What Does it Mean When Anti-Asian Racism on Campus is “Normal”?


By Junyoung Veronica Kim (January 29, 2016)

Many of us who participate in the university — as students, faculty, staff etc — have discussed the ways in which academic institutions have tried to skirt over racism, by deploying discourses of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” that do not address systematic inequality, microaggression and exploitation, but adopt a neoliberal commodification of fetishistic cultural difference.

One of the issues that often goes ignored, disavowed or minimalized is the growing rampant anti-Asian racism on university campuses in the US. Some have pushed this to the side as an ineluctable and even “normal” response to the increasing number of Asian and Asian-descent students. This is disturbing on many registers — what does it mean when academic institutions and the people who partake in it posit anti-Asian racism as “normal”?

In one faculty meeting, when I was speaking about anti-Asian racism on campus as someone who experiences this on a daily basis (I am often interpellated as a Chinese international student, since one of the elements of racism is to homogenize peoples as all alike), one colleague said, “you must drive a luxury car in order for them to think that you are a Chinese student.”

Besides the fact that racists do not care about details or particularities — the fact that I’m an Asian-Latin American (Korean-Argentine to be exact) professor who does not own a car is of no importance to them — her statement not only repeated stereotypes, but also somehow excused racism on the basis that anyone can hate yellow foreigners with luxury cars.

Anti-Asian racism is no less violent than any other type of racism, despite the narrative technology that equates supposed Asian wealth as a green light to hate, despise and resent Asians. Because of the ways in which anti-Asian racism is silenced and disavowed, the daily violences that Asian and Asian-descent peoples (or people who are seen as Asian) experience are simply ignored or seen as “not a big deal.”

For those who think it is not a big deal, I welcome them to walk in our shoes: how does it feel to be threatened by gun point after being told to “go back to where you come from”? Or have a truck full of drunk white people almost getting away with hit and run after reciting the book of anti-Asian vocabulary in the English language? Not to mention that on your nights out dressed in your fancy cocktail dress, police officers accuse you of solicitation. Or have random men at all days and hours repeat entire phrases from Vietnam War movies in which Vietnamese prostitute characters appear?

I am not even skimming the surface of microaggression, which happens way too often that sometimes we do not even realize it is that until someone who doesn’t experience it notices — which shows how perverse and insidious racist microaggression can be.


Dr. Junyoung Veronica Kim is an assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Iowa.

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