A chancellor of a public university in the US made a mockery of Asian dialects at commencement. While I’m not shocked because this type of thing happens all the time at all levels of education in the West, I’m appalled by the university’s statement in response. The statement reinforces their racism by calling it a ‘human mistake’ and ‘did not intend to be hurtful.’ If his mockery was not intended to humiliate Asians, it was meant to other them at the expense of a cheap gag.
I’m disappointed to see such blunt racism in higher education. I feel sick from seeing the chancellor and his white leadership sneering at the joke. If this type of violence, reduction, and erasure of ethnic and cultural identity is not white supremacy, I don’t know what is.
Do I think white people to become allies for ethnic minorities? Yes, it’s possible. I’ve met true allies from all races and backgrounds. But much of ‘woke’ white allies may offer support that is conditional and contingent upon making their place more secure. I wouldn’t depend on white people and their bureaucratic DEI(Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives to bring structural and implicit change in academia.
What should we do as Asians, Asian Americans, people of Asian descent, refugees, and adoptees, all glorious shades of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and geographical identities? The first thing is to make more space for fellow Asians to grow and thrive. Building a pathway for others’ success, battling discrimination so that the next person would not have to suffer as much. The next action would be to expand the solidarity and cooperation with wider minority groups, inclusive of other ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups. It’s important to develop solidarity with the disabled, Deaf, and other minority groups that suffer from ableism and the medical industrial complex because of the ways in which western medical systems and culture pathologize otherness. Understanding and appreciating our intersectional identities would be the key to untangling oppressive ‘identity policing’ and nationalism. The third action would be to explore arts and culture as powerful tools of self and collective expression. Art can challenge the reductive representation of identities as commodities or fetishes. Cultural work can preserve and reinterpret heritage while challenging the western gaze. This type of work can and will bring structural change over time.
December 16, 2022
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