And You Thought We Were Militant!
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 the 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