Jade Hidle: Responding to Alexandra Wallace’s “Asians in the Library”?

Did you hear about Alexandra Wallace?  Whether you did or not, diaCRITIC Jade Hidle opens up a discussion about two YouTube video responses from Asian Americans and is asking YOU, what do you think?

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I’m sure you’ve already heard about or seen the anti-Asian rant posted on YouTube by the now infamous Alexandra Wallace, which currently has over 5 million views. Since the video went up, my inbox has been flooded with emails whose subject lines read “You’ve gotta see this” and “This is gonna make you so mad!” So, begrudgingly, I watched the video. (If you’ve been in a cave for the past week or have been commendably resisting indulging Wallace’s YouTube stardom, she basically expresses annoyance with the presence of Asian families at UCLA student housing, stating that they didn’t teach their children to “fend for themselves.” She also rants about Asian students’ cellphone conversations in the library, which, according to Wallace, sound like “ching chong ling long ting tong.” Even more offensive than her racist mimicry here are her flippant comments about the devastating tsunami in Japan.)

And, true, I do find Wallace’s comments to be ignorant. But they’re nothing new. The young, blonde, cleavage-bearing Wallace is merely the most recently publicized mouthpiece for the long-running discourse of American exceptionalism. She repeatedly prizes “American manners,” whatever that is (racism?), and calls herself a “polite American girl.” I know, the irony couldn’t be more obvious. This is the same kind of self-important, entitled attitude that has justified, however thinly veiled, U.S. wars abroad and discriminatory policies and practices at home—the very attitude that continues to largely treat Asian Americans as if they are perpetual refugees or caricatures from a 1930s Looney Tunes cartoon. And, of course, in this American tradition, Wallace publicly apologized and dropped out of UCLA, as if this will rectify the larger problems underlying her video.

But enough about Wallace. I’m not interested in dedicating any more discussion to her, and that is why I don’t post her video here. More interesting to me are the video responses to Wallace. While there are a myriad of such videos posted by Asian Americans, whether professional comedians or students armed with cameras, I’ve selected two videos and, rather than merely write about my own responses to these pieces, would like to hear your thoughts about how effectively they counter Wallace’s claims.

The first is from Spencer who runs two YouTube channels. One channel, itsBigBang, features spoofs about pop cultural topics like Paranormal Activity, Yu-gi-oh, and Pokemon, while his itsjustspencer channel posts less-produced vids dealing with everyday topics such as Spencer’s latest purchases and the trials and tribulations of washing carpet. When you watch the video, keep the following questions in mind and post your responses in the “Comments” section below:  Does Spencer’s mimicry of the Vietnamese accent reinforce or undermine the racist caricature implicit in Wallace’s “ching chong ling long ting tong”? Do Spencer’s portrayal of a model minority Vietnamese American and his comments about white girls combat or continue tensions between Asians and whites? What else do you (dis)like about Spencer’s response?

The second video comes straight out of Orange County, California, from hip-hop duo, “The Two,” a.k.a Matt and Tony. Their xthetwo channel features music videos wherein the two lyricists parody mainstream hip-hop songs such as Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow.” (Also, for The Two’s take on Asians’ production of the majority of American products, check out their “Look At Me Plow” parody of “Look At Me Now” by Chris Brown, Busta Rhymes, and Lil Wayne.) In their response to Wallace, The Two put down a homemade beat and lyrics whose chorus pleads “Please stop mocking us.” With its humor and hip-hop beats, do you think The Two’s response is effective in addressing Wallace’s ignorant comments?

I look forward to reading your thoughts on these responses to the Wallace video and further sharing my own ideas with you, so don’t forget to post in the “Comments” section below!

-Jade Hidle

Jade Hidle is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego. She aims to write her dissertation on Vietnamese-American literature, with a focus on how narrative structures map struggles of the body–miscegenation, disfigurement, skin color–and identity.

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13 Responses to Jade Hidle: Responding to Alexandra Wallace’s “Asians in the Library”?

  1. “This is the same kind of self-important, entitled attitude that has justified, however thinly veiled, U.S. wars abroad and discriminatory policies and practices at home—the very attitude that continues to largely treat Asian Americans as if they are perpetual refugees or caricatures from a 1930s Looney Tunes cartoon. And, of course, in this American tradition, Wallace publicly apologized and dropped out of UCLA, as if this will rectify the larger problems underlying her video.”

