Today is the third anniversary of the “War Against Asians” controversy, which was sparked by an ill-advised and poorly executed satire in the Campus Press, the student-run news website of the University of Colorado in Boulder. I remember the date because it ran on Feb. 18 — one day before the annual Japanese American observance of Day of Remembrance, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 110,000 people of Japanese Ancestry, half born in the US and therefore American citizens.
So here was this commentary by a young student journalist, who thought it would be appropriate to make fun of Asians on the CU campus in a piece titled “If it’s war the Asians want… it’s war they’ll get.” In my initial reaction to the article, I quoted this passage:
I’m such a fool for not realizing it sooner. I can’t tell you how many times the Asians have treated me like a retarded weasel and I’ve forgiven them. But now I know that Asians are not just “a product of their environment,” and their rudeness is not a “cultural misunderstanding.”
They hate us all.
And I say it’s time we started hating them back. That’s right-no more “tolerance.” No more “cultural sensitivity.” No more “Mr. Pretend-I’m-Not-Racist.”
It’s time for war.
But we won’t attack their bodies or minds. We will attack their souls.”
Some people might say that we’re being too sensitive, but every Asian I know was outraged and offended. The article spread like wildfire, passed along via email and word-of-mouth. It didn’t just make an impression with readers on the CU campus — especially Asian and Asian American students, who felt unsafe. It provoked passionate angry reactions within the Asian community in Denver, and with Asian student groups in Denver. I wrote my response (and a bunch of follow-up blog posts), and others did too. There were community meetings to discuss what steps to take to protest the column. A group of the area’s Asian and Asian American leaders met with CU administrators, including the dean of the journalism school and the university’s chancellor. Meetings were held. A public protest on campus drew the attention of the local media. Nobody thought it was funny.
The repercussions from this column have echoed ever since — and in good ways.