Update Two: Thanks to Kai, I have also been informed that Karson, the author of the Anti-Asian piece, has a long history of publishing material that is sexist, homophobic, racist, and inciting of violence begun in high school. Not surprisingly part of the anger he expressed in a Virginia Tech piece in which he said he too had been angry enough to kill stemmed from his discomfort at being uncentered in a Women’s Studies Class. All though this marks a pattern within an individual, it is important to keep in mind that this individual was given a school sanctioned platform for his work and approved as both an Editor of the School paper and had individual pieces approved by the Editorial Board of that paper. The School has also issued an apology that avoids using the word “racism,” which may be a legal issue but is certainly not a helpful one. When coupled with the Editorial Board’s statement below it speaks to an official stance of not recognizing racism and therefore losing the opportunity to transform this event into a teachable moment for the campus. The Dean of Journalism, Paul S. Vokes, on the other hand has taken concrete steps to address the issue with the Editorial Board and the future running of the Campus Press and made these steps available to the entire campus. (You can read his letter directly under the Chancellor’s at the same link above.) Journalism professors also went on record condemning previous pieces on the Virginia Tech School shooting written by the same author. My hope is that these steps, coupled with those taken by the APA Student Services, have encouraged others on campus to take the opportunity to discuss and address racism and not just using it as a chance to roll their eyes at a single individual’s actions and then go back to business as usual.
As Tenured Radical recently said, every campus has racism. What we do about that racism both proactively and reactively is what matters.
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Update: After writing the post below, the mostly all female Editorial Board of the Campus Press issued a statement with regards to Max Karson’s oped piece. They claimed his piece was satire, commenting on existing campus racism, and apologized for not having made the fact that it was satire clearer to its readers. Again, the problem with this stance is that it neither addresses the racism embedded in the piece which was overlooked in order to print it nor shows a clear enough understanding of the difference between satire and offensive writing to ensure those distinctions will be upheld by any future writers wishing to comment on race, gender, or any number of other oppressions commonly played out on college campuses. As I said in the piece below, it is important that we educate ourselves and our campuses about the difference between constructive criticism (humorous or otherwise) and texts that mask their reliance on supremacist ideologies or events with “humor.” You can continue to voice your opinions using the links below, but I assume from the Campus Press statement they consider this matter concluded.
Since there have been a considerable number of CU students stopping by the blog of late, I want to invite you to weigh in on this matter.
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Campus Press Staff Editor Max Karson penned a three phase plan for hunting Asians on UC Boulder’s campus in an opinion piece entitled, “If it is a war the Asians want, it is a war they will get.” The plan, published in the school paper on Feb 18, 2008, claimed that Max had initially had sympathy for Asian students but then realized that what he had taken for their confusion was actually “pure hate.” His solution: 1. hunt Asian students, and those meeting Asian stereotypes but possibly not appearing to be Asian, down with butterfly nets & drag them up a hill to Karson’s apartment, 2. torture them using a series of methods based on racist stereotypes including sexual assault and invade their homes and replace assumed stereotypical Asian cultural items with stereotypical white N. American ones, and 3. release them once they had they had become acculturated under threat of recapture. Finally Karson argues, “Now, I understand that this plan may upset some of you Asian readers, but the only other way to make peace would be to expel you. If you’re smart, you’ll turn yourselves in now, and it will all be over in a few days.“
Some will be inclined to dismiss Karson’s piece as a humorous attempt to deconstruct forced acculturation. Afterall, Karson’s piece mocks both white and Asian culture throughout. However, Karson does not advocate the same violence against white students nor would an equal advocacy of said violence be any less reprehensible it would only be equally measured. The oped piece also shows a profound ignorance for what has in fact happened to Asians and Asian-Americans in N. America to date. Though recent immigration discussions have centered on Latin@s, Asians have been the target of anti-Asian immigration roundups regardless of place of origin, exclusion acts, and simultaneous trafficking throughout the early history of the West Coast. Worse, they were in fact rounded up for fear of “pure hate” lurking in their communities, had their homes raided and taken over by European Americans while they were tortured and/or demeaned using gendered anti-Asian stereotypes, and then they were released with the understanding that the acculturation process they endured was for their own good, the U.S. called it: Japanese internment.
timing is everything
In fact, I think Karson knows this history as his piece was published exactly one day before the Day of Rememberance honoring those disenfranchised by internment. Given that it was the weekend edition, Karson’s piece could not have been published any closer to the memorial. Can we really argue that his neo-internment plan is not some how reflective of the knowledge that this day was only 24 hours away?