    Your essay captures truths about Americans’ attitudes about exceptionalism that are probably unconscious, making them more dangerous and insidious. Alexandra Wallace’s performance is a microcosm of the hubris that lets us kill scores of civilians with our massive weapons and think of ourselves as heroes. (My goal with the documentary I’m working on – HEARTS & MINES – about the Vietnamese civilians STILL being killed and maimed by our bombs, is to let people get to know the victims, and to introduce the idea of what really happens on the other side of the gun.)

    • Jade says:

      Joan,
      Thank you for your response. You highlight the continuities of violence that exceed the temporal boundaries of war. I look forward to seeing your documentary. It sounds like quite an important work!
      Jade

  2. Also…the two response videos — and a few more I’ve seen — are misogynistic, which is a turnoff. Even though they are funny and spot-on in parts, they lose credibility. I want to see one that is funny and ironic and that doesn’t do the same thing to women that Alexandra Wallace’s rant does to Asians.

    • BlogBlarg says:

      I found a couple of the responses from women to be intelligent and funny, pointing out the ignorance without being misogynistic, particularly this one.

  3. zopie says:

    Actually, I’m glad we’re still talking about her, old news or not. This country has a habit of burying news about ‘white’s acting bad’, like it never happened. It ties right into the whole white privilege that allows them to be seen as individuals, effectively distancing themselves from whites-acting-bad, and not have to ‘take responsibility’ for whites as a race. And we know this doesn’t extend to the rest of us.

    So I’m of the opinion of letting this video blow up (like it did ^_^) so the world can see just how idiotic these prejudices held against us look like (btw, I know it aired on Japan news, and I got to see it firsthand on Taiwan news, and I heard it aired in Chinese news). Let her prove herself and her ideas to be as boorish as they are, don’t let them (white media) sweep it away, don’t let them pretend that this doesn’t happen all the damn time. And I hope Asians everywhere never hire her sorry butt.

    I’m just going to admit right now that I couldn’t finish those two video responses above. I didn’t find them conducive to making anyone feel better, rather, they are both inciting, angry, rubbing in the mockery we’ve borne for years. But I’m also going to exercise the Tone Argument here and give them a pass. They have every right to be angry and we don’t have the right to police their language or responses.
    As to the often publicized death threats : here’s what I think about them. A favorite tool to shift the blame. When was the last time you called a white person out on their racism and they broke down in tears, and then all your friends flocked to console them? Just yesterday right? oh wait, no, it was only a minute ago. Meanwhile, ching chong ling long is HATE SPEECH which leads to actual death threats, and is every justification people need to target, harm,and murder Asian people because we are painted as ‘other’. And we all know that cops and the justice system in this country work to protect white bodies of means, not every body (Fong Lee anyone?). Ms.Racist got off with nothing. Your message is loud and clear, justice system!

    Finally, I hope you’ve seen these two responses that I’m posting below. They are the two I have shared with every good person I know because they are both very healing and take away some of the scars.
    Jimmy Wong’s Ching Chong i Love You
    Beau Sia : examining the persona and getting to the root of the problem

    • BlogBlarg says:

      Remember, white folks break down in tears only because “I didn’t mean YOU! I meant all the other (fill in the blank here with anyone or anything that challenges white privilege…). Don’t take it PERSONALLY, it’s about RANDOM people!”

      This is another (in)effective way for racist people to deflect responsibility for their behavior and speech.

  4. julie says:

    zopie is me, btw. I was logged into my ancient wordpress account. Hehe! sorry bout that.

  5. I’ve seen a couple of responses with the same tone as Spencer’s, and I noticed myself immediately cringing in the same way as I did from Wallace’s video. Spencer only piles on the same stereotypes by being heavy-handed. American audiences (all colors included) are generally pretty, for lack of a better word, dim, so when you layer a work with this amount of sarcasm, somewhere along the way, the intent starts to get buried. All that’s left is a reemphasis on the stereotypes it is responding to.

