'Racist rager' at Duke necessitates official response, further discussion about stereotypes
Last week, I received a spam email that suggested I can “make your Asian dreams come true.”
According to the creepy spam advertisement, “all men have fantasized about Asian women.” And, according to a separate but equally racist email, some men have fantasized about being Asian — at least, they do when it’s for a fun party.
Late last month, members of Duke University’s chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity sent out a party invitation that began with, “Herro Nice Duke Peopre,” according to Duke’s student newspaper, the Chronicle. The email went on to ask “Mi, Yu, You, and Yo Friends … over for some Sake.”
That’s awkward. I think hot sake tastes like fermented socks.
In response to protesters and encouragement by the university to cancel the party, Kappa Sigma sent a second email that read:
“The brothers of Kappa Sigma regret to inform you that our forebrothers’ secrets of the far east have not survived the move back onto campus. …Instead, Kappa Sigma presents: International Relations. A celebration of all cultures and the diversity of Duke.”
It’s not racist if you don’t name a specific race, right?
After the party, protesters posted fliers all over the Duke campus a second time. This time, fliers included photos from the party of partygoers dressed in kimonos and wearing chopsticks in their hair.
The party and its protesters drew national headlines and criticism from both sides.
The national Kappa Sigma fraternity has suspended the chapter at Duke, said executive director Mitchell B. Wilson to the Los Angeles Times. Duke University officials urged fraternity members to apologize for their “thoughtless and offensive actions,” but have no plans for formal discipline, said Larry Moneta, the vice president for student affairs at Duke.
Members of Duke’s Asian Students Association, the Asian American Alliance and other student groups referred to the party as the “racist rager” and hosted protests and a community forum. But others — mostly grumpy online commenters on the Chronicle’s website — argued that critics were overreacting.
According to the Chronicle, Moneta said that no course of discipline was planned because no single punishment would resolve persistent racial stereotyping. Instead, he would continue to work with student leaders to help them understand that.
But what party organizers and grumpy online commenters fail to realize is just that: This is a persistent problem and it’s not really appropriate to just say “get over it.” Get over a history of oppression, and years of marginalization and stereotypes. Afterward, I guess we’ll go buy big-girl panties and get ice cream sundaes.
The suspension of the Duke chapter’s activities and events, in addition to an investigation by its national organization into further sanctions, is a start. But Duke’s inaction and the attitude of others who argue that critics should just stop being “so sensitive” speaks to a larger problem of dismissing a legitimate issue.
Telling people their discomfort is just hypersensitivity, then sweeping the whole incident under the rug allows everyone to pretend this was an isolated incident.
This is just like that time when the women’s lacrosse team (also at Duke) posted a photo of a player in blackface or that time a Penn State sorority held a party and members wore sombreros and held signs that read “Will mow lawn for weed beer.” Or even, as regular readers would point out, those multiple times the Daily Wildcat has run controversial and blatantly offensive comic strips.
What matters next is the response to these incidents. There’s nothing productive about telling others to just “get over it.” It’s condescending and perhaps even more offensive than the original cause of the outrage.
Rather, Duke students — or anyone in any similar situation — ought to come together to have a difficult but valuable conversation about history and stereotypes. Maybe everyone walks away from it with the same opinion as before, but to do anything less than have that discussion undermines the point of higher education.
— Kristina Bui is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter via @kbui1.