Language, rhetoric, and speech acts matter. As racist and xenophobic rhetoric in the United States has escalated, violence directed at Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islanders has been increasing. Anti-Asian hate crimes rose by almost 150% last year in the US, and last Tuesday in Atlanta, six women spa workers of Asian descent were shot to death. As scholars and educators who study language’s uses and effects, we have a responsibility to draw attention to and speak out against rhetorics that breed violence and hatred.
The United States has a long and disgraceful history of associating Asian and Asian American peoples with danger to the public. Rhetorics of disease (“yellow peril,” “China virus”) foment irrational fears that lead to scapegoating of AAAPI. Allegations about threats to national security—including the anti-China rhetoric used to distract from our current domestic crises—can spark violence against AAAPI. “Model minority” rhetorics stereotype and pigeonhole AAAPI, dividing us when we ought to be united against bigotry and white supremacy. Rhetorics of sexual deviance (sex work, oversexualization, etc.) become an excuse to dehumanize AAAPI women and queerfolk, leading to efforts to eradicate their supposedly threatening presence. After the Atlanta murders, the twisted logic of eliminating “temptation” uttered by the perpetrator was accepted and reiterated by law enforcement spokespeople and media.
Inequities and violence inflicted on particular identity groups do not take place in a vacuum. They occur within interpretable and malleable cultural contexts. We note that ethnic studies programs are rich resources for universities and communities committed to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. Unfortunately, over the past ten years, austerity measures have cut back ethnic studies programs across the country. We encourage Miami University and other schools to support courses and programs in ethnic studies—including Asian/Asian American Studies—where students learn to recognize and analyze the rhetorics and systems underpinning ethnic and racial violence.
As scholars and educators, we pledge to embrace the challenges of interpreting, understanding, and framing our actions in response to complex ethnic and racial histories. We invite our students, colleagues and community to join us in naming injustice, understanding its roots, and working to heal its wounds in our own department and beyond.
In solidarity with our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander students, faculty, staff, and community members. #StopAsianHate
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