Q&A Session with Dr. Fujita-Rony and Dr. Kim: Putting Asian American Discrimination into Perspective

By Samy Haidar, William Deacon, Kayla Ly, and Ellie Nagatomi (members of the Campuswide Honors Student Council)

One of the most important commitments of the Campuswide Honors Student Council is to pave the way to promoting an inclusive environment in which all students can feel safe and welcome as members of the CHC community. This includes not only the production of countless entertaining events each quarter for CHC students to enjoy, but also important discussions led by the renowned professors at UCI in order to provide us with crucial information in times of need. 

After having been struck with horrific news of ongoing, and recently escalating, hate crimes against Asian-Americans in the United States, we decided that it would be highly beneficial to organize a webinar in which students could be informed by experts on the background of this discrimination. As a result, CHSC held an event last month in which two distinguished Asian-American Studies professors at UCI, Dr. Claire Kim and Dr. Dorothy Fujita-Rony, were invited to discuss and answer questions regarding the history of Asian-American discrimination in the United States and how it is pertinent to today’s sociopolitical climate. The knowledge gained from this event was immensely valuable, as Dr. Kim and Dr. Fujita-Rony greatly expanded our insight on topics ranging from the origins of Asian-American discrimination in the United States to steps that can be taken to encourage change in our current society and help lead to the eradication of this unjust cruelty.

In the discussion, the professors educated us on how the current climate is a continuation of the past. Asian Americans have faced discrimination since their first immigration to the U.S. According to Dr. Fujita-Rony, Asians have been perceived as a “perpetual foreigner.” Even before military conflicts such as the Filipino-American War, there was a widespread fear of Asian Americans becoming too powerful, and discriminatory practices were meant to contain Asian Americans. This sentiment was affirmed by the Chinese Exclusion Act and long efforts to deny Asian Americans citizenship. As Dr. Kim explained, discrimination against Asian Americans had quieted since World War II and the Japanese-American internment camps. But in recent decades, with trade tensions with Asian countries, the new perceived power threat has reinvigorated the sentiments of wanting to suppress. The current high level of discrimination is not at all random, but rather almost a part of a cycle stretching across centuries.

A large focus of the discussion was how anti-Asian discrimination fit within a society of pervasive structural anti-Blackness. Dr. Fujita-Rony explained that the first Chinese immigrant workers were compared to slaves, and similar to African Americans, Asians struggled to gain citizenship. Yet, as Dr. Kim pointed out, the model minority stereotype has created an impression of separation for Asians from the discrimination faced by African Americans and some other minority groups.

Dr. Kim emphasized the importance of synergy between the various racial justice movements. One minority group cannot truly gain equality while others still face discrimination. It may be the common instinctive reaction to want to arrest all the perpetrators of hate crime against Asians. However, putting all those people in jail may be at odds with the BLM movement’s efforts to lower incarceration rates and to reduce and reallocate law enforcement resources. Perhaps an alternative disincentive would be better. This point perfectly represented the purpose and central message of the event — to take proper action, we must educate ourselves on the roots of the problem, and then think critically about what is the best thing to do. There is no simple solution to end hate, but it is important to try to look at the big picture when responding to the situation.

During the latter half of the Q&A session, Dr. Kim spoke heavily on how Asian American discrimination is portrayed in social media and how that necessarily affects the way in which other racial minority communities are viewed, especially that of black Americans. Despite the well-intended use of the internet to share valuable insight on racial discrimination occurring in the real-world, social media can also be used to spread misinformation and to manipulate footage with the purpose of targeting other minority groups. As Dr. Kim explains, “when you show footage of elderly Asian Americans getting attacked, people get enraged. They rush to judgement . . . blaming black people for being violent” even though it is “very unclear that these videos could be racially motivated.” It is important to remember that the likelihood of being misinformed on social media, and even by mainstream media news, is very high. In sharing her view of social media and how it is being used with the intention to demonstrate the rise of Asian American discrimination events, Dr. Kim reminds us to be wary of the rhetoric exercised in such footage or posts and how they can be potentially harmful to other ethnic groups. 

The Academic Committee is very proud to have had the opportunity to create such a successful event, and we are especially grateful to our guest speakers, Dr. Kim and Dr. Fujita-Rony, for taking the time to contribute to and speak openly about the various experiences of Asian Americans and how current Asian American discrimination events sit within a larger history of discrimination against the black community.

As Dr. Kim explains, ending Asian American discrimination by itself will not end all discrimination within the United States. She argues, “when Asian Americans are free, will we all be free? And if the answer is no, then we can’t just be looking at Asian Americans.” The CHSC invites all honors students to take part in further discussions relating to this topic as we continue to live during such important times in our history.