    Spencer’s video is only directed to an Asian audience, which already understands the humor and seriousness of Wallace’s comments. The problem is Spencer and the like fail to recognize that they are falling into the same trap as Wallace in that youtube is not just for Asians or people like you. Youtube is for everyone, most importantly the people who hate you and want to find out more things to hate you about.

    There is no funny way to respond to Wallace’s comments because any attempt at humor adds more fuel and ammunition to the fire, which is why I like what happened to Wallace and UCLA. The school did nothing to respond to it, some people did go overboard with the death threats, but in the end , the community shunned her like it’s supposed to do. At times like this, humor doesn’t work even though I enjoy a good racist joke from time to time (by time to time I mean always).

  6. lientruong says:

    Please go to Jimmy Wong’s NPR video and link below. His interview and song is neither overtly angry, effectively nails what is disturbing and true about Wallace’s rant and its responses, and I feel artfully ironic in an homage to the centuries of creative political satire, one of the oldest methods of social activism.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/03/24/134827085/a-racial-quarrel-inspires-an-internet-balladeer

    • Yes!!! Jimmy Wong’s is one of the few widely-circulated responses to Alexandra Wallace that didn’t give into mean stereotypes (of her) to get the point across. Sure he said something about her “make up” and her “big brain,” but he wasn’t hateful or misogynist or racist in return. His song/video, instead, is very creative and witty and catchy. Instead of sexualizing “Alexandra Great Wall Ace” in an insulting way (which many critics do, on account of her attire/appearance), he creates a cute-affectionate-sexy-Chinese-American-boy singer persona who lays down some deeply brilliant breathy lines like “cramming all those big hard theories and concepts” (wink) & “…then you must be doing something wrong, but I like it when you’re wrong” & “it’s a whole other country, and it’s MUCH bigger.” This sexy-boy approach also reverses the stereotype of the emasculated Asian man that too frequently appears in mainstream American/Hollywood cultural productions.

      Jimmy Wong is critical of Alexandra Wallace, definitely, but he’s SO playful and inventive and even CHARMING in his criticism. For many reasons, his is one of the best examples of political satire I have seen in a long time.

  7. Viet Nguyen says:

    the LA Times wrote about wallace today, and another controversy at usc.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-college-speech-20110327,0,2970965.story

    of course, you can count on the readers to leave racist comments.
    for me, the interesting thing is the power of the response. as problematic as some of it is, the result was that wallace was effectively punished. i don’t remember the last time that happened for someone making anti-asian comments. perhaps this indicates a real change in asian american power to protest anti-asian attitudes.

  8. Jade says:

    Thank you for all of your comments. I appreciate and agree with many of your points that the video responses I posted continue to fuel the very problems of hatred and racism they presumably intend to resist, and the misogyny certainly does undermine the power of these responses as well. I really enjoyed the videos, articles, and interviews that you shared here, as I think they open up the dialogue about this important issue in many ways. Thanks again!

  9. camvuwrites says:

    I am late to this conversation having just today watched the original video and its contingent responses today. So just two cents here but as I watched the video I really wasn’t as incensed as I was ready to be. Wallace comes across as someone whose ignorance belies her education. If anything, it should direct the university into realizing that these testimonies are commonplace and perhaps it should pay more attention to courses, programs, and dialogues that can expand our vocabulary for difference–even in a place as diverse as Los Angeles.

    I like what one university official said in the LA Times article that Viet Nguyen posted, I quote: “Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged,” he said. “If you go through four years of college without having your beliefs challenged, you should ask for your money back.”

    If I could convey something to my students as pithily as I could, it would be this. That to make the most of their education they have to be willing to invest enough of themselves to be sometimes offended, and more often challenged, and then to find that they may have come to new boundary points. And I include myself in this as well. Wallace’s opinions are mundane and rather commonplace, and I know that doesn’t make it ok. But I think that rather than being incensed, thereby spectacularizing it which is the nature of social media, we might be served to use it to expand the vocabulary for race discourse, because it always must expand.

    I must say I was especially impressed with Beau Sia’s response. Especially as a comedian, I thought he resisted the easy reflex response which is to mock, and which no doubt has its place. I’m not necessarily taken with a warm fuzzy response to Wallace, but I have to say it stood out as making more of a fresh statement on race thinking that I’ve seen. And Julie, yeah–Jimmy Wong’s song was kinda dreamy.

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