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Protesters' Claims About Racism at MIT Are on Target

Column by Teresa Huang
Staff Reporter

I write for The Tech, and even though I am not a member of any of the groups who protested The Tech two weeks ago, I have to say I stand behind many of their claims. The MIT community's response to the protest has been as I expected - people don't get it. Many people think that the students who were involved in or support the protest are just a bunch of overzealous activists who try to make everything out to be something racist when really they're just seeing things. Well, we're not seeing things or making anything up. I have felt plenty of anti-Asian sentiment on this campus, and I'm tired of it.

Stereotypes abound on this campus. I'm an Asian feminist who's not afraid to point out and protest the racism around her. The stereotype I suffer from most is that of the model minority. There is an existing myth of Asian Americans as the model minority. We immigrated to this country with nothing years ago and look what we've done for ourselves. We're doctors, engineers, and successful business people. We're not ignored - look at Connie Chung, Jackie Chan, and Kristi Yamaguchi. They're Asian, and they're famous! What cause do we have to complain when there are other ethnicities out there that face real racism and oppression?

Well let me tell you, the "model minority" myth is just that - a myth. Sure, many Asians have done well for themselves, just like many blacks have, but why is the racism against blacks seen as out there and happening even today while racism against Asian Americans is just something we're making up in our heads?

People don't realize that racism against Asians and Asian Americans is out there and happening even today as well, manifesting itself most strongly in marginalization. Our needs, successes, and opinions are largely ignored or misread. There are a lot of Asian doctors and engineers, but what about all those Asians who can't get jobs because employers tell them they don't speak English well enough when really they speak just fine? What about all those Asians struggling to gain recognition in fields like journalism or entertainment?

Connie Chung is a household name, but no one stops to think why next to Caucasian news anchorwomen, Asian news anchorwomen are greatest in number. There are hardly any Asian news anchormen. People think it's just because these women have worked hard and achieved, but any Asian feminist will tell you that it's also because Asian women are seen as exotic and sensual beings who are pretty to look at, so they're well suited to the position.

Kristi Yamaguchi won the Olympic gold medal for the United States in women's figure skating in 1992, yet who got more interviews, endorsements, magazine covers, and adoration after those Olympics? Bronze medalist and more all-American-looking skater Nancy Kerrigan. Jackie Chan's movies are box office hits, yet how many other Asian actors who don't play martial arts experts or gang members would you call successful?

How many successful Asian actresses can you name who aren't seen in movies about their relationships with their Asian parents or surrounded by Chinese food? Granted, there have been legitimate successes, one of which is Ming-Na Wen's role in The Single Guy, a show in which story lines don't revolve around her ethnicity. But how many more roles like that can you name?

Marginalization and stereotyping exist on this campus as well, but people just don't get it. How many people understand why we're upset about "Rhino Man"? I've heard over and over again, "What's the big deal?" It's not just that there's an Asian villain. How many old Asian men have you seen that look like Professor Atama with a Fu Manchu mustache? Why did the cartoonist choose to portray an old Asian man in this way? Clearly because this is an image that he recognizes and he feels his readers will recognize, which shows assumptions on his part about what the distinguishing features of all Asians are.

If you were told to draw a cartoon of a typical Asian man, what would you draw? Slanted eyes, buck teeth, and a karate robe, right? It's just like when movie makers choose to portray a dangerous urban area, they put graffiti, litter, and black people in the background. They use carefully placed suspicious looking black people standing on street corners and sitting on the front steps to convey an air of danger. We recognize what they're trying to do and think "dangerous neighborhood." It's all based on assumptions and stereotypes, and it's all offensive.

However, "Rhino Man" is not the most racist of things in the MIT community. The dismissal of our concerns as oversensitive and unworthy of their attention is the biggest offense. Many people also assume that we're pointing the finger at the Caucasians on campus when talking about discrimination, which is not true. We experience intolerance from people of every ethnicity, sometimes even from our fellow Asians. Goodness knows I've had plenty of Asians make snide comments to me because I'm in an interracial relationship.

Because I believe there are real problems with racism toward Asians and Asian Americans on this campus, I stand behind many of the things the protesters call for, like an Asian American administrator. What we need is someone to fill the void left behind when Mary Ni - assistant dean for Residence and Campus Activities and the only Asian American administrator at MIT - left the Institute last year.

She was a valuable resource to Asian and Asian American students, serving as a place to voice our concerns and needs. It was important for me to know that there was someone on this campus who was sensitive to me as an Asian woman in this stressful environment. MIT has surely missed her since she's been gone, and it's important that someone else take the role that she did in legitimizing our needs.

So the next time you don't understand what we're upset about, try asking us. I'm not just writing this because I have time to spare. I've been very hurt by people on this campus because of my ethnicity. I know other people have felt hurt as well and it needs to stop. If you don't agree with the protest, at least don't claim you're in the more sensible position simply because no one involved is openly arguing with you. If you do that, you're admitting to me that you haven't the slightest idea what we're upset about and that you need someone to explain it to you - so who are you to criticize us and our position? We know who we are. I'm Asian, I'm a woman, I'm a feminist, and I'm angry. Do I amuse anyone else?