A lot happened this week, but little of it as unsurprising as the news that someone on the Internet is racist—in this case, it’s Alexandra Wallace, the UCLA student who said some racist stuff about Asians on Youtube and achieved Internet-celeb status. We covered it, or, more accurately, we covered the conversation around it. Five years ago, Wallace would have been unknown; today, she’s at the center of a teachable moment on implicit bias and privilege, and serves as a litmus test for how far we’ve come in our understanding of how racism really plays out in people’s lives. Now, that’s interesting!
And that litmus test came back positive, for type-A #SMH. As Jorge Rivas reported, the Internet’s rebuttal to Wallace fought unexamined bigotry and hateful language with unexamined bigotry and hateful language, relying largely on derogatory terms and stereotypes about women—and that includes a few commenters on Colorlines.
So what to do, about Wallace and the university, and about Wallace and the Internet? On the question of whether and how UCLA should discipline Wallace, Dawn N. McKenzie points out:
If they expel her, they will have to expel all the other racists and then no one would be in school and then UCLA’s doors would close. Very few if any would be left if schools expelled students because they were racists. She is protected by the First Amendment, that is her opinion. I’d suggest no one to feed into it and then it will extinguish itself.
[…] If she is studying Political Science, then I understand, she is aligning herself with her future colleagues and clearly has learned from what society deems as the best of the best cream of the crop. Perhaps a rethinking of assimilation is needed.
In response, Rena McGee:
@Dawn Ignoring stupidity does not make it go away because stupid people think if you ignore them, you’re agreeing with them because you didn’t say anything when they were running their mouth off.
On Jorge’s update about Wallace’s apology, reader Michelle lays out why the school could take punitive action against her:
The school has every right. The moment you become a UCLA student, you have agreed to abide by the school’s student conduct policy. Just as you are forbidden to cheat, you also are forbidden from performing acts of “Sexual, racial, and other forms of harassment.”
If that video was so powerful as to incite thousands of students/citizens within a single day, I believe it can be counted as (racial) harassment and even a hate crime. If the school can punish its students for cheating, it has the right to take action against her.
[…] The reason the school wouldn’t be able to punish her would be because she made the video in her private time and not at school. However, if enough students protest or call for action, it’d cause “substantial disruption of the school’s activities”; at that point, even J.C. vs Beverly Hills can’t cover her ass.
Should the school punish her and she take it to the courts, she’d still be in a sticky situation; not because she was being openly racist, but because she brought UCLA’s name into this and INTRODUCED herself as a student of UCLA.
Schools DO have the authority to limit students’ 1st amendment rights. It just depends on the circumstances.
Sofrito Gringo is sad to see where the conversation among people rejecting Wallace’s racism turned:
Thank you for calling this out! I keep seeing these undercurrents of misogyny and sexual violence in the language used by protesters advocating for various causes… and I have to say that supposedly progressive commenters on Mother Jones, Talking Points Memo, Think Progress, etc. have really disappointed me in the recent past. If we cannot shed (and abhor!) the language of oppression, where does that leave us?
And a must-read thread on Facebook digs deep into the intersectionality of race and gender in Wallace’s video and in the responses. You should read the whole thing, but by way of an excerpt, here’s Sulekha Gangopadhyay:
I didn’t find the misogynistic responses calling her a “slut”, “bimbo” or “whore” particularly empowering for me as a woman of color; men of color who rely on compensatory sexism have generally not been my allies.
Two different readers, Helen Lopez and Phoenix Activists, pointed us toward this response video by spoken-word artist Beau Sia, written from Wallace’s perspective. Phoenix says “Here’s the only non-sexist and most thought-provoking video response I’ve seen; it really makes us think how people like Wallace have the sentiments they have to begin with.”
And don’t worry about Alexandra Wallace as she goes job-hunting—despite our best efforts, some news agencies really appreciate this kind of “straight talk on race.” See? I made a joke without relying on slut-shaming, or on any sad tropes about groups of people. Not difficult. Keep your comment areas friendly, please, so everyone can feel welcome to use them.