Aftermath of Alexandra Wallace “Asians in the Library” video: She meant to do it, and two great responses

The Sacramento Bee newspaper reported yesterday that Alexandra Wallace, the now-infamous UCLA poli-sci co-ed who posted a racist rant about Asians at her school, intended to start a blog about Asians in the library. The paper quoted her dad’s Facebook account proudly stating that she was looking that morning for a URL addressing “Asians in the Library.”

I gave her the benefit of doubt and thought she posted “Asians in the Library” on YouTube in a fit of pique after a crappy week of mid-terms (she says “finals” in the video), but I guess I was naive. She was aiming for her 15 minutes of fame.

Still, she probably didn’t count on the tsunami of infamy (both puns intended, thank you) that greeted her stunt, which is why she deleted it. But it was too late, of course. The social Web doesn’t allow for do-overs, and a bunch of copies of the video had already been made and re-posted. Now she’s been covered by everyone from the Daily Bruin, her school paper, to the New York Times (which oddly did not get any interviews from Asian Americans in its short coverage of the flap.)

I can only hope the shame and embarrassment of this incident will prevent her from coming up with any more ridiculous entrepreneurial ideas.

But the disturbing part of the aftermath of the flap over her video is the level of violent commentary aimed back at her. Anger I get — I’m pissed off every time I watch it too. Hate I get too, though I feel more disdain than hate. But she’s getting death threats, which are alarming if if they’re not meant seriously. This kind of response doesn’t help fight her ignorance and racism.

A self-described “critically angry second-generation korean/american queer female student of the UC” wrote a perceptive piece on her re/write blog, “thoughts on a. wallace & asian am response“:

i don’t really care about what one white girl says about asians individually. it’s not surprising, it’s not new. why would i be surprised by a member of the dominant, powerful majority who…. believes in the ideologies of the dominant, powerful majority? it is simply another indication that anti-asian racism is alive and well; one that i didn’t really need because i see so many reminders all the time. i push back against racism— anti-asian racism being JUST ONE FORM of racism— every day. this isn’t about individual haters. this is about large-scale systems of domination and oppression that sets the conditions of possibility for the racist views of people like AW.

what i am more concerned about is the short-sighted, reactionary, and uncritical response(s) of people responding to anti-asian racism (not because aZn is worse than whitey, but because i’m more interested in using instances like this to build critical consciousness around race than getting back at individuals like AW).

it is necessary that we don’t write off “asians in the library” as an isolated case & AW as one bad apple; not indicative of larger society, because treating these instances only individually severely limits how we can understand ourselves and each other, and minimizes the incredibly huge need and potential for change.

She questions the critics who suddenly found Asian pride when they haven’t spoken out before; she criticizes the misogynistic responses (there are dozens of parody videos on YouTube) as equally offensive as Wallace’s statements; she criticizes Asian Americans’ lack of support for oppression against other minority groups. The blog post is serious food for thought that’s worth taking the time to digest.

Still, I think the explosion of responses has been overall a good sign. Sure, some of these yahoos who are making parody videos aren’t serious about social activism. Some may be as cynical as Wallace, and just want their 15 minutes of fame.

But if some of these people find their voice as Asian Americans, or wake up to the pervasiveness of such racial attitudes, I’ll put them in the “plus” column. And if some of the responses either in video form or in text make me and other think about these issues even a little bit, that’s a win too.

Above are two video responses that I like a lot, because they both make me think.

Slam poet Beau Sia‘s sometimes acid tongue is moderated above in his “Persona poem in the voice of Alexandra Wallace,” in which he gently takes us into what might be her worldview, as frightening as the thought may be. He’s not attacking her — he wants to understand her. Sia’s all about identity politics and can rant with the best of ‘em — he’s a veteran of Russell Simmons’ MTV Def Poetry Jam — but he’s also a pretty deep thinker and you can tell he pondered his response carefully and decided not to ratchet up the hate dial. He even sends his love to Wallace at the end (he’s serious), thanking her for inspiring him and inviting her to learn from each other.

And Jimmy Wong, a Chinese American singer-songwriter, turned around an astoundingly great song in response to Wallace’s video that uses humor and satire to profess his love for the co-ed. The chorus is unfortunately so catchy it has me humming it in public, although I would never dare to sing it out loud because it quotes the fake “Chinese” from Wallace’s video: “(Ching chong) It means I love you; (Ling long) I really want you; (Ting tong) I really don’t know what that means.”

Wong is donating all the proceeds of sales of all his songs form iTunes to Japan aid. The first time I saw this I laughed out loud. Like Sia, Wong takes a gentle approach instead of venting back at her.

I think that’s maybe the most effective way to defuse some of the alarming vitriol directed at Wallace. We should be working on why people like Wallace think this way beneath the surface of her privileged skin color and status, making all Asians a single group of “Others” as if we’re all from Mars, and not just blindly slugging back at this misdirected young woman.

She’s not the target. Her belief system is.

Final (maybe) update, March 21: Alexandra Wallace is leaving UCLA and says it’s for her own health and safety, citing death threats. She announced she’s quitting UCLA in a letter to the campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin, in which she also apologized for the video.

The unfortunate thing about her dropping out is that she’s now a victim — whether or not she actually received death threats (campus police said in media reports that the messages she received didn’t rise t the level of death threats). And, she may carry resentment against Asians and Asian Americans for a long time — maybe all her life — even though she sparked the furor in the first place.

Like I said above, responding violently against her isn’t productive, and is as crass and ignorant as her video.

6 Comments to "Aftermath of Alexandra Wallace “Asians in the Library” video: She meant to do it, and two great responses"

  1. March 19, 2011 - 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I think that if she has made a sincere apology, then people shouldn’t attack her anymore for it…how many of us have made jokes or ignorant comments against people of other races/ethnic groups/religions? I certainly have in the past, though I regret it and feel very sorry for it.

    There’s a difference between an “Archie Bunker-type bigot” and a hard-core one like a neo-Nazi or KKK member; it’s pretty clear that she was acting more like the former than the latter. Hopefully she has learned her lesson, like Michael Richards did after his hateful slurs against black people in the comedy club.

  2. March 19, 2011 - 11:21 pm | Permalink

    (Of course, Michael Richards said much worse stuff against blacks than AW did against Asians.)

  3. March 20, 2011 - 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Gil: I was reading the book “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. Prof. Dawkins states his view that cultures in general (including his home country, the U.K.) have been moving in a progressive direction.

    “In my lifetime, people have bandied about thoughtless stereotypes and racist labels: Frog, Wop, Dago, Coon, Yid, Polack, Chink, Hun, Nip….I won’t claim that such words have disappeared, but now they are widely deplored in polite company.”

    “By modern standards, virtually everyone in Great Britain, other European countries and the United States would have been quite racist.”

    “We have to acknowledge that Adolf Hitler, as appalling as he was, was not so far out of the Zeitgeist of his era as he appears from our vantage point today.”

    You even look at stand-up comedy now; in the 1980’s, Eddie Murphy made some racist jokes about blacks and Italians in “Delirious” and “Raw”, and even used the “n-word” a fair amount. That has become much less acceptable now, at least in American comedy.

  4. Phillip Kim's Gravatar Phillip Kim
    August 17, 2011 - 1:53 am | Permalink

    Are you guys serious? Shes sorry that it had such an impact. If people liked the video and enjoyed it, she would probably be making more videos about it and going about on her blog. The only thing she is sorry for is that people don’t think it is as funny as she did.

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