Last week, the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Duke University held a racially themed Asia Prime party with partygoers costumed in stereotypical ‘Asian’ fashion. Students offended by these portrayals posted flyers of the partygoers containing photos uploaded on Facebook, and the flyers were then removed by Kappa Sigma members. In response, concerned students organized a protest Wednesday, and the Asian Student Association and Duke Student Government held an open dialogue that night on the nature of the party.
First, I preface the following words with the disclaimer that they are wholly my own and do not represent the opinions of the Asian American Resource Center at the 5Cs.
Second, it is apparent from browsing Duke University’s The Chronicle that this party is not a singular incident and is symptomatic of mainstream society’s marginalization of people of color. As such, there is backlash within the Duke community against the protest and flyers with accusations of intolerance from the protestors, slandering of Duke, and polarizing the student community.
Their argument is that the protestors (who acted independently of race-based student organizations) overreacted to a party ‘not meant to be racist’ and their outrage has only chased these attitudes underground until the next party, deepening misunderstandings while failing to initiate a change in the community.
However, this has never been the point of any response to racism. The point has been to stand up for ourselves and reject the images of coolie hats and buck teeth and slanted eyes and broken English because this is not how we view ourselves. This is how a society that has historically dehumanized and exoticized Asia has come to view us, wagging the finger when we call out racist caricatures that ‘no longer exist in a post-racial society.’ ‘Conflict’ cannot help but arise when we contest these stereotypes as racist because they feel it is the equivalent of calling them KKK members in a ‘colorblind, post-race world, ’ and we are accused of ‘playing the race card.’
The truth, however, is that we are exercising our rights to represent and speak for ourselves in rejecting these stereotypes. Our outrage is a reaction against such misrepresentation. Our outrage is targeted not towards the person, but the views they might not recognize as racist. But sometimes our audience is hard of hearing (because the administration does not act or flyers are removed) and ignores us unless we voice loudly our discontent. It is then the onus of the audience to turn an ear to address the grounds of this appeal. And it is after this step where the majority comes to the table to hear our grievances can an exchange be held, an understanding reached, and prejudice removed.
And that is why I support the students who made heard their voices that day.
–Paul Kim, PO’13, AARC Staff