GENEVIEVE PFISTER, Staff Writer—In response to the rise of anti-Asian attacks, including the shootings in Atlanta, Georgia that claimed six Asian American women’s lives, Chair of the Religion Department Professor K. Christine Pae hosted a panel on COVID-19 and Anti-Asian Racism, co-sponsored by FOCIF (Faculty of Color & International Faculty) and DASU (Denison Asian Student Union).
English Professor Yen Loh discussed the history of anti-Asian racism in the U.S., beginning with anti-Chinese sentiments and internment of Japanese Americans in 1886 and continuing through anti-immigration laws and the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980s. She also unpacked the ‘model-minority’ myth, which developed around 1965 and states that a minority (most frequently East Asian Americans) has achieved success in the U.S. and overcome discrimination. The myth, Professor Loh explained, lies about the experiences of many Asian Americans, and its power is the idea of “benevolent assimilation” of Asian Americans. Loh concluded by saying racism has, throughout history, depended on a pathologization of difference.
Dr. Clare Jen, Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program, discussed social media’s impact on anti-Asian racism. In comparing COVID-19 and 2002-03 SARS discourses, she notes that both frame Asian and Asian-American women as “racialized, orientalized, and feminized threats to the nation.”
Now, in the midst of the pandemic, social media has given rise to several negatives and positives with respect to discourse, including the spread of racist and nativist COVID-19 terminology, expressions of empathy among Asian Americans, and calls for resistance among Asian Americans and allies. Additionally, in the same week as the Atlanta shootings, 38 Southeast Asian refugees were deported.
Joan Do-Truong, ‘23 is a sophomore from Boston, MA and an organizer on such issues as gentrification and the displacement of Asian Americans, discussed the hypersexualization of Asian identity and her experience working with the Vietnamese-American community. She also shared how, when she first came to Denison as a first generation student and child of Vietnamese refugees, she experienced imposter syndrome.
Do-Truong stressed the need for a cultivation of collective care for one another and collective action. She gave an impassioned account of the great integrity and strength of Asian mothers, and how Stop Asian Hate can sound empty without action and demands. She called for privileged students to redistribute wealth to community organizations, including Ohio Progressive Asian Women Leadership (OPAWL).
The final panelist, Professor Karen Powell Sears of the Anthropology & Sociology Department, spoke on the shared humanity of all people, and how Americans live in a culture that “has taught us that to be non-white is to be less than human.” She described race as a social construct that inaccurately reflects the small biological variation in humans, and referred to white supremacist ideology as a “poisonous root,” one that over-emphasizes differences and threatens human unity. She debunked the false belief that Americans live in a post-racial society and discussed the link between “Americanness” and race, referencing the fact that people of many different races who have lived in America for centuries and helped build the society are often not considered to be fully American. These racist patterns, she said, must be combated.
The panelists concluded by urging students and staff to be alert to how events of anti-Asian racism are framed, and stressed the need for antiracism statements, cross-racial solidarity, increased representation of Asian Americans in textbooks, respect and appreciation for Asian American students in classrooms, and a place to “learn about history.”