As I watched the Chancellor of Purdue University NW, Thomas Keon, mock the Asian community at a commencement speech last week I had two reactions. First, I was struck by how easily this came to him, and how easily most of his colleagues- also leaders of an university, laughed at his “joke”. Secondly, as a 46-year old woman, I was reduced to my ten-year old self who, for the entirety of my 4th and 5th grade years, had unintelligible words screamed at me as kids lunged at my face- while using their fingers to pull up the corners of their eyes- all the while calling me “chink” and asking if my family ever thought of eating [our family] dog.
As I watch the reporting on this story, I’m saddened that so many other people in the vastly diverse Asian community (of over 46 ethnicities and over 300 languages spoken) have had the exact same experiences. Asians are expected to see this as a harmless joke that was unfortunate, and yet again – the Asian community is expected to look the other way because the perpetrator of this racist behavior is human and makes mistakes and of course never intended to do harm.
This is the perpetuation of racism.
I do not accept this apology and I do not accept criticism for standing against racist behavior.
This behavior cannot be dismissed. We can and should expect our leaders and educators to hold themselves to high standards and to know and understand the difference between a joke and mocking, racist, and inappropriate behavior. We should expect our leaders and educators to not only never engage in such behavior, but as role models to actively work against such harmful behavior and speech that have escalated long held anti-Asian sentiments into hate speech and violence in recent years.
The Asian community, one of the fastest growing and contributing communities in the United States was degraded and humiliated. The Asian community at Purdue NW was degraded and humiliated. And Asian American individuals were degraded and humiliated.
This behavior contributes to moral ignorance and racist caricatures, and it gives permission to others (as we’ve seen in the video) to participate without individual accountability and consequence.
We have an individual and shared responsibility across communities to stop the perpetuation of racism. We must speak up and stand up when racist instances occur. We must demand accountability and should not accept explanations that minimalize and rationalize racist behavior as “unplanned, off-the- cuff” remarks. We must call out language that is racist and offer OUR VOICE because WE must be the change that stops the perpetuation of racism.
Noel Harmon, PhD.
President & Executive Director
December 21, 2022