Opinion: Vote YES on the 272 Referendum

Expos, Writing

by Natalie Kim

photo credit to Students for GU272

Growing up, I felt like I always occupied an in-between space. I never quite felt like my white peers, yet the label “minority” fit awkwardly—as if I were appropriating struggles that weren’t mine. But now I’m starting to embrace that the Asian experience is a minority experience, and I’m learning to be more comfortable with my identity. This means not fading into the background when I hear racially charged jokes or more blatant remarks like, “wasabi, wasabi! It means get the f*** out of the way!” It means not allowing my self-perceptions to define me while simultaneously acknowledging my positions of privilege. And it means acting in solidarity with other minority groups. While I acknowledge that I can never fully understand others’ experiences and that there is no consensus on the issue among members of the Georgetown community, I want to address the referendum on April 11th and urge others to VOTE YES.

The 272 Advocacy Team has put incredible amounts of effort and countless hours into this project. As a student who is not currently on the Advocacy Team nor in GUSA, I have been fortunate to see the development of this issue from its debate in the GUSA Ways and Means Committee to its current position of being voted on by the student body. I am not arguing that reconciliation is an obligation that falls solely on Georgetown’s student body, but I think that this could be a radical starting point for Georgetown and other institutions to address their complicated legacies and force institutional and national conversations about the less palatable aspects of the past. I do not believe that a financial contribution can reconcile this past debt on behalf of the university because nothing can truly rectify the fact that Georgetown’s actions damaged vulnerable populations such as the descendants living in Maringouin. But I do believe that this is a chance for Georgetown students to partake in reparative justice, making Georgetown the first of its kind to make this kind of direct investment. Georgetown hasn’t moved on this issue since the important work of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation during the 2015-2016 academic year, and the university still neglects to incorporate some of their suggestions. Real change always starts with the students, which is why I believe in the importance of this movement.

I’ve heard criticisms stating that reconciliation is Georgetown’s obligation not the students’, but this shifts the culpability in an unproductive way. As students, we are Georgetown. Our tuition helps sustain the school and this institution is nothing without its students, administration, and staff. I also understand that this proposition sits uncomfortably with some students of color and people whose families have been impacted by the legacy of slavery. But as Kendell Long said at the 272 Town Hall on April 3rd as a call to other students of color, “We have control over our own institution.” We can use this power to inspire other institutions, communities, and national conversation. Also, to put this fee of $27.20 into perspective, a Yates membership that is paid from student accounts is $222.08 per semester (and many don’t know they can request to get it back if they have not swiped in). Most students are already paying for a Yates membership, and while I recognize that these fees serve entirely different purposes and can’t be conflated, I still haven’t heard the same amount of reservations or concerns about this payment.

As a Georgetown student , I benefit from the sale of the 272 enslaved persons in 1838. Attending Georgetown is a privilege, and there is a certain amount of financial, social, and political capital that I receive. This institution would not exist today without the GU 272’s  involuntary sacrifice, and as a beneficiary of this university I must grapple with what it means to be at a school that’s rooted in the history of American slavery. In the words of Adam Rothman— professor of history at Georgetown, member of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, and principal curator of the Georgetown Slavery Archive—“read the history and fashion a response that is true to you.” This fee is not a punishment, but a way for us to show what we value as an institution. And while I want to urge others to vote yes, I also want to echo Rothman’s call to students to make their own informed decisions and act upon their convictions to vote on the Referendum on April 11th.

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Tidying Up the (Racist?) Backlash Against Marie Kondo

Expos, Writing

by Gina Kang

Marie Kondo. She’s become a household name for decluttering your household. Although her famous KonMari method debuted in her self help book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” in 2011, her practices have been widely popularized through original Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” released on the first day of 2019. In a matter of weeks, the whole nation was swept away with her philosophy that connects minimalism with happiness. Despite her sweet and innocent intentions, Marie Kondo has become infamous in the eyes of many–particularly, Western viewers that disdain her so-called upheaval of literature and subliminal promotion of goal-oriented burnout culture.

Wait, how did we get there? First, let’s summarize the KonMari method as Kondo intended it.

What is the KonMari Method?

If you haven’t read the book or watched the show, Marie breaks down her process into 5 major steps:

  1. Clothing
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (miscellaneous items)
  5. Sentimental items

In each of these steps, Marie recommends that you hold the object in your hands and determine whether or not it “sparks joy.” If it does, you keep it and fold it or tuck it away neatly with other items like it.  If it doesn’t, you gently thank the item for serving you well and find a sustainable way to dispose of it (usually donation or recycling). The KonMari method has influenced families across the nation to be more mindful of the material objects that they surround themselves with.

