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Event Violating MassArt Non-Discrimination Policy To Be Held at MassArt

Post #1758 • September 14, 2015, 7:48 AM • 2 Comments

[Image: Portrait of Camille Monet appreciating culture, painted by one of the great culture appreciators of all time. (]

Portrait of Camille Monet appreciating culture, painted by one of the great culture appreciators of all time. (source)

[Update 1, 2015-09-14 13:37: Mercedes Sherrod Evans, Director of the office of Civil Rights Compliance and Diversity at MassArt, replies: Ms. [Christina Huilan] Wang has been advised that the language in her event invitation is against the college's non-discrimination policy and told to delete the language from her event invitation.

My concern remains that mere deletion puts more wrongdoing down the memory hole. As discussed below, modifications should refer to the previous wording and clarify that all are welcome to attend and speak regardless of race.]

[Update 2, 2015-09-14 14:57: A reader sent a screenshot of the original event description. A now-deleted paragraph read: Accordingly, this panel discussion invites AAPI [Asian-American/Pacific Islander] folks and people of color to listen to and reflect with one another. Because exclusively AAPI spaces rarely exist in mainstream institutions and otherwise, only self-identified AAPI will be privileged to speak. All people of color, however, are invited to attend and share questions, thoughts, and experiences through writing, for which materials will be provided. This event is free to attend, and for those unable to physically attend, the discussion will be recorded, transcribed, and (hopefully) translated for public use at a later date. Christina (Xtina) Huilan Wang adds below: I'm going to be panelist for this discussion. This will be a POC space only, so if you're not please reach out and pass it along to folks you know who are and would be interested in attending this.

It remains to be clarified whether they're going to run the event any differently.]

[Update 3, 2015-09-14 16:08: The Asian American Resource Workshop, Boston replied via Twitter at 15:23 (and I'm paraphrasing): Due to community feedback, event is open for all. We will prioritize the voices of people of Asian descent during discussion. The Facebook event page has a new edit (screenshot): ...this panel discussion invites Asian-identified folks and people of color to listen to and reflect with one another. Because exclusively Asian spaces rarely exist in mainstream institutions and otherwise, those voices will be prioritized in this discussion. All people, however, are invited to attend and share questions, thoughts, and experiences through writing, for which materials will be provided. I asked how, exactly, they intended to prioritize the voices of people of Asian descent. Ryan McCourt suggested a DNA saliva test.

So as of this afternoon whites will be allowed to attend, but the organizers are doubling down on their original plan to only let AAPIs speak. It seems that any allotment of attendee privilege by race would run afoul of MassArt's non-discrimination policies, but perhaps they have a solution.]

[Update 4, 2015-09-18 09:04: From Ellen Carr, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications at MassArt, on behalf of Jamie Costello, Associate Vice President & Dean of Students: Christina Wang has been informed by Mercedes Sherrod-Evans, Director of Civil Rights Compliance and Diversity, that in order to hold this discussion on the MassArt campus, it must comply with the college's non-discrimination policies. Ms. Wang has assured both Dean Costello and Ms. Sherrod-Evans that the whole audience will have equal opportunity to submit their thoughts in writing at the event, and the prioritization of voices phrase refers only to the panelists who will be leading the discussion.

If I were uncharitable I would say that Wang, unable to force non-Asians into silence at her event, is conceding by forcing everyone into silence. I'll say instead that she has overestimated the correctness and generality of her views, which could be said about Stand Against Yellow-Face as a whole from the outset. I think she has received a needed lesson about how the world works outside of her circle of postmodernist progressivism, and I hope she has come to appreciate how difficult it is to establish reasonable, mature discussion once you initiate it by treating mild misunderstandings and differences of opinions as if they were hate crimes. Let's remember that this started when she and her fellow activists showed up at the MFA making public accusations that would only have been appropriate if the museum's Department of Asia, Oceania, and Africa were being run by the Klan. Any difficulties she has experienced in organizing this panel ensue from that. I may have at most amplified some of them.

