Revolution #228, April 3, 2011
UCLA Student's Anti-Asian Tirade "Goes Viral"
On Friday, March 11, a UCLA undergraduate posted a racist video rant on the Internet targeting "Asian" students, which she titled "Asians in the library." Her video found its way to YouTube and "went viral" in no time. In days it had been viewed by millions of people in the U.S. and half-way around the world, while numerous remixes, parodies and responses appeared and went viral as well.
In the video the student says:
...The problem is these hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every single year, which is fine...but if you're going to come to UCLA, then use American manners.... In America, we don't talk on our cell phones in the library....I'll be deep into my studying...all of a sudden...over here from somewhere, 'Ohhhh. Ching chong ling long ting tong. Ohhhh.' Are you kidding me? During finals week?
The timing of her racist rant made it an international, even global incident, covered in online editions of dailies such as The Times of India and the British Daily Mail, along with the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Washington Post and many more. You see, the video was posted the same day that the earthquake, and then the tsunami, struck Japan, causing tremendous destruction and loss of life, and setting into motion the catastrophic damage and growing danger still unfolding as multiple nuclear power plants head toward melt-down.
Not unaware of the timing, the student refers to "the tsunami thing" as the topic the "Asians" were probably discussing. Her advice to them? Go outside so you won't freak people out if you get bad news.
UCLA's campus paper, The Daily Bruin, received an unconvincing letter of apology from the student on Monday morning, saying what she did was "inappropriate," and that she would undo it if she could. The response from the university was likewise unconvincing, sounding more like typical "boilerplate." The Chancellor sent an email to students, and released a video, that said it was "a sad day for UCLA"; that he was "appalled by the thoughtless and hurtful comments," and that "speech that expresses intolerance toward any group of people...is indefensible and has no place at UCLA" and that they would investigate to see if any student rules were violated.
The Bruin received hundreds of e-mail comments in response to their coverage of this story, as did the Chancellor's Facebook page, and other newspapers wherever the story appeared. Many wrote that the rant was "hate speech," and called for the administration to discipline the student, if not expel her. The New York Times quoted a student who wrote, "Tolerating such discourse of hate and racism is now being construed as policy to condone such tirades." Others argued that the student's video, however odious, was protected by the First Amendment.
There were also viciously misogynist—women-hating—responses to the video (and responses that were reportedly interpreted by the woman who posted the racist video as death threats). Many people were shocked and outraged by the responses, but reacted by arguing that they were worse than the blatant racism in the video. One of the student's professors, quoted in the Daily Bruin, said, "What [she] did was hurtful and inexcusable, but the response has been far more egregious." What these people are not getting is what the two things—racism and sexism—have in common.
Impact on Asian Immigrant and Asian-American Students
Among far too many progressive students and faculty there's been a tendency to refuse to confront the great harm that is done when open expressions of racism are ignored, downplayed, or tolerated. A letter to the Daily Bruin from "hurt asian" said:
Someone walked past me today and said, "Ching chong." I responded with a blank stare. Then the person laughed and said he was asking me a question. I want to leave my former dream university to go somewhere else. Please make the racism stop it hurts.
The Asian Pacific Coalition wrote about the seriousness of the anti-Asian tirade in an article published in the Daily Bruin:
As evidenced by the responses of outrage and hurt from our community, it is clear that this student's comments can be considered a hate speech, an act of discrimination, harassment and profiling.
And another student wrote:
A lot of people are failing to recognize that those who have been hurt by this video, i.e., Asians, do NOT see this as just...something stupid and ignorant. It's all of that, but more importantly, it's a reflection of a much larger problem, that is, a LONG history of racism or racial prejudice against Asians. What this girl did just reminded Asians of all the crap that has happened or is happening to them in this country. I assure you, if this world were so perfect... when this video came out, Asians wouldn't even give a damn. But the reality is that the world, and yes, UCLA, is a place full of bigots. That's why people are so upset, and that's why you can't just brush this off as a "mistake."
As the student points out, there is a history of discrimination and violence against immigrants from China, Japan, and other Asian countries—from the brutal exploitation of the Chinese laborers who worked building the first transcontinental railroads, to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the politically sanctioned violence against Chinese immigrants in early California, and the internment and theft of property of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during World War 2.
