American Studies Policy Statement in Response to "Black Minds Matter"

The American Studies Department recognizes the collective and psychic harms of systemic and institutional racism and supports our students with excused absences for self-care under stressful conditions. We hope, too, that our classrooms can be supportive spaces for conversation and learning about these conditions.

We are Here to Take Care of One Another (April 2020)

Dear American Studies students and other members of our community,

On April 3, 2020, the President of the Association for Asian Studies, Christine Yano, posted an illuminating and timely statement regarding “Asian Studies in a Time of Pandemic.” In it, she showed support for those directly affected by the spread of COVID-19 across the globe and highlighted that an unfortunate, although not wholly unexpected, a side-effect of this pandemic has been an increase in anti-Asian racism. As an American Studies Department, where we teach and do research in the field of Asian American Studies, we stand in solidarity with our AAS colleagues, as well as our students, staff, faculty, and community members at Amherst and those who are now scattered around the world. Many of them have directly experienced this racism; others must live in a heightened state of anxiety and fear given the pervasive nature of this thinking, especially as the President of the United States, journalists, and other public officials repeatedly refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus.” AAS President Yano provides a larger historical context in her statement that is helpful for understanding these sentiments as part of an ongoing struggle. “ Those of us who work in the field of Asian Studies should not find anti-Asian hate crimes terribly surprising. Racism—whether in North America directed against Asians or within Asia directed against other peoples—is part of our sociopolitical landscape. Much of the work that we do in our different fields acknowledge, if not focuses upon, this kind of terrain. This kind of violence reminds us of ways in which Asians—including those within the geopolitical scope of continental and island Asia, as well as the many diasporic Asians across oceans and continents—may be bound together, not always by choice, but by fiat, through racism.”

Anti-Asian violence and rhetoric have increased in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. When President Trump labeled COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” he contributed to the racialization of the virus and that filters down from the White House. Such rhetoric fits longstanding patterns of targeting Asian Americans as supposed diseased and threatening foreigners, whether during the SARS outbreak, post-9/11, during WWII, or as laborers in the 1800s and 1900s. Today as in the past, the United States, unfortunately, frames itself and its “proper” citizens in reaction against Asian Americans, despite the historical reality that Asian Americans literally helped to build the structures and foundations of this country. 

Such xenophobic references to Asian Americans as foreigners do not only arise during troubled times. The more prevalent conception of them as the so-called “model minority” maintains their foreign status. Being the model minority has never meant that Asian Americans were accepted as real Americans. Instead, their presumed foreign nature lets them excel over others, in particular other minorities. Its inherent anti-blackness has made it a powerful stereotype, one that not only separates Asian Americans from the nation but also divides minorities.

In many Indigenous nations, relationships are central. One cannot know and understand their value or their place in the world without considering themselves in relation to others, and not only in terms of other human beings but to the plant and animal nations as well. We are all kin in this sense and it is our responsibility to maintain and generate life together. By centering our response to recent occurrences of anti-Asian racism within this web of relations we are
reminded of the verbal attack by several members of Amherst’s men’s lacrosse team against one of their own earlier in March. Such behavior, as President Martin and a recent article in The Amherst Student have noted, is part of a larger pattern and is unacceptable. Ironically, the actions by members of the lacrosse team are contrary to the true purpose of the game which they play; lacrosse was created by Indigenous nations as a way to ameliorate conflict, not to create it, to promote healing, not to enact violence.  Although the team’s coach has been fired and other members of the team released a letter, (published on March 27 in The Amherst Student ) to the community denouncing the racist behavior of those few members of their team, much more can and must be done. The Black Student Union has asked for this, pointing to a history of structural racism at the College. To address these interlocking issues, that of anti-Asian bias and racism in the time of Covid-19 and how anti-blackness endures despite the best efforts of many, we want to suggest that the answer lies with all of us.

Change can come, but we need to do this together. Perhaps reminding ourselves of the connections we hold and how we are linked together is a start. In truth, this value of interrelatedness is at the root of the game of lacrosse, as it is still played by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and other Indigenous nations, today. We have a responsibility to treat one another with respect and honor not just because we are part of the Amherst College community but because we are kin. We are here to take care of one another as well as the world around us. What we do now will most certainly impact the world that is to come.

It is in current times of extreme racism that minority groups in particular, but all residents, need to realize common purpose. Strengthening Asian American Studies at Amherst College becomes all the more obviously needed in the face of such realities. The American Studies department students, staff, and faculty are committed to social equity, which includes the study of and activism around race, colonialism, indigeneity, migration, and their intersectional
dimensions. We welcome efforts that elucidate the causes of social inequalities and work to break them down.

Given that inside and outside of the Amherst College area, students, faculty, and staff are facing heightened racial attacks, now is the time to stand in solidarity with others in denouncing these incidents. With this statement, the American Studies Department reaches out to our colleagues, alumni, and friends to ask that you lend your signature in support of this statement as a means of coming together, and strengthening our shared commitment to end these forms of injustice and oppression.

Please take the time to read these articles by Professor Pawan Dhingra:

"Racism is Behind Anti-Asian American Violence, Even When Its Not a Hate Crime"

and "The Most Effective Way to Fight Back Against Anti-Asian Hate"

Members of the American Studies Department