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Anti-Asian Twitter feeds prompt community discussion

When Kimberly McKee heard about two anti-Asian twitter feeds linked to Ohio State, she decided to do something to counteract the discrimination.
McKee, a Korean-American doctoral student in the Department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, along with members of the Multicultural Center hosted a meeting this week at the Ohio Union to address the recent issues and incidents that have targeted Asians/Asian-Americans on and off campus.
“We really pride ourselves on our diversity, and we have to demonstrate that this type of racism is not OK,” McKee said. “And that any racism, regardless if it’s a physical act of violence or hate speech, cannot be condoned.”
The Twitter handles @OSU_Asian (almost 1,500 followers) and @OSU_whiteperson (almost 90 followers) have been reported to the Bias Assessment and Response Team, which responds to negative behaviors on OSU’s campus that are motivated by a person’s race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation. The use of hate speech on these Twitter accounts plays off of stereotypes against Asians/ Asian-Americans and other minorities, McKee said.
“It’s all very demeaning language,” McKee said. “While some people wouldn’t see it as racism, all these little micro-aggressions or little bits of hate speech are a form of racism and it’s something that we need to have a good conversation about.”
Rebecca Nelson, senior special assistant to the vice president, equity, community and grants initiatives and a member of BART, said it is hard to revisit these issues because it seems they never change. She recalled her first day as a graduate teaching assistant at OSU about 20 years ago when a student loudly and abruptly left the class as soon as he saw she was of Asian descent.
“He had thought that I could not speak English,” Nelson said. “And so his first reaction was, ‘I’m going to leave.'”
Twenty years later, racism is still apparent on OSU’s campus.
Timothy Singratsomboune, a second-year in international studies, said he and a friend, both of Asian descent, were walking down High Street April 15 when three Caucasian males drove by shouting the words “ch—-,” “ching chong ching chong” and “go back to China.”
The car drove by another time, he said, slowing to the pace of the walking students and shouting at Singratsomboune’s female friend, “Baby get with me instead, I can give you white babies.” Singratsomboune said he told them to “Step out of your car if you want to talk to us,” but the car drove away.
“I didn’t know if they were intoxicated or what their boundaries were,” Singratsomboune said. “I was in disbelief, it was surprising that someone could be so blatant. And not in a passing comment, but shout it out of a car window.”
This is one example of several racially insensitive incidents that have occurred on OSU’s campus. On April 5, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were spray-painted on the walls of the Frank W. Hale Black Cultural Center. In the days that followed, there were more reports of hate crimes around OSU’s campus, which sparked the creation of a hate crime alert system. George Zimmerman is a neighborhood watch leader who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense, Feb. 26 in Florida and was charged with 2nd-degree murder.
State law in Ohio features two separate codes involving hate crimes. The first, ethnic intimidation, is defined in Ohio Revised Code 2927.12 as aggravated menacing, menacing, criminal damaging or endangering, criminal mischief or telecommunications harassment by reason of the race, color, religion or national origin of another person or group of persons.
The second, desecration, in ORC 2927.11, covers damage to “a place of worship, its furnishings, or religious artifacts or sacred texts within the place of worship or within the grounds upon which the place of worship is located.”
Judy Wu, associate professor in the departments of History and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, said all the recent racially insensitive incidents carry the same message to minority groups: you don’t belong here.
“(These events) signal that universities are not a place for learning, that it’s not a place for people from diverse backgrounds to come together and really learn about each other,” Wu said.
While Wu spoke at the meeting, she began to get emotional as she told the group what she envisioned as a positive atmosphere for Asians at OSU. International students should feel safe and be able to call Columbus their home, she said.
“Ohio State is becoming a global gateway and there needs to be a better understanding of what it is to be an Asian-American on campus,” McKee said.
A Tumblr feed, named “Asians Sleeping in the Library,” features photos of college students asleep in libraries from universities around the nation, including OSU. Under the title of the feed is an excerpt by the creator saying that the feed is not meant to be “discriminatory, mean spirited or malicious in any way.”
McKee said that’s exactly what it is.
“English isn’t their native language, of course they are going to be working harder,” McKee said. “I’ve seen non-Asian people also sleeping in the library, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to go start a Tumblr feed called ‘White people sleeping in the library.'”
The Asian-American population is diverse and not only includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese people, but Southeast Asians, East Asians and Pacific Islanders, McKee said.
Kashif Khan, an intercultural specialist and liaison for Asian-American student initiatives, encouraged attendees at the meeting to talk about issues with identity and take action against hate speech on campus.
“I get really upset when people tell me that I shouldn’t be offended by it,” Khan said. “I’m an Asian-American, unless you’re an ally or an Asian, you do not get to decide what I should be offended by.”
McKee said she wants to focus on bridging gaps between students to demonstrate that not all Asians/Asian-Americans and South Asians are international students and foreigners.
“People ask me, “Where are you from?” and I say I grew up in New York and they’re like, ‘No, where are you really from?'” McKee said. “So it’s again tied to this understanding that if you are Asian, you must not be from the U.S. It’s as if you can’t be an American.”
The Asian-American Studies program, Multicultural Center and other student organizations hope that Tuesday’s discussion will be the first of many to combat any form of discrimination in the OSU community.
“It’s really sad because for a nation that, after the Obama election, tried to push this notion that we’re post-racial,” McKee said. “I think all of these separate incidents really demonstrate that we’re not, that race still matters in this country.” 

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