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A word from CAS Department Head: Denise Solomon

The Department of Communication Arts and Sciences is committed to the study, teaching, and practice of human communication for the betterment of Pennsylvania, the nation, and the world. Inherent in this mission is a duty to identify, analyze, and combat messages that sustain or justify violence and oppression.

In the past year, our department has joined others to focus attention on the pervasive and systemic bias against Black people in the United States. Also in the past year, racism against Asian communities in the United States has increased dramatically. Last week’s mass shooting, in which Robert Aaron Long has claimed responsibility for killing eight people including six women of Asian descent, has prompted new conversations about racism against people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Hawaiian, Hmong, and East Asian descent. These conversations are all the more important because this brand of violence, which exists at the intersection of racism and sexism, isn’t new.

Asians in the United States – a category label that ignores the cultural diversity and richness of the people it subsumes – live askance of the Black/White binary that is so central to American history, even while they share the structural consequences of racism. Like other people of color, Asian people have been subject to segregation in housing and employment, unfair banking practices, and disparate policing and incarceration. The distinctive history of racism against Asian people in the United States includes the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the displacement of 120,000 Japanese Americans to concentration camps between 1942 and 1945, and anti-miscegenation laws specifically targeting Asian people. Asian people are also subject to stereotypes that might seem positive (such as the myth that Asian Americans are a “model minority” or especially “smart and industrious”), but which function to undermine their claims of bias, bullying, and disenfranchisement and to define people in ways that sustain difference and justify discrimination.

In a country that has so long discriminated against Black, Latina/o, and native peoples, the plight of Asians and Asian Americans is too often overlooked, and appeals to redress centuries of discrimination sometimes neglect the experiences of Asians in the United States. Even in a year focused on racial injustice, the escalating violence against Asian communities – fueled by politicians who racialized COVID-19 – did not receive due attention. We join the voices asking for justice, not only for the victims of last week’s violence, but for the members of our community – our neighbors, our students, our colleagues, and their children – who confront intersectional racism every day of their lives.

If we want a just and equitable society, then we must focus on the language and practice and embodiment of racism and sexism in all its forms. As we condemn violence, bias, and discrimination, let us also educate ourselves about how communication – within families, at work, and on the national and global stage – has given us this legacy of racism, and how communication and care in those spaces can dismantle it.