The Controversy: Step #2

In episode five of the Netflix show, Kondo explains how to apply the KonMari methods to books in a way similar to how she had already described letting go of clothes, papers, miscellaneous, and sentimental items with tender thought and care about how they make us feel. However, it was her message on books that catalyzed criticism and controversy in news and social media. It is believed that it was caused by her statements about tossing unread books or even ripping out pages that do not spark joy.

A violent backlash surfaced immediately on Twitter; novelist Anakana Schofield is one of many to criticize Kondo for problematically encouraging censorship from anything doesn’t bring us joy, arguing that our libraries are meant to challenge and disturb us, not bring us joy. Kondo has been likened to a “monster” straight out of Fahrenheit 451. Others have blatantly mocked her philosophy with “patronizing and vitriolic” language: “keep your tidy, spark-joy hands off of my book piles,” “finger-waving, woo-woo nonsense.”

Many have since responded to such criticism, arguing that they willfully, deliberately misrepresented Kondo without truly understanding her philosophy. Although she personally keeps less than 30 books, she strives to empower people to be mindful of their own possessions, and her suggestion to apply this method to books may not be for everyone, but it is misguided to consider it dangerous or malicious.

A Racist Caricature?

Writers also poignantly note that subtle undertones of racism that fuel the hateful portrayal of Kondo in social media. In the show, Kondo speaks Japanese and communicates with her clients (and the audience) with the help of her translator. Because Netflix is marketed towards a primarily Western audience, some believe that the language barrier and limited translations have contributed to misunderstanding and mockery of Japanese culture.

Buzzfeed dubbed her “weirdly dark” methods a “pseudo-spiritual animist-inspired system” that seemingly demonstrates the morally-righteous, anxiety-inducing perfectionism characteristic of the millennial “burnout generation.” This is a clear undermining of the Shintoist spirituality that influences her philosophy. The Shinto tradition “imbues objects with a sort of dignity,” and the “spark joy” aphorism associated with Kondo is rooted in the concept “tokimeki” which, rather than joy, means “throb, excitement, palpitation,” which doesn’t exclude books that mentally challenge us.

Still others explicitly charge white western audience (who have unsurprisingly been at the forefront of the anti-Kondo backlash) for constructing a stifling “duality of projected onto Asian women… either a fetishized exotic experience or embodiment of a yellow peril threat.” This argument states that the backlash stems from white expectations of Asian women’s role in the media. This article in Patheos intelligently explains how Kondo fits into the “century-old” icon of the Oriental Monk as a representation of the wise, gentle Asian sage that guides Western pupils on their life-changing quest of self-discovery or awakening. Among others, one key point the author makes is that the monk must be palatable for Western media consumption.

According to this article in Paper, Kondo “first achieved enormous virality likely in part because whiteness deemed her worthy of consumption to alleviate their own first world white capitalist anxieties.” One of the first things I had noticed when watching Kondo’s Netflix show was its stark contrast with shows like “Hoarders: Buried Alive” (that my mom and I used to be kind of obsessed with.) It’s no news that Americans are guilty of hoarding, a lot. There are many psychological theories about the hoarding phenomenon, but it is definitely linked to our culture of constant consumption.
If you want to see seriously problematic approaches to decluttering, you’re more likely to find it with the dramatic emotional distress and confrontation featured on “Hoarders.” Yet, it is the KonMari method that has been attacked for supposedly infringing on the right to own as many books as humanly possible. I don’t personally agree with ripping out pages or getting rid of books I’ve been meaning to get to, but people can mentally benefit from parting from booksthey find unnecessary. We are free to have as many or as few books or objects as we desire; Kondo just reminds us to be mindful of what they mean to us. In turn, let’s also be mindful of how we interpret and respect Kondo’s teachings.

“How to Get an Asian Girlfriend”

Expos, Writing

Rebecca Lin

When you look up “how to get an Asian girlfriend,” an alarming number of articles come up across multitudes of websites and blogs that, in my opinion, are so incredulous it makes you wonder if they are written seriously or as a joke. They also make me a little embarrassed to be looking at them in public (my brightness is turned to the lowest setting right now). Unfortunately, it appears that these articles are written seriously. Here are some of the highlights of the advice I found online.

