asian people growing up, especially on television. Those stereotypes lead to people acting on their worst fears, he said, pointing to the murder of Latasha Harlins by a Korean store owner in Los Angeles in 1991 as one example.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever healed the wounds that have existed since then, but I know that we still occupy the same geographic space,” Hughes said.

Tran said despite that, the two communities have a lot in common and moving forward thinks those similarities can be used to find common ground.

"Right now, there’s more attention on how we can come together, how we can support one another and not just because, you know, it’s an immediate need because of Atlanta. There’s been a lot of Asians for Black Lives events and movements happening. A lot of trying to change the perceptions of older generations,” she said.

Now, Tran said, the younger generations in AAPI communities are having conversations about the racism that has been passed down and how to eliminate it to build stronger bonds with Black communities.

“This is, like you said, a topic that hasn’t been talked about as much, and if it is talked about, it’s always not necessarily what’s going right but what’s been going wrong, so I think this is a good opportunity to really look at those opportunities to build,” she said.

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