Fanning the racial flames of a joke

Racial trouble’s a-brewing on campus — Asian-American Yalies are up in arms, spreading awareness, writing angry letters, organizing forums and generally in a huff over the “perpetuation of stereotypes” in a recent Yale Daily News column. Am I the only one who thinks the whole thing is utterly ridiculous?

No, of course not. As a part of the silent majority of non-practicing Asian-Americans, I usually defer decisions regarding all things Asian to my more dedicated peers. But on this issue I must voice my dissent. The uproar against the News is counterproductive, and the leaders of the Asian-American community have completely mishandled the situation.

The hubbub surrounds the column that appeared in the April Fools’ issue of the News, “Confessions of a Jewish Asian Worshipper,” penned by Michael Horn ’02, Managing Editor of the News. In the column, Horn responds to a controversial Harvard Crimson column, “The Invasian” by Justin Fong, that characterizes Asian men as weak and effeminate, and Asian women as sex fiends. Intended as a satire based on Fong’s column (itself a satirical jab at self-segregation), Horn’s Swiftian endeavor nevertheless ruffled more than a few feathers.

On April 7 the Asian-American Student Alliance launched a mass e-mail, which was distributed by the Chinese-American Student Association with the eye-catching subject “ALERT: racism @yale.” The e-mail contains the offending column and a preface by Asian-American Dean Saveena Dhall: “As members of the Yale Asian American community, I hope that you will feel the need to respond, either on a personal level or by participating in one of our community efforts.”

Dhall then lists the e-mail addresses of three News editors and suggests “e-mailing all three of them,” and concludes, “I thank you for your support and for helping us constructively respond to folks at the YDN of why writing that promotes stereotypes is unacceptable, hurtful and offensive to members of the Yale community.”

Dhall and AASA are, in effect, orchestrating a sensationalized response that amounts to nothing more than a knee-jerk retreat into victimhood and entitlement. This action is unacceptable, hurtful and offensive, especially coming from leaders of the community. People are being told to be offended before they’ve had the chance to read the offending articles. The issue has ballooned into some irrational need for retribution and no longer addresses the stereotyping elements in Horn’s column.

Did Horn have a little too much fun with his hit-and-miss satire? Perhaps. Are some people going to find his column offensive, despite the clear satirical intent? More than likely. Should he and his fellow editors be branded the Anti-Daves of the Asian-American community and targeted for responses “on a personal level”? Absolutely not.

There’s nothing “constructive” about the sabre-rattling that’s been going on, both public and private. What productive debate can there be, now that individuals have been singled out? We all agree that stereotypes are bad. Now let’s all retreat back into our respective corners of the campus and coexist begrudgingly.

Has anything been accomplished? Why does the issue of Asian-American self-segregation get deflected to pride and victim politics again and again? Why doesn’t the Asian-American community accept accountability for the stereotypes (e.g., the Asian pack mentality) that it promotes, even as it tries to denounce them?

In a twisted way, the current controversy just might be what the doctor ordered for Yale’s Asian-Americans. For a minority community whose biggest issue is its lack of contentious issues, this is the green light for many a revved-up engine. Concern over hate crimes against Asians failed to materialize into a lasting trend. Even the perennial clamor for more Asian-American courses seems to have gone the way of the Tomagochi.

But Horn’s column is a perfect example of victimhood because it addresses the most insidious oppression of all — the empty buzz-phrase “perpetuation of stereotypes.” And this time, not only do the Asian-Americans have the moral high ground of indignant righteousness, they have administrative support to boot. Dhall and AASA have officially sanctioned the rising tempers in the Asian-American community. But does this accomplish anything besides fanning — or, worse, igniting — the flame?



Shawn Cheng is a junior in Pierson College. He is comics editor of the Yale Herald.

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