COMMENTARY BY: CHRISTOPHER PHOMPRASEUT
Chances are you have heard of Duke’s Kappa Sigma and the “Asia Prime” party they threw a week ago.
Protesters calling the party the “racist rager,” described the event as a negative play on Asian American orientalism and stereotypes.
The party email opened with, “Herro Nice Duke Peopre” and ended with ‘Chank You’ and a picture of Kim Jung II from Team America.
Kappa Sigma renamed the event “International Relations” in response to criticism. Despite the attempt at re-branding, party-goers still dressed in crude representations of Asian-American stereotypes, such as geishas and sumo wrestlers.
Offended students organized a response, creating a series of fliers critiquing the party’s racist theme that were displayed on-campus and various social media platforms. On-campus fliers were removed as quickly as they were put up, in what some are suggesting was an effort by Kappa Sigma and Duke’s campus police to silence the protest. Students quickly mobilized to organize a protest, while the email and party pictures began to draw national attention.
Protests over the party also took aim at the larger party culture at Duke, which was seen as permitting cultural insensitivity, racism, and sexism; students pointed to a history of party themes that relied on stereotypes of cultural and ethnic minorities, including American Indians and Latin Americans.
This now brings me to confront, “Why was it a big deal?”
Why is it a big deal that a group of people mocked another race? There isn’t any harm right? They didn’t seriously believe ALL Asian people are like that.
While I cannot speak on the regards of all Kappa Sigma, I do believe they acted on ignorance.
Students attending the party put on a costume, a ‘play’ on negative stereotypes of the Asian community. A costume they can easily take off right after the party.
However, can I remove my costume? Can I remove my identity? No.
Members of Kappa Sigma mocked my identity as an Asian American.
More than just as an Asian American, but also as a person of color, the “Asia Prime” party served as a reminder to me about how despite the progressive nature of our universities, we as people of color still have a long way to go from being victims of crude stereotypes.
“Well there are parties and stereotypes that mock white people,” a common rebuttal to the outrage. However, stereotypes about white people commonly represent success and power.
Another might argue about ‘redneck’ stereotypes; however, this is rooted in classism rather than race.
People fail to realize differences in the dynamic of power within our society. People of color are repeatedly marginalized and made crude caricatures of negative stereotypes, which adversely affects their prospects in society. Additionally, experiences of racism and marginalization have serious consequences for the mental and emotional health of people of color.
People put on costumes and mock identities at the expense of another race or culture. At the end of the day, the person wearing the costume can take it off while people of that particular race or culture still have to struggle against stereotypes and prejudice.
Should we raise our voices in disdain at Duke? Maybe, but we should also consider at our own university: this fall a UNC sorority’s Bid Day theme involved stereotypes of Hispanic culture.
While I do believe that the party was the result of ignorance and has been largely resolved, I do think it is necessary we talk about it. And talk about why is it a big deal with each other and how it is not ok to appropriate another culture.