April 26, 2017

JEONG | Don’t Tell Me What Needs to Be Offensive to Me

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It has been over a year since the Student Assembly passed a resolution to introduce a new Asian American Studies major. You can see the profound progress we’ve made on the Fall 2017 Class Roster, where you will find a whopping two classes listed under the department. If progress doesn’t come in the form of AAS 2100: South Asian Diaspora and AAS 2620: Introduction to Asian American Literature, I don’t know what does. The dearth of courses on the Asian diaspora in America represents a larger issue facing Asian Americans today. We are silenced by the dominant culture, and we refuse to be silenced any longer.

Asian Americans, despite comprising the most rapidly growing minority group in the United States, are essentially invisible in American race discourse. When slicing and dicing demographics in elections, pundits scrutinize the black and Hispanic vote while simultaneously ignoring issues pertinent to Asian American communities and people. Asians are also conspicuously underrepresented in positions of power; in the current 115th Congress, only 15 of the body’s 535 members are Asian. . That’s only two percent of the United States’ top legislators — the officials who dictate the tone and the message of American political and racial discourse. As a result, it’s almost inevitable that our voices and concerns are drowned out by the bellowing voices of old white men. Much of this may be because Asians fall somewhere in between privilege and disprivilege; we are white America’s “model minority.” We are reminded that the median household income for Asian families is significantly higher than that of other minority groups; however, this backhanded compliment overlooks the tremendous breadth and scope of Asian American diversity. By extension, our concerns are overlooked in issues that are particularly pertinent to our communities, including immigration and access to health care.

We suffer not only disadvantage through policy, but also a societal oppression that deems us complacent and uncool. It was only five years ago that Ashton Kutcher appeared on our TVs, dressed in Brownface and imitating a Bollywood producer, and tried to sell us Popchips. Earlier this year, Steve Harvey had a memorable self-dialogue on national TV, in which he asked his crowd, “Do you like Asian men?” before promptly responding to his own question, “NO!” Though most Americans have become hyper-sensitive to issues on race, treatment towards Asian Americans has been painfully lagging. Underrepresentation in the political sphere seems mild in comparison to the number of Asian figures in the media. Prominent roles for Asians on the big screen include, but are not limited to: IT specialist, taxi driver or the quant Ryan Gosling yells at in The Big Short. Stereotypes and pop culture representations are symbols of the diminutive status that we hold in the larger American fabric.

Microagressions are irritating and a bit old by now, but they also distract us from larger conversations on structural and societal barriers that prevent Asian Americans from advancing into the future. Despite relative socioeconomic and professional success in this country, we are very much a racialized group. The dominant white culture dictates every facet of my being yellow in America and Cornell — whether it is in Greek life or my professional prospects, the racialization of Asian Americans has painted an expectation of me that is bland and one-dimensional. Furthermore, by perpetuating the belief that Asian Americans fall into relative privilege, we ignore the growing population of marginalized subsets in the AAPI community. We are relatively inoffensive to white America, and by extension, our struggles and perspectives have gone unnoticed. Asian Americans bring forward centuries of eclectic cultures and backgrounds that can contribute to the national discourse.

Herein lies the beauty of the Asian American narrative; we are at a formative stage in our country’s history, one in which our generation can become the catalyst for profound reinvention of American society. We have been unrecognized and unwelcome in the political discourse for far too long, and our silence should not be equated with indifference. It was heartening to see so many groups within the Cornell AAPI community back Jung Won Kim’s bid for SA presidency, but the work is far from complete. Be loud, be disruptive and let it be known that we are more than what white America tells us we are — we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this any more.


Jason Jeong is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Djeongo Unchained appears every other Wednesday this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected].