BAASA’s art installation on the Rabb Steps about the microaggressions that Asian students experience is a necessary project that brings to light and gives a name to the small, daily acts of violence that occur on the Brandeis campus.
As two Asian-American women activists, we wish to publicly make a statement in support of BAASA’s important work. Neither of us are active members of BAASA, but as E-board members of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and members of Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence, we acknowledge the impact of white supremacy and other oppressive systems on women and all marginalized people.
We believe that this installation is hugely important. It raises awareness of the racism that Asian students experience on a daily basis, and forces other students to engage with the microaggressions that are inescapable for us. Racism against Asians is often masked as jokes or compliments in order to perpetuate the myth that racism against Asians does not exist, even though America has historically worked to actively exclude and persecute Asians with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 (designed to limit Filipino immigration into the United States to only 50 persons per year), Japanese internment during WWII and the mass slaughter of civilians and rape of women during the Vietnam War. Popular media portrays Asian characters as stereotypes such as the perpetually foreign immigrant incapable of speaking English, nerdy sidekick, dragon lady, kung fu (or karate) master or submissive China doll.
Today, Asian students at Brandeis still experience racism. Both of us have heard many of the quotes on the Rabb steps directed at us. Asking “Have you ever eaten dog before?” suggests that we are uncivilized, primitive savages. “You got a B? Are you really Asian?” stereotypes all Asians as productive model minorities and creates a construction of “real” Asians as people who are always successful academically, delegitimizing the identity of Asians who do not conform to or meet the expectations of the capitalist academic industrial complex. Saying “I have an Asian fetish,” is not a commentary on how attractive you think we are; it dehumanizes Asian women, paints us as a monolith and makes us into hypersexualized objects. Given the long history of white American military personnel perpetrating sexual violence against Asian women during WWII, the Vietnam War and the continual presence of American troops in various Asian countries where they continue to harass and rape local women, informing us that you have an “Asian fetish” is deeply disturbing.
Because microaggressions against Asians are so normalized, our anger and hurt is often pathologized, and we are told that these insulting comments are intended as a compliment or a joke. This is gaslighting, a form of abuse that makes victims doubt their perceptions of events and invalidates their feelings and experiences. Seeing BAASA’s installation, knowing that we are not crazy and knowing that others are also upset and taking direct action, was incredibly affirming. We are so thankful for the absolutely critical work that BAASA has done, and we look forward to the conversations to be had and the improvement to come in making this campus safer for Asian students.
Cecile Afable, FMLA vice president 2014-2015, president 2015-2016
Tina Nguyen, FMLA secretary 2014-2015, publicity and media chair spring 2016