Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Anti-Hmong racism in the Ivory tower

From the Madison campus of University of Wisconsin, I bring you exhibit #1 in stupidity:
Leonard Kaplan of the UW Law School, who made ridiculous stereotypes about Hmong people during his class, as reported by the Capital Times.

Law student Kashia Moua, a Hmong who grew up in Eau Claire where she said neighbors built very high fences to separate themselves from her family, organized the meeting with a widely distributed e-mail.

In that e-mail, she quoted several remarks that Kaplan allegedly made, including: "Hmong men have no talent other than to kill," "all second-generation Hmong end up in gangs and other criminal activity" and "all men purchase their wives, so if he wants to have sex with his wife and she doesn't consent, you and I call it rape, but the Hmong guy is thinking, 'Man, I paid too much for her!' " [Emphasis added.]

What kind of misogynistic, racist bullshit is this?!? Why hasn't he been fired yet? I can't believe this guy is a professor whose job is to educate and inform, and he spews this type of hateful bile. His degrading words are way beyond the pale for there to be any sort of misunderstanding. THERE IS NO GRAY INTERPRETATION of these words, and since he won't even discuss what he said, he has a very flimsy defense.

A student who was in the class, Nam Dao, said in an interview that Kaplan was lecturing about cultural assimilation and how to craft laws when many different cultures are involved.

"He made references to certain Hmong stereotypes, particularly the dowry system and the gang problem in Wisconsin," Dao said. "He used the dowry example to show that it is difficult to craft laws that apply to different cultures. He used statements about Hmong gangs and Hmong men not having education and job skills to illustrate the idea that Wisconsin was not doing a good job of assimilating the Hmong."

But Dao added that "when he was talking about cultural differences," Kaplan actually believed the stereotypes he was describing.

I saw professors like this in college. They claimed to be liberal and they would present a music or English or history class with a stereotype but not deconstruct and provide context to the stereotype so that the students would go away thinking that:

1) whatever stereotype was presented was factual because the professor has credibility and authenticates the stereotype, if you will; and
2) it was okay or proper to repeat these ethnic/religious/gendered stereotypes because a figure of respect has done so.

What has to be done is exactly what the UW students are doing - correcting the misinformed professors and including the rest of the community in the dialogue. Without addressing their mistakes, your other classmates and your professor will continue to believe and teach those falsehoods, and think that it is perfectly alright to do so. Indeed, they may repeat these things with nary a thought, perpetuating more hate and bias. I can't believe this professor is so cowardly he can't stand to go to a forum held with the Law School Dean and face up to his students and the rest of the law school community. What kind of remorse or understanding does that show? He gets to voice his opinions, but he can't stand to listen to what people think? That is not free speech or discourse because it's a one way street, and he's not going to learn anything. If the Rosie "Ching Chong" O'Donnell debate provides any illumination, it is that these mistakes can be true learning opportunities to bridge gaps in understanding, but that the individual actually has to be ready to hear it. There is no pedagogy of the oppressed or of any kind here because he seems to have absented himself from discourse, being "uncertain" that he wants to attend a public forum.

The kicker is that "In 2002, he was honored by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health for his distinction in pursuit of scholarship, pedagogy and human rights initiatives in the field of mental health." [Emphasis added.]

You would think that a professor of human rights might have a little more tact or understanding. Supposedly he apologized for the "misunderstanding" and here are his remarks to the reporter about the incident:

"I have nothing but great respect for the Hmong community. I did apologize to the students for the misunderstanding, and I want to be part of any educational or healing experience that comes out of this in these volatile times," Kaplan said.

"I can't go into it further at this time. I have such respect for the Hmong community. This is a terrible misunderstanding. That is not who I am, and I don't want to increase any more pain for anybody. I care about my students, and I think I am a good professor."

Yeah, right. A good professor learns from his students as much as he teaches, and sets aside his ego to do so. Besides, who ever heard of a law school teacher that was afraid of a forum?