Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Asian American studies matters

I've been in NYC for the last few days (it was spring break last week at Southern U) so I didn't get to see this video until today--but perhaps by now some of you are familiar with the racist rant from UCLA undergraduate, Alexandra Wallace in which she complains about "Asians" and all those awful things Asians do, like bring their families to the dorms, let their kids run wild, and talk on their cell phones in their "ching chong a ling long" voice (actual quote -- or perhaps actual paraphrase of her quote).

If you want to see the awfulness in its entriety, all you need to do is google the words "UCLA racist rant Asian" and up will pop the youtube video.

However, what I want to post is this vlog response from David So:

It's pretty funny and a MUCH better thing to watch than the actual video itself (which is just PAINFUL) but I do think that Ms. Wallace makes one thing clear, and that is the continued need for Asian American studies -- why people need to be educated about Asian American issues and about Asian American people. And Ms. Wallace is in the perfect place for such an education since the UCLA Asian American Studies department is one of the first such departments in the nation -- and the Amerasia Journal is one of the most pre-eminent journals on Asian American topics.

Also, a word to Alexandra Wallace and anyone else who think that (1) there is a single "Asian" language (2) that it sounds like people saying "ching chong ling long" -- I direct you to spoken word artist Beau Sia's "an open letter to all the rosie o'donnells" because he breaks it down and says it best.

Finally, I want to say one last thing about Alexandra Wallace. I think that A LOT of people have expressed a lot of anger towards her--but in some of that anger (including in David So's response above) people feel the need to make assumptions about her based on the fact that she is a blonde female student showing some cleavage--and so she's been called a whore and other disparaging names. While I confess that she sounds extraordinarily ignorant based on the content of her rant (and grammar is not a strong suit in her speaking skills), I think we need to be careful not to perpetuate another form of violence--misogyny and sexism--in order to decry Ms. Wallace's bigotry and racism. I think we can call her an ignorant idiot without calling her a slut.

[Update: The New York Times has now covered this debacle -- click here for the link to the article. Apparently UCLA officials are considering disciplinary actions against Ms. Wallace. So I decided to write an email message to the UCLA Chancellor--which I've reprinted below:]

March 16, 2011

Dear Chancellor Gene Block,

Forgive the intrusion—I recognize that you are a very busy man and that the last thing you need is more email to sift through regarding UCLA undergraduate Alexandra Wallace's viral youtube video. However, I just read an article in The New York Times that says you are considering disciplinary actions against Ms. Wallace.

As a professor who teaches Asian American literature and researches issues of race and anti-racism, may I make a suggestion? If you do decide to pursue some type of disciplinary action, I recommend requiring Ms. Wallace to enroll in an Asian American studies course. Any course will do. Given the level of ignorance about Asian Americans that Ms. Wallace demonstrated and given the illustrious history of Asian American studies at UCLA, I think it fitting to require Ms. Wallace to learn a little something about the people she is maligning.


[Second Update: So I have been seeing a lot of video responses by folks, and I find it interesting that people (college-aged folks mainly) seem to be using YouTube as a platform to respond to Ms. Wallace. Now, a lot of stuff has been pretty misogynist--as a friend of mine put it (quoting from Audre Lorde) people have to learn that you can't dismantle the master's house using the master's tools--in other words, like I said above, resorting to sexist comments is another kind of violence that isn't helpful.

But humor is--and a friend send me a link to this YouTube video that showcases the humorous and most importantly musical talents of a guy named "Jimmy":


The CLAMShack: said...

LOVE the "jimmy" song!

macon d said...

Great letter!

And of all the response videos that I've seen, I agree with you that Beau Sia says it best.

VIC7012Y said...

hi, i really love your blog... i've been looking for something like this (don't know why i didn't find it until now). it's helping me navigate key issues for my daughter and I. on a side note, I wanted to read the hapa studies you have listed as a link, but it appears the link doesn't work. do you know where these studies may have moved to?

A. said...

Awesome letter. I don't think expulsion would have made her learn anything, either. I also don't agree with the way that people are dealing with her racism through hate--death threats are a bit much considering that's what we're trying to combat. It makes us look bad when we deal with hate with more hate. Although personally, I do not agree with (and am extremely offended by) the way Alexandra describes the "hordes of Asians" and the fact that they need to use "American manners", I have to say that I do understand her frustration at people who talk on cellphones in the library... I also am annoyed when I am trying to study and people are loudly chatting on their cellphone, but they are not always Asian and they DO NOT ever say "ching chong ling long ting tong" and they are NOT calling every person in their phonebook about the tsunamis, which is a completely different matter. This girl... if I were her parents, I would be deeply ashamed that my parenting has led to such ignorance.

Ashley said...

I also really liked your letter. This is the first I am reading your blog and it is great. As an Asian American, there is so much ignorance surrounding our culture and Ms. Wallace is the perfect example of such people. I completely agree that she should be educated (although in recent news I heard she dropped out of UCLA). I have also seen many response videos to her video (and even was considering posting one) and realized how people try to combat hate with more hate and that honestly doesn't solve anything. Thank you for addressing the subject of educating ignorance/ racism, it's very refreshing to see.

Jennifer said...

Thanks everyone for your posts--sorry it has been so long since I've replied--life got the better of me. But I really appreciate all your comments! And I appreciate all your appreciations!!!

Yumi Wilson said...

What an extremely well-reasoned opinion on that issue. I've really enjoyed your blog so far!

Jennifer said...

Thanks Yumi! I'm really flattered that you are reading my blog, esp. from a writer such as yourself!