Scrawled in black marker across posters advertising the upcoming concert of an Asian-American comedian, hours after they had been printed on March 14, was overt disapproval: “WTF. This font is not OK.”
Khamila Alebiosu ’13, chair of the Multicultural Concert Funding Advisory Board — one of the groups organizing the concert — said that she found more than half of the 100 posters and quarter cards promoting the event in the Office of Student Support and Diversity Education defaced and then shuffled in with the unmarked pile that day.
Margaret Cho, a Korean-American stand-up comedian who critiques social and political problems in her performances — especially those pertaining to race and sexuality — will perform at Cornell on April 6. The release of the posters advertising her concert, which were created by the African Latino Asian Native American Students Programming Board, sparked controversy among minority groups on campus, leading some students to successfully demand their removal.
A few hours after Alebiosu found the vandalized posters, an anonymous group calling itself “Scorpions X” claimed responsibility for the act in an email to MCFAB and ALANA, another group organizing the concert. In the email, Scorpions X objected to the posters’ font, which they called racist towards Asians.
“If you call this vandalism, we will call this racism!” Scorpions X wrote in the email.
The font used was Chop Suey, which, according to Scorpions X, has a history of Asian-American stereotyping. In their email, Scorpions X demanded that ALANA “discontinue use of these posters [and] quarter cards immediately and also remove current postings.”
The group also requested that ALANA issue a public apology to the entire Cornell Community.
In response to Scorpions X’s email, on March 15, Kiranjit Longaker, assistant dean of students in the Office of Student Support and Diversity Education and advisor to ALANA, emailed an apology on behalf of ALANA and MCFAB to Scorpions X, promising to pull the existing images and create a different poster. Longaker said that Cho’s management had approved the poster for use prior to its release.
“This situation does highlight the continued need for us to work toward increasing our knowledge, awareness and sensitivity, so that something like this does not happen again,” Longaker, speaking on behalf of ALANA, said in the email.
But one day later, Scorpions X responded to ALANA’s email, saying that their apology letter was not acceptable and did not adequately address the situation at hand. They said that ALANA was not justified in bringing Cho to campus if her management accepted a poster using a font that, according to Scorpions X, reveals a “one-size-fits-all Asian stereotype.”
They added that members of Cornell community have unfairly accused Scorpions X of being “militant, confrontational and angry” for speaking out on racial issues.
“It is no coincidence that when marginalized people or any group that is not in power SPEAK OUT, it is deemed militant, radical and dangerous,” Scorpions X wrote in the email. “Would you have preferred silence and inaction, acceptance and complicity in the face of racism behind the Margaret Cho poster?”
On Wednesday, in response to the controversy, Cho wrote a blog post, addressing the fact that the poster had been “written on, telling everyone off.”
Cho said that she appreciated the effort that students took to address the racist imagery.
“It makes me think that things are changing for the better, and I think that anger is a great tool to make wrongs right,” she wrote.
Still, Scorpions X went as far as to suggest that Cho was not the right person to promote awareness and sensitivity around issues of diversity. Anyone who finds the use of the Chop Suey font acceptable “is no ideal figure,” they said in the email.
Karin Zhu ’12, vice president of external affairs for Cornell Asian Pacific Islander Student Union, backed Scorpions X’s email, saying that the font promoted homogenization of Asians. She said that using a Chinese font for a poster promoting a Korean-American comedian was problematic.
“To imply or say that Korean people and culture are the same as Chinese people and culture is like saying that the Italian and the French are the same; it does not make sense,” Zhu wrote in an email.
In defense, ALANA and MCFAB said that they had considered several poster designs for the concert and that Cho’s management had approved the final design.
Alebiosu said that she was surprised to find so many posters vandalized.
“That was very scary to find. They marked about half of them and then shuffled them,” she said.
Additionally, Alebiosu said that Scorpions X’s vandalism and emails were regrettable because, instead of promoting discussion, they “shut people down,” she said.
Still, Zhu said that Cornell has much to learn from the controversy.
“In the line of anti-racism social advocacy work, we all have a long way to go, and we all need to keep in mind not to propagate the oppression of others,” Zhu said in an email.
Sharon Lau ’12, facilitator of CAPSU, added that, “Although ALANA did make a mistake with using this font … CAPSU is committed to working alongside ALANA and the rest of Cornell to improve cultural sensitivity and anti-racism education on campus.”