In wake of infamous YouTube rant by UCLA student, responses display humor, grace
I did not want to write about now-infamous UCLA student Alexandra Wallace and her ignorant racist YouTube rant complaining about Asian American families, manners and Asians talking on their cellphones in the library during “the tsunami thing,” complete with mocking ching-chong nonsense. I found her young and dumb and hoped that it would all blow over and she would be forgotten.
Wallace is the Amy Chua Tiger Mother thorn in the side of the college set and evoked an amazing outburst of angry, creative and funny responses, including comedy, parodies, dubstep remixes, raps, rants, poetry, dance, animation and even Japan tsunami relief efforts.
Some responses were crassly sexist, and rumors of death threats (unconfirmed by police) and yakuza gang violence (oh please, give me a break) swirled around her until even Angry Asian Man was calling for temperance.
The best of all the responses by far is Jimmy Wong’s “Asians in the Library Song” which responds with intelligence, creativity, talent, humor, and largess, thereby diffusing the entire situation.
I tell my children, “This is the sort of person I want you to marry, no, grow up to become.” (He has already received 18 marriage proposals over Twitter).
Alexandra Wallace’s original apology reads, “I cannot explain what possessed me to approach the subject as I did.”
However, I think I know what possessed her. The issue was never freedom of speech. Of course she has the freedom to say what she wants.
Nor was the lesson to be learned simply that one should be careful about what one posts on the Internet. She was hoping this video might bring her fame, only, not the way it turned out.
What strikes me is how absolutely certain she was that she was funny and in the right. She took it for granted that everyone would agree with her, even her Asian American friends, whom she addresses right at the beginning of the video.
She assumes that her point of view, her way of doing things, her conception of family, and her manners are all the “right” way, the “American” way — Asians need not apply.
She was so sure of herself that she was planning a whole series of rants, as outed by her father’s Facebook bragging, “My daughter wants to start a blog. She’s asking for domain suggestions for ‘Asians on their cellphones in the library!’ She’s shooting videos as I write.” (LAWeekly.com: thus “proving that parents on Facebook is always a bad idea.”)
Spoken word poet Beau Sia crafts a thought-provoking and generous persona poem that tries to understand her subconscious fears about how society and certainty are changing around her.
Sadly, she is not the only one to hold such views. A Caucasian friend jokes, “Oh yeah, we white people talk trash about Asians all the time.” He tells me some of the things other Caucasians tell him about Asian drivers and Tiger Mothers and how hard it is for him to convince them that those are only stereotypes.
On the same day that UCLA administration determined that no student conduct codes had been violated and no official action would be taken against Wallace, she announced that she was withdrawing from UCLA for “personal safety reasons.”
This is unfortunate. Sad. This could have been a real teachable moment, but she is still afraid, still blaming, still othering. She has taken only one baby step from “the problem is these hordes of Asian people” to “I have offended the entire Asian culture,” and she still sees what she did as “an attempt to produce a humorous YouTube video” rather than the very loud call for understanding it became.
Now can we please get back to talking about what we can do to help the folks affected by the tsunami? Check out this fundraising project for Japan that my young friend Andy Hsiao at Huron High School is organizing, "Ganbare Nihon!"
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.