Cosmopolitan article: “22 Things to Know Before Dating an Asian Girl” by Helin Jung

  • “I like to use chopsticks in new and interesting ways.”

Is this supposed to be an innuendo…?

  • “My parents will immediately reject you as a suitor.”

Well, that’s a stereotype.

“How to Get a Hot Asian Girlfriend” by Dean Cortez

  • “Asian women want to be around a masculine presence, because they are so utterly feminine. This is not the case with a lot of American women these days.”

*cue rant about how Asian Americans are Americans,and the other many, many wrong things about this statement*

How to Get An Asian Girlfriend by Derek Strong

You don’t even need to spend $12.99 to realize how problematic this book is – the title and the summary are more than enough.

  • “Derek Strong is an average white guy who loves Asian girls…[this book] is the step-by-step guide for a regular guy to get a hot Asian girlfriend, right here in the U.S., right here in your hometown. You don’t need to travel, and you don’t need to learn any Asian languages.”  

This description shows that to him, “Asian girls” are merely objects and tokens that can be collected all at men’s convenience.

This book as you would hope, has low ratings, but not for the reasons you might think. The reviews are from people who bought the book genuinely seeking Strong’s advice and blame the book for being useless because the tactics offered did not work.

Reading this advice may seem funny because of how terrible the advice is, but in all seriousness, it’s also degrading. Though we’re conventionally advised to “just be you!,” the preconceived notions that surround us make it difficult when you know that some people aren’t seeing you for your personality or character but for your appearance and the stereotypes attached to it. But we shouldn’t let this hold us back – we know our own worth.  

Asian(-)American

Expos, Writing

Howard Tai

            “Hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use… can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American: part American, sure, but also something not American.”

– Henry Fuhrmann, Conscious Style Guide

In recent years, many activists and scholars have contended that the hyphen in racial and ethnic identifiers ascribe a foreign-ness to minority groups in the United States. While I agree with this assertion, I also want to develop the discourse surrounding hyphenated Americans by examining the assumptions and implications of dropping the hyphen in “Asian-American.”  

I’d like to preface my argument with two important distinctions. First, the difference between ethnicity and race: “Chinese” refers to an ethnic identity, while “Asian” refers to a racial identity. Second, the difference between descriptive and normative statements: descriptive claims state that x is the case, while normative claims state that x should be the case.

Many discussions regarding hyphenated Americans fail to address the distinction between ethnicity and race. For Asian Americans, this nuance lies in the difference between descriptive and normative claims. Although they intend to provide descriptive markers, identifiers such as “Chinese-American” and “Chinese American” actually represent two contrasting abstractions (i.e. two normative claims). The compound noun perpetuates the notion of Chinese Americans (and all Asian Americans) as foreigners by qualifying “American” with another non-American noun. On the other hand, using “Chinese” as an adjective conceives of someone who can enjoy full American-hood while having Chinese ancestry and even celebrating Chinese culture. Two divergent ideals thus emerge in the debate over the hyphen in describing ethnic identity for Asian Americans. However, a different paradigm operates in the case of racial identity.

Duality centers most conversations on Asian American identity; Asian Americans constantly describe the arduous task of (insert verb: balancing/negotiating/reconciling) their ethnic culture with their American identity. To characterize this dynamic, I argue that we should use “Asian-American.” The hyphen, in addition to its othering connotation, evokes an image of distinct and, in our case, conflicting standards by representing a barrier between two worlds. On one side of the hyphen, we have “Asian,” while on the other, we have “American.” In contrast, “Asian American” implies a coherent racial identity that extends beyond the confines of duality. Although the ideal of an Asian American identity remains far from realization, I view the conscious use of “Asian American” as a significant step toward that goal. The lack of a hyphen— or rather, our decision to omit it— signifies both a recognition and a validation of efforts to establish a collective racial identity.

In dropping the hyphen, however, Asian Americans must avoid the pitfall of pursuing whiteness. The anti-hyphen argument maintains that ethnic and racial minorities are “American” enough. Yet, this obsession with being American enough often becomes an emulation of whiteness. Ask yourself, “American enough for whom?” Pursuing whiteness does not require one to desire the white phenotype. Nor does it mean that someone wants others to see him/her as white. Rather, Asian Americans emulate whiteness when they ignore or suppress racial identity— e.g. disregarding race as a meaningful construct that impacts one’s life, opting instead to focus on achieving high socioeconomic status through “hard work” and “merit.” Those who belong to the majority/dominant group— in the case of race, white people—  have the luxury of ignoring that group identity if and when they so choose. For instance, as a man, I don’t think about my gender identity when I’m walking alone at night.