At any rate, don't go to this tomorrow expecting that you'll be welcome to step up to a microphone and question or challenge the panelists, even if you're Asian. That ought to be clarified in the event description, but I can see why they don't want to do that. The plain truth, explained to the extent that it now needs to be explained, might not be enticing.

A number of readers have reached out to me regarding Dr. Paul Watanabe. They vouch for his reputation for thoughtfulness and magnanimity. Not having had the pleasure of meeting him, I defer to them. I should not, as I did below, have taken the Globe's rendering of his opinion on Kimono Wednesday to indicate that he would have automatically sided with Wang and Dr. Creef. I apologize for doing so.

My primary assertion, that Wang's event as she envisioned it violated MassArt's non-discrimination policy, was proven correct. That caused an outpouring of invective at me on social media and a lot of uninformed speculation about my real motives, so allow me to make them plain: I think it's hilarious that people who accused the MFA of advancing white supremacy for allowing museumgoers to try on a kimono subsequently struggled to mount an event that comported with a simple college non-discrimination policy. They've taken an indefensible and distressingly coercive position about the ownership and sharing of culture, and on top of it, have demonstrated that they can barely get their heads around the fact that the rules that prevent discrimination work because of a particular kind of disinterested neutrality that's wholly alien to their thinking. Whether this finally renders them ineffective or dangerous remains to be seen, but if I can help it, it will be the former.]

[Update 5, 2015-10-08 12:33: Keiko K. attended this panel and her report on it, like everything else she has written about the controversy, has been thorough and fair.

My suspicion about this selection of panelists, that they would ultimately reinforce the premises behind Stand Against Yellow-Face and not challenge them in any serious way, was confirmed. I was surprised to learn that the organizers had in fact tried to invite some of the counter-protesters. Keiko describes the combination of unwillingness and misunderstandings that led to their not appearing.

But they got who they got and consequently there was no conversation about, for instance, whether Christina Wang's personal definition of racism as the operation of race is anything apart from a self-serving coinage. Though not universally held, there's a notion floating around leftish politics that we're not having a real or valid conversation about a given racial issue unless we're discussing white racism. Christina Wang obliges in Keiko's report (telegraphic style in original - there was a lot to report - but emphasis is mine):

Christina: Said the [critical comment about her protest sign] was "totally valid" and that she would take responsibility for the imperialist sign she made. "In this amount of space there's not a really a lot of ability to have the full discussion that I wanted to have. And this is not by any means an exoneration of that choice." Thinks the focus should be on the responsibility the MFA had and "their mischaracterization of the event". She said they can disagree about the tactics and how Kimono Wednesdays was protested but there is common ground about the lack of contextualization. Called the comment fair and said she would accept it. Said he MFA needs to be held accountable for providing the discussion that was missing. Thinks that the protesters and the counterprotesters did the MFA's job for them by contextualizing and educating the public. "The purpose of the protest was to try and hold the MFA responsible for their actions."

Note the deflection. This was more self-awareness than I was expecting given what was on that sign and her history of initiating verbal hostilities (Keiko has the links) but less than would indicate a of change of heart.

Keiko is content to let her corrections of the panelists' erroneous statements speak for themselves, but I want to call out Elena Creef's description of the kimono in question as a wedding uchikake. You don't exactly have to be able to read hiragana to think it would be strange that someone might wear a kimono depicting a swordsman to a wedding. It is, of course, completely wrong. But it's of a piece with every other assertion that this garment has a ceremonial context which makes its casual adornment an act of disrespect, as well as the ongoing rhetorical overreach that started when the protesters first described La Japoniase as Orientalist. To my above comment that it's hard to have a reasonable conversation when you start it with exaggerated accusations of wrongdoing, I add that it's hard to establish good faith arguments on bad.

