When three Asian American children were trotted out in front of a national audience as both the props for and the butt of a joke delivered by Oscars host Chris Rock, mainstream attention was momentarily placed on the extent to which Asian Americans face racism. Ironically enough, Rock’s joke simultaneously demonstrated anti-Asian racism while it relied upon the model minority stereotype, a trope that has long served to obscure anti-Asian racism.
The problems with the model minority myth are legion. I am not here to debunk the model minority myth—thereismuchacademic and popularwritingonthesubject—but to examine one effect of its prevalence in public discourse: confused narratives of Asian American aggrievement.
Earlier this year, Brandeis invited me to give the keynote address for their ECAASU campus tour. Before travelling to the school, I was informed by student organizers that students were interested in implementing an Asian American Studies program at the school. So, I decided to tailor my talk towards the need for more Asian American studies at our nation’s colleges and universities. Later after the workshops were done, the students pulled me aside to talk about what they might do to start a campaign around this issue, and I was deeply inspired by their passion and energy.
Now, the Asian American students of Brandeis have mobilized with the creation of the Brandeis Asian American Task Force. Earlier this week, BAATF released a letter to their school’s administration, demanding a commitment to implement Asian American Studies at the school.
The announced commitments were broken down into four major areas. First, Salovey announced a commitment to improve the racial diversity of Yale’s faculty by creating four new faculty positions to be filled by those whose scholarship is devoted to “the histories, lives and cultures of unrepresented and underrepresented communities”; their hiring will be guided by a new “Deputy Dean for Diversity” position that will also be created. Salovey also announced a commitment to increase the number of courses and teaching staff dedicated to topics of diversity, including “a five-year series of conferences on issues of race, gender, inequality and inclusion”. Finally, Salovey hinted — but did not explicitly state — renewed interest in creating a multidisciplinary ethnic studies department, which I can only hope would include some form of Asian American Studies offering (because, dude, #WeNeedAAPIStudies).
By the time I enrolled for Professor Chang’s history class, I had already become politically aware as an Asian American. I was already a member of Asian Pacific Americans for Action, our school’s on-campus Asian American political student group. I was already aware of anti-Asian racism and gendered violence, and angry as heck about it.
What I lacked was a researched foundation for that anger, a considered self-awareness of our intersections, or a broader context within which I might situate my identity as a contemporary Asian American woman. These are the things that Professor Chang’s class in Asian American History (and later, Introduction to Asian American Studies) gave to me; and, these are all things that continue to inform my writing and activism today.