Townhall Meeting on Responding to Anti-Asian Racism

Racism against Asians is not new. But in recent times, hate against Asians has been revealing itself in more and more overt ways, such as through the Georgia shootings or through the spike in anti-Asian sentiment due to the coronavirus. In response to this rise in anti-Asian racism, students and faculty at Bell held a virtual townhall meeting on March 24th to discuss and exchange their personal thoughts on the issue. The event was hosted by Mr. Jimenez and the Unity Council, and over 85 people attended the event.

Rather than being a formal ‘course-by-course’ event with multiple steps and pre-determined activities, the event was closer to a ‘free-for-all’ discussion in which anybody could speak up at any time to share their thoughts. Students and faculty discussed racism in not only broad, sweeping terms, but also in terms of their personal thoughts and experiences with racism.

When asked about what it was like to attend the townhall, Minseo Kim ’22 replied, “What I liked most about the event was its sincerity. Racism is something that might be uncomfortable for some to talk about, but it’s something that needs to be addressed. At the event, people were free to share their thoughts on racism and it was an open-environment where you could talk with honesty. So yeah, it was great.”

One of the points brought up during the event was the way discrimination against Asians is often subtle and difficult to notice. For instance, a common stereotype about Asian people is that they’re academically gifted, especially when it comes to math. This seems like a good thing at first, as the stereotype by itself is a positive descriptor. However, as discussed during the townhall, stereotypes are harmful regardless of whether they’re positive or negative descriptors, as they normalize the act of categorizing people by race. Just as negative stereotypes are invalid, so are positive ones. By extension, the notion that Asian Americans are the “model minority” is extremely harmful as well. The model minority myth overlooks the variety amongst Asian Americans, puts them into a little categorical “box,” and often serves as a weapon against other minorities. It’s a way of stereotyping and harming not only Asians, but other minorities also.

Another point mentioned during the meeting was the lack of proper Asian representation in media. As Minseo explains, “When you see Asians in Hollywood movies, they’re often just martial artists or nerds with no lives. That paints a very narrow picture of Asians, and it’s just harmful.” Too frequently, Asians in movies and video games are portrayed as the “exotic other.” Despite the variety that exists within Asian cultures and Asians’ lives, Asians are often depicted in stereotypical ways. Asians are portrayed as ninjas, assassins, martial artists, or something of the sort. And if they aren’t that, they’re nerds or tech-support. Moreover, Asian women are often fetishized.

Members of the townhall event did more than address the problems. They also discussed potential solutions.

One solution offered during the meeting was in regard to the lack of proper Asian representation in media. As attendees discussed, a way to counteract misrepresentation of Asians in pop culture would be to more actively support Asian artists who challenge stereotypical norms. The more support these Asian artists receive, the more (accurate) representation would occur in pop culture.

On a concluding note, discrimination against Asians is a real phenomenon. Sometimes, it occurs in overt, violent ways, such as the recent Georgia killings. However, sometimes the problem is more covert. Stereotyping Asians has become normalized, Asians receive inaccurate media representation, their struggles are often downplayed, and they’re often exploited in the rhetoric against other minorities. However, Bells should remember that regardless of the severity or depth of the situation, social justice is a core part of the Bellarmine tradition, meaning that Bells should seek to contribute to the solution.