Angry Asian Students Protest Margaret Cho’s Upcoming Cornell Performance With Lengthy Diatribe

Last week we published the very, very ill-advised posters with which Cornell was advertising Margaret Cho’s upcoming Ithaca April 6. There were apologies all around—but, weirdly, Margaret Cho never actually responded to the controversy. We emailed her people (and tweeted at her—we think), but still: nothing. How unexpected! Cho’s appeal is based upon her willingness to confront, unpack, and satirize issues of race; but after a week of letting her get some thoughts together, it’s obvious that she doesn’t want to talk about this one.

This is the context in which we recently received a PDF containing a multi-page harangue authored by The Scorpion X—the same group that successfully protested the Cho posters, and whom a Cornell administrator addressed in an emailed apology. In it, the group asserts that Cho should not speak at Cornell; that the apology from Cornell’s ALANA—the African Latino Asian Native American Students Programming Board—was not sufficient; and that ALANA has “inflamed inflamed racial tensions within the multicultural community at Cornell.”

The essay is called “And You Thought We Were Militant.” It quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. and Angela Davis.  You can read the whole thing, after the jump:

And You Thought We Were Militant! — In Response to ALANA’s So-called “Apology” On Wednesday, March 14, 2012, MCFAB released posters for “An Evening With Margaret Cho.”

Her name was written in a derogatory typeface, as seen in this photograph below:

The name of this font is Chop Suey, which was originally named “Chinese” by Cleveland Typeface when they first made it in 1883. In 1906, the San Francisco Earthquake hit the area and destroyed the Chinatown section. Subsequently, the font was branded as a marketing tool by whites, through the use of a “Chinese-looking” font and architecture catering to white tourists visiting the area in hopes of revitalizing the local economy. Over the years, the font’s name has changed, and has become conflated with Asian American stereotyping. By the 1950’s, the font was widely denounced, but has not been officially banned, and is still in use by many Asian take- out restaurants, mainly Chinese.

When MCFAB released these posters to the public on March 14, 2012, they made a distinct statement that this type of font was acceptable to use. It is not “just a font.” It is the objectification of an entire culture, and an entire people. ALANA’s subsequent apology letter is not acceptable and did not adequately address the situation at hand. You say, “the poster was approved by Margaret Cho’s management,” which directly reflects upon her. Yet you say “Ms. Cho is the ideal figure for promoting awareness and sensitivity around these issues.” You have clearly contradicted yourself. Any figure that finds this acceptable, in our opinion, is no “ideal figure.” How does she “promote awareness and sensitivity around these issues”?

In your mission statement, you write, “ALANA seeks to provide the Cornell community with a wide variety of programming that fosters awareness of and appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism.” How can you foster awareness for something you are blatantly unaware of? Your oversight is unacceptable and has inflamed racial tensions within the multicultural community at Cornell. Ignorance is not an excuse. As Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

According to your website, under the “Programs” menu, you say that ‘ALANA events…and initiatives… celebrate the African, Latino, Asian and Native American cultures and those that fall underneath the multicultural ALANA “umbrella.” ’ We get it. You celebrate Asian culture by appropriating an American-made “Chinese” font rooted in a history of cultural tourism and Orientalism to write the name of Margaret Cho. As Helen Zia said, “Most…are quite ignorant of, or unconcerned by, the distinctions between different Asian countries, peoples, and cultures.

Characters in mass media often blend the wildly diverse traits from distinct Asian cultures into an unimaginative, one-size-fits-all Asian stereotype.” Your font is a one-size-fits-all Asian stereotype. We were shocked to read ALANA’s mission, but even more startled by MCFAB’s. They write that they are “a sub committee of ALANA that produces musical, entertainment, and/or acts with a social justice theme…” Looking past the incorrect grammar, what kind of social justice objectifies a culture and reduces an identity to a font?

This is not just an Asian/Asian American issue. Recognize that your liberation is tied to ours. You do not need to be Asian American to be offended by the deployment of Orientalism, the objectification and silencing of a group of people. We are not the first to bring attention to the racism of the “Chop Suey” font, and we will NOT be the last.

It has also come to our attention that people are calling us militant, confrontational, and angry. We would like to ask the community to self-reflect as to what may be leading you to these conclusions. It is no coincidence that when marginalized people, or any group that is not in power SPEAK OUT, it is deemed militant, radical, and dangerous. Would you have preferred silence and inaction, acceptance and complicity in the face of racism behind the Margaret Cho poster?

Know that we are a part of the Cornell community. Know that we have heard many of the conversations. Know that we were deeply saddened to hear that many people are falsely assuming our identities. Who are you to assume our identities based on our actions? Is it impossible to understand that we are a collective of identities and that our liberations are linked?

Angela Davis has said:

Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Consciousness is becoming aware. It is the perfect vehicle for students. Consciousness-raising is pertinent for power, and be sure that power will not be abusively used, but used for building trust and goodwill domestically and internationally. Tomorrow’s world is yours to build.

