Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Alexandra Wallace's Anti-Asian Rant

I am like SO not racist...
If you hadn't heard, recently a UCLA poli-sci student and part-time model named Alexandra Wallace posted a video of herself mocking students of apparent Asian descent, their supposed propensity for rude behavior in libraries and other cultural differences. As people tend to do she also felt it necessary to mock the sound of East Asian languages, which are often either tonal or pitch accented and have quite a contrast in timbre to English.
As might be expected, the video was not well received by many people. There was quite vicious and violent language posted in response to the video-including alleged death threats.
"Wallace contacted university police early Sunday evening after receiving numerous death threats via e-mail and phone, said UCPD spokeswoman Nancy Greenstein. Police advised her to take a number of precautions and are currently working to ensure her safety, Greenstein said."
Phil Gussin, Wallace’s political science professor, said Wallace contacted him with concern about how she would take her finals. Gussin said Wallace told him that police advised her to reschedule her final exams in light of the death threats and information posted online that listed her class schedule and exam locations.
Greenstein said police are working with Wallace to determine when she will take her finals.
Gussin said he is concerned for Wallace’s safety and is frustrated at the violent response some people have expressed. “What Wallace did was hurtful and inexcusable, but the response has been far more egregious,” Gussin said. “She made a big mistake, and she knows it, but … they responded with greater levels of intolerance.”
The chancellor said he was "appalled" at the video. Wallace removed the video and apologized.
“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.” 
Robert Naples, (associate vice chancellor and dean of students)  called the video “beyond distasteful,” saying that her comments in no way represent the views of the UCLA as a community.
Naples said he personally received more than 100 e-mails of complaint from individuals all over the country, primarily from people affiliated with UCLA. The university has yet to get in contact with Wallace, but hopes to meet with her as soon as possible to determine the appropriate response, Naples said.
“We’ll be taking a look at the language that she uses in the video to see if it violates any codes under the student code, perhaps regarding harassment,” Naples said. However, the student code in no way usurps the authority of the First Amendment, Naples said.
Watch the entire short video below.

When I saw the news about the video I thought it would be worse than what it was. Of course I've been out of college for quite some time. I'm not too surprised anymore about what people can say when they get too comfortable. Colleges tend to burn hotter about such things. That said, besides poor execution, what makes this any different than similar riffs by comediennes Sarah Silverman or Lisa Lampanelli? If someone is trying to be funny do we give them a pass as opposed to someone who is trying to be serious (or FAILING to be funny)? And really to me the problematic part of the video wasn't the initial presumption that only Asians have bad manners or that Asians are not from here. The really bad part was the comment about "hordes of Asians" at "our" colleges. That hints at some Yellow Peril fears. The fact that people of Asian descent make up a disproportionate number of college students in California has not gone unnoticed.

So what do you think? Is this just a tempest in a teapot? Do people need to lighten up and move on now that an apology has been made? Should the University take any official action? Or is the best remedy for speech you don't like to ignore it or use your own speech to confront it? If the Westboro Baptist Church can insult people at funerals why should we be concerned about Wallace? Should Wallace be expelled?
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