Three years ago this week, a student news website at the University of Colorado sparked a firestorm of protest. The website posted a column by a student, Max Karson, which ineptly tried to address racism on the CU campus by poking fun at Asian stereotypes. The column, "If It's War the Asians Want, It's War They'll Get," stirred the Denver area's Asian and Asian American communities to organize and demand changes at the University. The timing was unfortunate, because it ran on Feb. 18, just a day before the 2008 Day of Remembrance, when Japanese Americans mark the signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent in American concentration camps during World War II. The column joked about "locking up" all Asians.
The area's Asian communities weren't amused, and rallied quickly to protest. So did student organizations not just at CU, but at the states other universities. National Asian American and civil rights organizations sent letters of protest to the Campus Press, but to the CU administration.
In the two years since, there haven't been a lot of concrete changes at CU in general over racial issues as far as many students can see, but there have been lots of changes at the Campus Press. Its faculty advisor, Amy Herdy, a former colleague of mine at The Denver Post, was an early target of protesters but it turned out the rules for the website prevented her from having editorial control. It's a student-run website. But since then, Herdy and the students who run the website have been busy rebuilding the class's reputation, upgrading its commitment to quality journalism, and have worked hard to avoid ever allowing something like the "War Against Asians" column from bubbling up again.
Here's a video produced by Annie Guo, a Denver journalist and entrepreneur who is editor of Asian Avenue magazine, a pretty solid monthly publication, for a website she and other young APA activists have created called In-Solidarity.com. This is an Asian community response to the "satire" published by the University of Colorado's Campus Press Web site back in February, in which a white student columnist wrote, "If it's war the Asians want, it's war they'll get."
The column provoked a firestorm of protest from APA and other students, not just at CU but also other area colleges, and from the Asian community at large. Guo and her In-Solidarity compatriots were part of an immediate response team that joined with CU's Asian Pacific American community. The furor was covered by the local TV stations and mainstream print media. CU apologized and the public pretty much put the incident in the past, which is what the CU administration wants to happen.
I've never seen Denver's Asian American community rally so quickly around an issue like they have around the botched satire, "If it's war the Asians want... It's war they'll get", that ran on the website of The Campus Press, the University of Colorado's venue for budding journalists.
There's been a blizzard of emails flying around town from groups and individuals, outraged postings (including mine as well as Joe Nguyen's commentary on AsiaXpress), and TV and print media news reports.
A collective of APA students who've organized a Facebook group called Colorado Asian American Organizations organized a meeting yesterday at Denver University, where about 40 people showed up. Erin attended, and also sent out notices to some of the local media, so there were TV crews from several stations on hand to cover the discussion. Attendees included not just students, but community activists, older APAs and also African Americans and Latinos.
I'm always amazed at how young "journalists" can write really stupid stuff and then hide behind the cloak of "satire" to defend themselves. That's what happened this week, when the University of Colorado's amateur student news site, CampusPress.com, ran a commentary by Max Karson titled "If it's war the Asians want... it's war they'll get."
It's not very well written. It's self indulgent in an immature, self-possessed manner. It's confusingly filled with hate language and alarming statements for much of the column, then it veers into surrealism, and suddenly, if you weren't sure whether it's supposed to be a joke (I wasn't), you start to realize it's not serious. The problem is, so much of it sounds serious, and feels serious, and perpetuates racist stereotypes and statements about Asians that I've heard all my life. So why wouldn't I take it seriously?