Karson’s piece also appeared in the Campus Press immediately preceding the start of the 13th annual Diversity Summit. This year’s theme: Learning from Our Past to Build a Better Future. It is hard to believe that the timing of this oped piece and its blatant bastardization of a historic event in order to posit “a better future” for campus race relations were mere coincidence. Though masquerading as tongue in cheek, Karson’s timing speaks to a general disdain for his fellow students and diversity initiatives at the national and collegial level.
language & power
I also remain unconvinced that any call to round up a group of people on the basis of affiliation in a group and torture them “for their own good” does not in fact carry some underlining negative racial sentiment. Many times in the recent past, especially in campus papers, racialized arguments have been couched in “humor” and self-criticism in order to put forward stereotypes and offenses unchecked. In every case, these offenses have targeted non-white students and/or female students regardless of race while making no similar target of white male students. As you may recall from a previous post, last year a campus paper editorial staff was able to initially avoid accusations of demeaning Latinas and advocating sexual assault, by illustrating a narrative of kidnap, rape, and humiliation with traingles for perpetrators and a Spanish female named circle as the victim. The largerly white edito
rial staff claimed it couldn’t possible be offensive when there were no human beings involved. Like Karson’s piece, that piece not-so-oddly coincided with actual events: the kidnap, rape, and torture of an African-American woman in Virginia. Some school papers have even gone so far as to use pictures of fellow students who complain about the racialized and/or gender negative content of their papers while “humorously” mocking their intelligence and criticisms while also often advocating violence against them. Thus Karson joins a long line of academic presses that have used/excused racism and sexism under the guise of humor. Karson has in fact already succeeded in using this tactic because CU lawyers claim the piece does not constitute hate speech.
freedom of speech and education
There is a clear line between hate speech and humor. It is important for us to understand and teach the difference so as to ensure that line be respected. All too often ignorance or intent are used to straddle or cross that line. Worse such behavior seems to be on the rise on college campuses and for me it represents both a failure to educate our students properly about diversity, shared history, and the importance of culture on the one hand and the success of educating some of our students. The latter success of course causing increased discomfort for those who feel displaced rather than enriched by diversity due to the former.
As the spotlight shines on Karson, he will no doubt resort to intentionality arguing that his piece questions the acculturation process and the divisions between racial groups on campus. He is not wrong to question either nor to use his editorial voice to bring these issues into the light for the larger UC Boulder campus. Where he fails is in advocating violence, targeting a group for that violence, using stereotypes to make his point, and then thinking that is ok because his stereotypes extend to other groups and because he gives a slight nod to the immigrant status of the vast majority of N. American people. Unfortunately his piece is both anti-Asian and anti-immigrant; a no, the two are not synonymous, another ignorant point perpetuated by Karson’s piece.
What you can do
APA Student Services is organizing a written response and possible action. If you would like to add your voice to their call either as a member of the Boulder campus or a concerned member of our multi-cultural society, please contact Leslie Wong.
If you want to talk back to Karson directly as well, click the link in the first sentence of this post. Please try and make your comments to him substantive not only because he is a student but because attacking him without substance will lead nowhere. You can start by deconstructing his full article archived: here
Please also pass this information along so that as many people as possible can express their solidarity with APA Student Services, Asian Students, and anti-racist students at UC Boulder. If you are on campus this semester, it is also important to continue or start a discussion about the difference between freedom of the press on the one hand and racialized and sexual oppression on the other. If we start or continue these discussions now, maybe they will preempt more offensive pieces in our school papers later.