UCLA undergraduate Alexandra Wallace became an instant internet celebrity a few weeks ago for her random rascist rant. The YouTube video provoked an angry response calling for expulsion, largely from the Asian American community. She responded to this firestorm by removing the video (which has clearly been reposted by others) , submitting an apology to the school Newspaper, and finally dropping out of UCLA.
I don’t know if I’m an Asian American (despite my recent diet) but maybe I am. However I don’t feel especially in tune with the outrage on this issue. I’m certainly not defending her racist rant, but expulsion seems harsh to me.
Why is racism bad? The answer is so obvious it’s hard to express, like “why does 1+1=2?”. But to state the obvious: racism is bad because it judges the quality of character based on things that have little to do with such a judgement. It allows people to make generalities with large consequences that are likely false. In terms of feedback loops that are harmful to society, racism creates self-full-filling prophecies such as “that community of black folks is made up of criminals, I don’t think I want to hire any of them.”
If you agree with the last paragraph than you see that the reason racism is bad is a corollary to the fact that hate is irrational. With Alexandra Wallace, she might be racist, and to some extent I’m glad that people called her out on it. However it’s gone too far in my opinion and her punishment has gone beyond her crime. The minute amount of “hate” she has for Asians is not really hate at all, it’s just narcissism and a failure to gauge how her statements hurt others. Had she been more aware of the effects, I don’t think she would have made the statements. This is in contrast to the KKK, who is acutely aware of how their actions hurt others.
Everybody is guilty of narcissism. It could be argued that the five major religions (especially Buddhism) are based on the belief that the sin of narcissism is part of being a human. Frankly most people who have any sense of humor at all have probably made at least one racist impression in their lives. In fact, even those without a good sense of humor, such as Carlos Mencia and myself, are guilty. Expelling Ms. Wallace for this YouTube video would be like sending somebody in the Bronx to jail for jay-walking. It’s against the rules, but it’s so pervasive it seems more of a crime to make an example out of one person than to just let it go.
In this video Ms. Wallace revealed one of her flaws. Had the first commenter simply pointed out the flaw she might have responded respectfully by taking down the video (maybe not, but she never was given the chance). Instead the response was so heated that the message to other people with the same flaw is basically “keep it to yourself, never show your flaws!”. I don’t think this is healthy for society. Racism is still with us today. It may not be like the days of MLK, it’s usually more subtle now days, hidden in suggestive speech and action. This makes it all the more difficult to combat. I think this fear to show one’s flaws is part of the problem. If we scare people into hiding their inner racist thoughts they will not have an environment where they can face them (such suppression might even cause a more harmful form of racism to develop) . In essence the fight against racism has the potential to be its own enemy. I’m not saying we should promote the expression of racist blog posts, but simply that there is such thing as too much condemnation.