I had been thinking about making this film for years and the opportunity finally presented itself. Many people have asked me why I titled the film, ‘Yellow Jazz Black Music’, isn’t yellow a negative moniker for Asian people, and isn’t Black laden with a host of negative tropes? Yes, for many people perhaps this is true. I would like to argue, however, for those of us who continue to resist these simplistic, racist metaphors, and who understand the work that has been done to malign people of color, that we take control of the narrative despite the messiness surrounding the history of those terms. The title was a conscious decision to aptly describe precisely the entanglement and inextricable links of the music of African descended people and those from Asia. The negative adjectival function aside, Black and Yellow are a lot more complex in their meanings and expressions.

The meaning of yellow in the early 20th century had a turbulent history in both the U.S. and in China. It delineated a peril that one was to be ever vigilant of, a euphemism for sex and lasciviousness, it stood in for diabolical fiends such as the fictional Chinese character Fu Manchu and Femme Fatales performed by Hollywood’s first Asian star, Anna Mae Wong, and it signified music in China from the 1950s to the 1970s that expressed an old and backward society. Conversely, yellow was the symbolic color of the emperor in imperial China. The Yellow River is the mythical birthplace of Chinese civilization and symbolizes heroism. What if, however, as some have suggested that the yellow moniker be used to proudly describe and unify Asian people in the same way Negro and then Black has been deployed by Black Americans as a source of pride, strength, and resilience.1 What would yellowness as a cultural, social, and political framework look like then?

Perhaps as a global community, Black and Yellow would no longer be viewed as terms to avoid, disavow, and disparage in public, or to consume, mimic and enjoy in private (and publicly too), but to embrace the strength that each designation has to offer and to celebrate the undeniable power of Black music and its contributions to the world—in tandem with its heterogeneous Yellow form.

–Marketus Presswood, PhD

[1] Kat Chow, What If We Called Ourselves Yellow(2018)NPR: Code Switch.[ https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2018/09/27/647989652/if-we-called-ourselves-yellow] accessed May 26, 2021

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