Finally, and this will be my last update on this post, it remains unclear to me how the protesters and related activists around the country intend to establish racial harmony and equitable cultural exchange by advancing their extreme race-consciousness as a laudable norm. Wang said that anyone can wear a kimono with full participation in the culture from it comes from, not in the sort of consumable, disposable way that the MFA supposedly presented it in. But note what was insufficient in her mind to establish full participation: Japanese sponsorship of the event, manufacture of the kimono by Japanese artisans, a history of happy Japanese participants in museums across Japan in the equivalent of Kimono Wednesdays, a slew of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Boston who wanted to see this event go forward unmolested, and an institutional history going back more than a century of world-class scholarship on the related subjects. If that's not enough, then nothing ever will be. That's by design. The supposed moral problem is a secular ghetto of the neighborhood of Original Sin. You can either strive for salvation or reject the supposition.]

[Original post follows below.]

On Saturday, MassArt—a public college—will host a panel discussion in which only Asians will be allowed to speak, and only non-whites will be allowed to attend.

Following upon the protests at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston regarding the Kimono Wednesdays series (about which you can read in brief at my Federalist essay or in full at the blog Japanese-American in Boston, whose reporting on this is exemplary), the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW) and the Boston chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) are hosting Kimono Wednesday: What It Means for Asian America on Saturday. An initial description of this event on its Facebook page said in so many words that it intended to privilege self-identified AAPI voices (that would be those of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) and that everyone else in attendance would only be allowed to express their thoughts on the proceedings in the form of writing, using materials provided by the organizers.

I regret not taking a screenshot of this while I had the chance. As is typical of the crowd behind Stand Against Yellow-Face, now Decolonize Our Museums, their sense of optics finally caught up with their racial animus and they modified the description. It presently reads:

Join AARW and NAPAWF Boston for this panel and discussion.

This summer, the MFA curated a public program called Kimono Wednesday, which invited museum visitors to don historically accurate reproduction kimonos in front of Claude Monet’s painting, La Japonisme. Although this exhibition was commissioned by the NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, and travelled [sic] throughout Japan, the event encountered controversy when it reached the MFA, resulting in a protest, a counter-protest, and a museum apology.

Within the Asian American community, reactions to the event ranged from anger to indifference to confusion. We acknowledge the diversity of AAPI perspectives regarding this controversy and believe it is necessary to engage in intra-community dialogue on topics like representation and cultural appropriation. Although the MFA’s event has concluded, our lived experiences are ongoing.

Panelists will include:

  • Professor Paul Watanabe, UMass Boston Institute of Asian American Studies
  • Professor Elena Tajima Creef, Wellesley College
  • Christina Huilan Wang, protestor [sic] and MassArt graduate student

(screenshot)

Read, This controversy that we created. Among the reactions ranging from anger to indifference to confusion was open defiance of the protesters by Asian-Americans who were glad to see their culture being shared with the wider world. The protesters have thus far done their utmost to marginalize and demean those perspectives and it will be interesting to see if they view this panel as an opportunity to do so further. The Boston Globe quoted Dr. Watanabe back in July:

I have talked to many people, including Japanese and Japanese-Americans, that didn’t find the event offensive on its face, said Paul Watanabe, who directs the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Still, he agreed with the museum’s decision to recast the program.

Watanabe said MFA staff could have avoided the controversy by better contextualizing the painting within a discussion of cultural appropriation and by clarifying what they hoped visitors would gain by donning replica kimonos.

Their original idea was done, unfortunately, without a lot of thought and care about what its consequences might be, Watanabe said.

Dr. Creef, in her Wellesly bio, tells us that

I live and breathe Asian American/African American/Native American and Latino/a studies mixed in one big theoretical, critical, historical pot with cultural studies, feminist theory, and critical race studies. And in my next life, I'm coming back as an interdisciplinary feminist theorist who will add "equine cultural studies" to the sexy emerging field now known as critical animal studies.