Just prior to this incident at UCLA, the March 10 issue of The Los Angeles Weekly published a front page story—"How Los Angeles Covered Up the Massacre of 17 Chinese." The article describes the lynching of 17 Chinese men and boys in 1871, hanged by an angry mob near what is now L.A.'s Union Station following the shooting of a white man. No one was prosecuted for this mass killing. In fact, the article reveals that the killings were "allowed to unfold (if not also set in motion) by some of the city's leading citizens."
Toxic, Racist Atmosphere Growing on Campuses
Throughout the University of California system, recent years have seen a dramatic drop in the numbers of African-American and Latino students on the campuses, a direct result of the attack on and ending of affirmative action; and of the significantly increased cost of tuition. This change in the "complexion" of California's elite public universities coincides with more incidents of openly expressed racism.
A year ago UC San Diego saw this come to a head when some frat rats called for a "Compton Cookout," with crudely racist descriptions of how those attending should dress to "look the part." The situation escalated when a noose was found hanging from the campus library; and it led to a major outpouring of outraged students in protest that coincided with the statewide planned student protests against tuition fee hikes. [See "UC San Diego: 'Don't UC Racism?'", Revolution #195, March 14, 2010.]
Discrimination toward Asians
What's particular to this racist tirade is that Asian-Americans are the single largest ethnic group among UC's 173,000 undergraduates. In 2008 they made up 43 percent of the students at UC Berkeley; 40 percent at UCLA; as well as 50 percent at UC San Diego and 54 percent at UC Irvine. Asian-Americans are about 13 percent of California's population, and 5 percent of the U.S. population.
There is an undercurrent on these campuses that there's something wrong with this predominance of Asian-American students at these elite public universities, particularly among a section of white students. It's not a new phenomenon, but it coincides now with the rise of the fascist movement represented by the Tea Party forces, and by Christian fundamentalism/fascism. They are calling forth and mobilizing a section of people who see white privilege, and male privilege, frustrated. "Our country, even our elite public universities, are being overrun by these hordes of aliens allowed to come here without learning 'American manners'"—that is, to subordinate themselves, to find their place, within a society, and a system, whose cornerstone since its origins has been white supremacy.
And it corresponds to the concern felt by a section of the ruling class that the dramatic changes taking place in this country are undermining and threatening the social coherence at a time when the world is in great flux, and the U.S. faces tremendous challenges to its global dominance, including from China.
There is an urgency, and a responsibility, for those repulsed by the "Sarah Palin" ignorance and arrogance growing across the country to step out to challenge and organize resistance to the reactionary political and ideological atmosphere that is fostering this kind of banal racism, and worse. Nowhere is this more called for than on the college and university campuses. The RCP issued a Message and Call 18 months ago—"The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"—that stated:
The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world... when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness... those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.
When incidents like this break out, there should be a call issued by students, faculty and staff; a demand that business as usual be stopped, and that people be brought together in things like campus-wide teach-ins that get to the truth about this country's history and present-day reality, and challenge the mythology that underlies this reactionary resurgence of white and male chauvinism, and aggressive patriotism.
Again, from the Message and Call:
...we live under a system that, from the start in this country, built up its wealth and power by enslaving millions of Black people, stealing land from Indians and Mexicans through war and genocide, and working many people, including children, literally to death. It is by such murderous means that this system has expanded "from sea to shining sea" across this continent—and around the whole world.
And as a result of the workings and dynamics of this system,
Waves of immigrants, unable to live in their own homelands, travel the earth in search of work—and if they find it, they are worked until they can hardly stand and are forced into the shadows, with the constant fear that they will be deported and their families broken apart....
All of this can and must be changed, and the students on these campuses have a critical role to play in becoming a voice, and a force, working to put an end to it.
Post-Script: The Sacramento Bee reported on March 19 that "it seems the original video was not intended to be a one-time hit." Apparently the student's father posted on his Facebook page that "She's asking for domain suggestions for 'Asians on their cellphones in the library!' She's shooting videos as I write." And according to the Bee, he'd written prior to the incident that she was cast to be in the audience of MTV's Jersey Shore reunion show.
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