Recall Michael Luo’s open letter to the woman who told him to “go back to China,” published in the New York Times in 2016. This blatant act of racism and xenophobia triggered a defense mechanism that betrayed a pursuit of whiteness. Consider the following lines in his letter:

“We had just gotten out of church, and I was with my family and some friends on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.”

“You had on a nice raincoat. Your iPhone was a 6 Plus. You could have been a fellow parent in one of my daughters’ schools.”

“[My parents] raised two children, both of whom went to Harvard. I work at The New York Times.”

In responding to his attacker, Luo invokes his credentials for being considered American; he’s a Christian, upper-middle class, ivy league educated, resident in one of Manhattan’s wealthiest neighborhoods who writes for a prestigious American newspaper. To be sure, I empathize with Luo and many other Asian Americans who have been victims of hate. But, we must be conscious of how we respond; do our reactions actually maintain the racial hierarchy that subjugates us? In light of these implications, the development of an Asian American identity becomes crucial. We cannot and should not be content if the only alternative to the perpetual foreigner is an embrace of whiteness. Drop the hyphen in Asian American— but, examine what that decision entails.

Pregression: A Cold Take on Crazy Rich Asians

Expos, Writing

Afras Sial

I will admit that I arrived a bit late in the game, watching “Crazy Rich Asians” for the first time last week. But I think the film arrived a bit late too— too regressive for all the progress some lauded it for making. Instead of breaking through bamboo ceilings and working to dismantle structural issues in Hollywood, it seemed to simply want to raise that ceiling a bit higher, elevating the position of Asian Americans within the existing racial hierarchy.

For instance, take the scene in which Michael (Astrid’s husband) comes out of the shower, a scene that trains the viewer’s gaze on a bare Asian male body, daring the viewer to desire it. This brief scene contains little content except for a call to the viewer to objectify Asian male bodies. It questions them, asking them to extend their love of the muscular male form to Asians. It recognizes existing standards of beauty and kindly submits a request for Asians to join.

Next, like other recent movies featuring main characters with marginalized identities at the forefront, this film had the opportunity to show producers that Asianness was not an impenetrable veil; that Asianness would not prevent the average (i.e. white) viewer from relating to (i.e. recognizing mutual humanity in) the protagonists. But with the choice of actor Henry Golding to play a character of full Chinese descent, we find ourselves with an old habit of Hollywood: whitewashing.

Now, I certainly support increasing the representation of multiracial and mixed-ethnicity people on the big screen. However, this casting choice both erased the mixed-ethnicity identity of the actor and whitewashed Nick by getting a partially white actor to play him. Thus, the producers managed to whiten the features of one of the characters to whom we were supposed to relate the most. They weakened the racial experiment the film could have represented by providing a bridge across the racial gap non-Asian viewers theoretically would have had to cross to connect to the characters.

A real disappointment, unlike no other, was the scene where Goh and Rachel arrive at the Young estate and are met by two South Asian guards. No lines, no expressions, no attempt at humanization. That was the treatment received by these two of the few actors of non-East Asian descent that made it into the film— just wariness, like the fear of an animal on the preserve that might accidentally damage your car or mistake you for prey. All I can say is that a racial hierarchy manifested clearly at that moment, with East Asians and their presumably white and Asian American audience at one end and the brown figures in the scene at the other. It was like I could imagine the actors saying to the audience, “Hey, we’re not like them, we’re like you.”

On another note, I understand that compared to the extreme wealth of the Young family, Rachel’s salary as an economist was not impressive. But, she was still a game theorist at a premier research university. Given the widely recognized need to encourage more female participation in the economics profession, the largely unchallenged diminishment of Rachel’s career accomplishments and aspirations were unhelpful. It was a missed opportunity to develop this strong female character outside of the common context of romance.

Overall, the story was nice—a decent Asian American remake of the “Prince and Me”— but it sputtered as a breakthrough social moment. Of course, these are just my imperfect reflections and I know for some, especially some East Asian Americans, it was nice to see someone racially recognizable in a Hollywood production for once. However, I think it is beneficial to pair their praise with some critique, so we do not lose sight of where we really want to go while making these small progressions. We cannot settle for near-whiteness; we need full humanity.