February 26, 2008
Written by C.N.
As a university professor, I tend to be particularly sensitive to how Asian Americans are treated on college campuses. With that in mind, two recent events highlight both the good and the bad aspects of how Asian Americans are treated in higher education.
First off is the bad part: as many Asian American bloggers have already commented on, last week there was a racist “satire” column published in the student newspaper at the University of Colorado at Boulder that perpetuated numerous racial stereotypes against Asian Americans.
As you can read for yourself, here are some excerpts:
Asians are not just “a product of their environment,” and their rudeness is not a “cultural misunderstanding.” They hate us all.
And I say it’s time we started hating them back. That’s right-no more “tolerance.” No more “cultural sensitivity.” No more “Mr. Pretend-I’m-Not-Racist.” It’s time for war. . . . If you’re not sure if someone is an Asian, give them a calculus problem to do in their head. If they get it right, net ‘em. . . .
Before we let the Asians go, we will go to their homes and redecorate them in a traditional American style. We will replace their rice cookers with George Foreman Grills, their green tea mochi with fried Snickers bars, and their rice rockets with Hummers. And booster seats. . . .
The only other way to make peace would be to expel you.
At best, the column is a rather idiotic and incoherent diatribe against perceived cultural differences. But in reality, it reinforces racial biases and prejudices against Asian Americans and sets us further apart as “foreigners” who will never, ever be considered “Americans.” Other Asian Americans have weighed in with their own critiques as well.
Of course, there are defenders of the column who argue that freedom of speech allows the writer to say whatever he wants and that ultimately, it’s meant as a joke and that we Asian Americans should all just lighten up. To that argument, here is my standard response:
What we need to recognize is that there are fundamental institutional power differences inherent in situations in which White public figures denigrate minorities and that each time an incident like that happens, it reinforces the notion of White supremacy — that Whites can say whatever they want against anybody at any time.
I’m also not surprised to hear a White person say that they don’t feel offended by anything because as a collective racial group, Whites already enjoy so many other privileges associated with their skin color. Isn’t it just typical for Whites and their lackeys to say “sticks and stones” and “get just it over it.” Unfortunately, that comment only serves to provide us with nothing else than a clear illustration of White privilege and supremacy.
As an update to this story, after meeting with university officials, staff at the student newspaper have agreed to undergo diversity training to ensure that such “editing lapses” in the future. I suppose that’s good news, but it would have been nice if someone, anyone involved could have come to their senses in the beginning and realized that perpetuating racial stereotypes, even when it’s meant as satire, is almost never a good idea.
Fortunately, I have better news to try to offset this episode: the University of Washington recently announced that they will award honorary baccalaureate degrees to hundreds of former Japanese American students whose education were terminated when they were imprisoned after the Pearl Harbor attack at the start of World War II:
UW spokesman Bob Roseth said the decision to award the degrees was at least partly because of a two-part series of articles that ran two years ago in the university’s alumni magazine, Columns. The series detailed the stories of a handful of the students who were forced to leave the university more than 60 years ago. . . .
“It’s only taken … 66 years to address this injustice,” UW Regent Stanley Baer said. “It occurs to me to take some comfort in the fact that a president couldn’t do that today,” added Regent Bill Gates Sr. . . .
Tetsuden Kashima, UW professor of American ethnic studies, said limited information has been gathered about 390 of the students. Kashima, who petitioned the regents to approve the measure, isn’t sure how many of the students are still alive.
It is a little unfortunate that it took the University of Washington more than 60 years to take this step but nonetheless, it is a noteworthy and symbolic acknowledgment of a grave historical injustice.
I can only hope that as we move forward into the increasingly globalized and transnational 21st century that I will see more events like the University of Washington declaration, and less of incidents like that at the University of Colorado.
It always seems to be two steps forward, one step back.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "The Good and Bad at College Campuses" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2008/02/the-good-and-bad-at-college-campuses/> ().
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