We urge you to think consciously and take back the power. The Scorpions X will NOT be attending “An Evening with Margaret Cho” on April 6, 2012. We urge you to self-reflect on this occurrence and make a decision that is true to yourself.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,
The Scorpions X

  • len

    Why is it a small fringe group of activists that always attempt to silence others? What is Scorpion X so afraid of?  So much for “tolerance.”  They only believe in “free speech when they’re exercising it.

    • Drew Gilpin Faust

      Yeah, Asians are so weird…

  • AnonymousTool

    Margaret Cho has actually written an entry in response to the fiasco here and her relationship with the Chop Suey font: 
    http://www.margaretcho.com/content/2012/03/21/chop-suey-font/

    Last paragraph:”I am doing a show soon at Cornell University, which is exciting, and the advertising for it originally used the chop suey font to spell out my name. I guess I am numb to it, but I don’t feel anything when I see it anymore. I am so used to having things this way, the way it’s always been, accepting and swallowing racism down without argument or splatter. I am not sure what to do when this type of ignorance is fought against. The poster was written on, telling everyone off and circling the sword like letters “this font is not ok”. I appreciate the effort that someone has gone to on my behalf, and for the Asian American students on campus who don’t need to be bombarded with racist imagery. It makes me think that things are changing for the better, and I think that anger is a great tool to make wrongs right. I realize how many times I have let stuff like this go, because it’s happened more than I like to admit. In the constancy of my racial awareness, I have been worn down, the grooves in me low and smooth. I leap into rage whenever women’s bodies are scrutinized negatively but I am slow to defend my ethnicity and my queerness. I am only one person. I cannot fight all these battles myself. I need an army. ”

    Granted, she does not say how she found out, and how this managed to slip by her management (Perhaps they just approved it without her final word, which is what I think), but I think this response speaks volumes on what she thinks. 

    • c’12

       So…Margaret Cho is only cool with the use of “racist imagery” and the “wronging” of Asian Americans when she’s doing it. Ok.

  • Guest

    If Scorpions X had just come to ALANA or MCFAB to raise their concern, ALANA would have immediately taken down the posters.   It was an honest mistake.  Members of the ALANA eboard are dedicated to multiculturalism – that is why they are on the eboard.  Just because it was a mistake does not make it acceptable, but  when engaging in intercultural work it is almost impossible not to ever make mistakes.  It is important to remember that all intercultural activities are a learning process and we must try to work together to create a safe space where people are comfortable enough to engage in these activities where they might make mistakes.

    The secrecy of Scorpions X is not necessary.  Activism and the fight against injustice is about fighting for the truth.  I wish Scorpion X would come forward so an open and constructive discussion can happen – this would be the most effective way to address their concerns. I hope members of Scorpion X will follow through on their commitment to diversity and diversity programming and run for the ALANA eboard, this spring, for next year. 

  • Guest

    First of all the use of the type-font was in my opinion not at all racist. The definition of racism contains two components 1) stereotyping and generalizing a specific culture or group of people (which the poster intentionally/unintentionally do) however the second component to this definition is that this is done to purport one race or culture superior to another. There is no evidence nor assertion made that these posters are demaning Asian/Asian American cultures and propagating that another race is superior. Yes the posters mistakenly conflate and stereotype Asian cultures which is of course wrong but I do not think this mistake and ignorance should have been handled in this manner. As Cornell students and fellow members of the small community of color at Cornell. I would hope that when someone makes a mistake we can honestly have their back and educate one another in a respectful manner. The Scorpion X approach did the total opposite, vandalizing posters does not educate community members about their ignorance it simply terrorizes and intimidates these individuals. The proper response should have been an e-mail

  • Guest

    (Cont) outlining the history and concerns regarding the typeface. What has happened as a result of the Scorpions X “activism” is that individual students and various organizations associated with the posters are all targeted and considered racist. Additionally, the safety and mental health of these students under attack have been jeopardized. The sad part is tht these individuals have worked so hard to support the multicultural community and because of one mistake all of their hard work is now invalidated. The funniest thing to me is that our organizations are being called out for our blatant ignorance of an issue that isn’t even common knowledge to most individuals, even many members of the Asian and Asian American community themselves. Besides the Asian cultures very few others have a style or styles of writting being an integral part of their culture and identity so it’s sad that there was no understanding and empathy given for not knowing something that isn’t common knowledge.

  • Guest

    I hope that Scorpions X is adequately punished (hopefully receive a JA in the least) for what they did especially now that there is evidence of who they are! Two wrongs never make a right and just because a mistake was made due to ignorance that does not allow ANYONE to jeopardize the safety and mental health of another individual and vandalization is illegal in any shape or form.

  • Guest

    IT’S A FONT. WTF is wrong with everyone?

    I’m Asian and don’t go to Cornell, just in case anyone’s wondering.