We Can Do Better

We Can Do Better

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to go to a student conference in New York City. Overall, it was a fantastic and very well put together conference with very educational workshops, mind-blowing performances by talented artists, and opportunities for Asian American leaders and students to meet and bond.

Tumblr user gabrielarising wrote a really good piece on MAASU a couple years ago and Traphik’s performance. And just as they said, as with any large event there are bound to be a couple problems. I’ve been to ECAASU before and know that the conference board who put this year’s conference together worked very hard and diligently to ensure the success of this year’s ECAASU. I know they had the best intentions and most likely vetted the speakers so nothing like what happened at MAASU would occur at ECAASU. 

However, no one could have expected one performer, David So, to veer in the direction he did. This is a video of his performance, the problematic jokes start at around 12:30 and peak at 12:50.

ECAASU 2013 David So

“I dated a Latina girl once. Mexican chicks are by far – they’re like the aphrodisiac. There’s something about those girls that, I just can’t get over it. The problem with you guys is: every time you date a Mexican chick, they always involve you in their fights. Like I don’t appreciate that at all.”

I went with my first instinct and yelled “RACIST” at him. My friend next to me joined for a second time, where David So then reacted by saying “Shut up, that’s all over.” and continued on to his next joke.

This is an entertainer who made his name mocking racism and racists with his parody song of Alexandra Wallace’s infamous video about “Asians in the library”. He opened explaining that joke and slowly moved into more and more problematic humor.

Like gabrielarising, I felt something as soon as he said that. Racism within the Asian community is notorious. Anti-blackness is notorious. Anti-anyone-but-white-people is usually the most common. I know this from personal experience. This is wrong though, very very wrong. The speakers before David So came on talked heavily of coalition building. To me, coalition building is more than just a set of buzz words thrown together when talking about social justice. It’s about realizing that oppression is connected and what strikes one group of people down is related to our own lives. That means standing with my Latin@ family, my black family, my Native family, etc against comments and humor that reinforce white supremacy. That means speaking up when stereotypes like the “sexy Latina” are reinforced and fat jokes are wrapped up in a clusterfuck of “Youtube humor”.

I’m going to take an excerpt from gabrielarising’s post on MAASU:

“Misogyny within a space of empowerment for Asian Americans made the situation slightly contradictory. By starting the conference off with this performer, it reminded some women in the audience of their positions as sexual objects and their secondary status. One woman, after he performed, yelled, “SEXIST!” to assert her voice as an individual who refused to take the verbal abuse lying down. I stupidly yelled in conjunction, “FUCK YOU!” not knowing what else to say. He replied by acting like he did not hear her, and just laughed it off. Apparently, he has done this many times in other venues, and when womyn confronted him, he would disrespectfully ignore them. Discussions with other folks later made me feel defeated at how easily everyone acquiesced to this verbal abuse. One man said it was merely, “Fun and games,” and that it should not be a big deal.”

This is exactly what happened here. I refused to take the verbal abuse as a woman of color and I’ve gotten quite a bit of backlash for what we did. Most people joined in him laughing when he told me to shut up, and most people still lined up to meet him during and after the conference. Some told me that it was the wrong place and time to publicly call someone out on this. Some told me that I’ve gotten too radical and use too much alienating language.

Maybe they’re right, but if they are I think I’d prefer to be wrong. My philosophy is that if I don’t speak up, who will? If I don’t call someone out right when they fuck up, how many of the 1200 conference attendees would have questioned that humor? My friends have a saying. That saying is “struggle with love”. I might be in this without the friendship and/or support of established organizations, but I do what I do with a passionate and undying love for my community. 

And again, just as gabrielarising said in their post,

“It is up to members of next year’s MAASU and event planners of other APIA events to understand the importance of finding real performers who work to positively contribute to the community. By simply finding any wannabe artist with the least bit of talent is counterproductive to the mission of these events.

We want to counter the structures that bring down marginalized communities, but we cannot do that if we do not recognize what is disempowering us. The first step is to transcend our internalized oppressions.

Recognize all forms.

No one has the right to oppress others based on race, genders, sexuality, ability, and beliefs.”

This article on ECAASU and its current form is a worthy read, especially the last paragraph. Though ECAASU no longer receives funding from the military and is a stand-up organization that provides amazing resources and opportunities for Asian American students, I think that this post was a necessary post.

Again, props to ECAASU National Board for their continuous work and to ECAASU 2013 Columbia Conference Board for putting together one of the best conferences I’ve been to.

C’mon, Asian Americans. We can do better.

About Juliet Shen

Juliet Shen
I am a student, blogger, and political wonk from Albany, New York. I blog at Fascinasians and try to provide information, news, and opinions on current issues involving Asian Americans. I'm currently studying for my BA in Sociology and Political Science and hope to keep learning as long as I am alive.