A UCLA student’s rant about Asians goes viral, drawing accusations of racism. But, sadly, what she expressed isn’t that different from what a lot of Americans think, even if we’re not posting it on YouTube.
Last week, Alexandra Wallace, a student at UCLA, postedabout the Asian/Asian American students that frequently disturbed her, while she was studying at the library.
“I’ll be in like deep into my studying, into my political science theories and arguments and all that stuff, getting it all down, like typing away furiously, blah blah, blah, and then all of a sudden when I’m about to like reach an epiphany… Over here from somewhere, “Ooooh Ching Chong Ling Long Ting Tong, Ooohhhhh.”
But Wallace does not stop with the students in the library; she expands it to all Asian/Asian-American individuals.
“I swear they’re going through their whole families, just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing. I mean, I know. Okay, that sounds horrible like I feel bad for all the people affected by the tsunami, but if you’re gonna go call your address book like you might as well go outside because if something is wrong you might really freak out if you’re in the library and everybody’s quiet like you seriously should go outside if you’re gonna do that.”
Wallace’s video quickly went viral, and has generated an overwhelmingly negative response from classmates and the rest of the nation. Various Facebook groups were launched to take Wallace to task for her rant; one page, started by UCLA students, even calls for Wallace’s expulsion. Some people have threatened her with violence, including death threats. On Monday, March 14, Wallace released a statement in UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin:
Clearly the original video posted by me was inappropriate. I cannot explain what possessed me to approach the subject as I did, and if I could undo it, I would. I’d like to offer my apology to the entire UCLA campus. For those who cannot find it within them to accept my apology, I understand.
To be fair to Wallace, she is a college student and will be growing and developing a great deal in the next few years, so it’s wrong to label her as a non-dynamic being — and vulgar insults and threats of violence against her are absolutely wrongheaded and uncalled for.
Nevertheless, Wallace was clearly wrong to say the things she did, and for holding what were apparently deeply ingrained stereotypical views of Asian Americans. Sadly, I don’t think the attitude behind what she expressed in the video differs that much from the sentiments of many other Americans. In many ways this blonde-haired, exposed push-up bra wearing college student, embodies the popular and prolific image of entitled, image driven, individualistic “Americanness.”
As Americans, we are a people of contradictions. Since its inception, America has contradicted its self-proclaimed identity as the “land of the free.” We are a nation that, while desperately wanting to establish freedom, systematically eliminated this land’s indigenous people. Our nation’s Constitution, which declares “all men are created equal,” was penned by the hands of leaders who treated women as second-class citizens and most non-European men like cattle. We have moved on from this place in history, but contradiction persists. We talk about our diversity but still live in segregated cities and neighborhoods.
As a man who’s married to an Asian American woman, I have heard and sometimes confronted people who jokingly use a faux, generic Asian accent in an effort to retell an encounter with an Asian person. Many of us have heard people complain about Asian patrons because they are “loud” or in a “big group,” or because they sound “funny.” Many people do this without any thought to the real pain that it can inflict on those within or connected to the Asian/Asian American community, nor do they consider the wall that it fortifies between cultures. Wallace simply said it on YouTube instead of under her breath or privately to her friends.
What I believe is most troubling and characteristic of an American response is what she says about the changing of American culture.
“These hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every year.”
Wallace doesn’t know if the individuals are from the United States or not, she doesn’t know their background, and even if she did she doesn’t allow any room to appreciate or understand a cultural perspective different from her own.
For all of our conversation and ideation about diversity, our most significant relationships are still divided amongst racial, socio-economical, political, and geographical lines. We don’t need to look any further than our current debate over Latin-American immigration to examine how protective we are of what it means to be “American.”
Recently, I saw a commercial that expressed concerns about immigrants, as a whole, taking jobs and changing culture. California is constantly debating about English and Spanish within the K-12 educational system. Many express that “our” language is being passed over for Spanish. For many, teaching in Spanish seems “un-American.” And if that does not convince you of the contradiction, consider the lack of multiracial communities, the dominance and cultural power hoarding of White leadership, and the growing fear of Arab Americans.
Much like Alexandra Wallace, America is still young and has a lot of growing to do. We are naïve and xenophobic. The image that we propagate in much of our culture is neither demonstrated in history, nor an accurate depiction of the present. Like any young adult, we need to examine who we are and the images we project, and then reject contradiction, but not paradox. We must seek congruence, but not uniformity. We must strive to welcome and respect those who are not like us. Only then will our culture reflect the complexities of the American personality.
Update: On Friday, March 18, Alexandra Wallace announced she was withdrawing from UCLA in the wake of the controversy over her YouTube rant. In a statement released by a family spokesman to the Daily Bruin on Friday, she again apologized for her actions, and, after alluding to death threats and harassment of her family, said she had “chosen to no longer attend UCLA” for personal safety reasons. (Source: )