EDITORIAL: Cultural understanding, historical context, and Asian American fraternities

Early last week, a video of four members of an Asian American fraternity based in Southern California dancing to Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” surfaced on the Internet. One of the members, in an effort to portray Jay Z, was wearing blackface.

Many students were understandably upset. They rallied, met with administration, interrupted meetings, and demanded action.

Likewise, the video’s news coverage exploded, jumping from student, local, and ethnic blogs to NPR, the LA Times, and others in the span of only a few days. However, some students and community members were confused about why people were so offended.

After all, the students didn’t seem to mean any harm. Apart from the blackface, they did nothing else that seemed offensive. When the video was discovered, the organization quickly apologized.

What those critics are missing, however, is that incidences like these reveal deeper problems — especially at a school where Asian Americans represent nearly 50 percent of the population, while Black students represent only 3 percent.

If the students truly didn’t mean any harm, how did no one in the organization realize that this could be offensive? At least four people were involved in the making of the film, and it was uploaded to the organization’s official YouTube channel. Shortly after the first video debuted, students found another video on the channel that included a member in blackface.

But instead of responding, the fraternity just deleted everything. These questions still need to be answered.

Sensitivity training and history classes for the offenders are all well and good, but there is a larger problem here. Young people of all cultures need to realize how important it is to know the historical meaning of the symbols they use.

While the students might not have intended to hurt anyone with their actions, intent does little to make things better. If you step on someone’s toes, even accidentally, they are still injured by that action. Minority communities are much more alike than they are different, and they go through many of the same struggles. We should support each other and strengthen each other, not hurt each other. (end)

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