As I noted at The Federalist, the list of protesters was suspiciously short on Japanese surnames. I'm guessing that this panel is mainly a ploy for credibility on the part of Wang and her comrades at Stand Against Yellow-Face. They're pulling in two people of Japanese ancestry with the identity-politics and cultural studies chops, as well as the inclination, to make their authoritarianism sound reasonable. That they represent hardly any Japanese at all is by design. It looks like a put-up job.

But someone else will have to let me know, as the NAPAWF Boston listing for this event has made it clear that white people are not welcome to attend.

Join ‪#‎NAPAWFBoston‬ and Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW) for this panel discussion about AAPI perspectives on the MFA's "Kimono Wednesday" exhibit. Panelists include NAPAWF Boston sibling Christina Huilan Wang!

**This event is POC only. The discussion will be recorded and transcribed for public use at a later date.

(screenshot)

If you're not up on the lingo, POC is Person of Color. Had the organizers edited the event to say, A previous description of this panel discussion said that non-AAPIs would be confined to written comments, but this is no longer the case and everyone is invited to speak freely, then we might assume that the NAPAWF listing is out-of-date due to the page administrator being on vacation or off at Racial Grievance Camp or something. But the SAYF perpetrators don't roll like that. They're more into causing incriminating evidence to disappear. (Some Facebook pages and a Tumblr or two have been given the old Soviet treatment.) So as it stands, it looks like if you're Asian you'll be allowed to speak. If you're, say, black, you'll be allowed to put your written comments in the Non-Asian Person Suggestion Box. If you're white you won't be allowed in the room.

This violates MassArt's Non-Discrimination and Diversity Policy. Nearly every paragraph of it. Note especially what the institution has pledged:

The College shall require that the practices of those responsible in matters of employment and education, including all supervisors and faculty, be non-discriminatory. Should the College discover discrimination in treatment or effect in any employment, educational or service decision, action, inaction, or practice within the College, all appropriate, corrective and/or disciplinary actions shall be taken under the direction of the President of the College subject to any applicable collective bargaining agreement or other policy or procedure of the College.

Note furthermore that the school's diversity policy itself is not intended and should not be used to discriminate against any applicant, employee, or student because of race, creed, religion, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, veteran status, marital status, or national origin. From this one would conclude that its commitment to diversity does not extend to holding POC-only events on the premises. Given that the policy is an expression of Title IX and anti-discrimination mandates, the event may be actionable if conducted in the manner planned by the organizers. Someone versed in the germane law (read: not me) should comment on this.

At this point I wouldn't trust the organizers of this panel merely to modify the event descriptions. The academic community and museum-going public ought to call on them to repudiate expressly their previously stated intentions to discriminate on the basis of race regarding attendance and participation at the event. If they won't, MassArt ought to cancel it outright. If they do, the event ought to be monitored with SAYF's track record of bad faith in mind. MassArt's good standing as a public institution is at stake. Apart from the legal concerns, which to my untrained eye appear quite serious, there are now open questions about the school's willingness to abet the kind of cultural authoritarianism endorsed by SAYF and its wider circle of the postmodern left. For this my eye is trained, and I'll be keeping it on all concerned here.

Comment

1.

Thomas Roelofs

September 20, 2015, 1:15 PM

These people are nuts. The Japanese made a thoughtful offer for everyone and anyone to share in their extraordinary culture. And these hate mongers stuck their noses into this Japanese cultural event, laying claim to Japanese identify, and rolling it into some general Asian culture - something they had no historical, moral, or logical right to do.

They can’t get it through their thick skulls that they don’t speak for the Japanese. The number of Japanese who support them is so small that it’s statistically zero. They have been totally rejected by the Japanese they claim to speak for, and whose identity they tried to claim (appropriate!) for their own selfish purposes.

2.

John Link

October 9, 2015, 4:18 PM

Hyper-awareness is the elephant in the room. It is not a good state of mind no matter how enlightened it might seem. It leads to hyper-bias.

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