Wallace Video Exposes Veins of Rearguard Racism

The most significant thing about Alexandra Wallace’s YouTube video rant isn’t the rank bigotry she spewed toward fellow UCLA students who happened to be Asian; it’s her implicit assumption that the larger community would share her sentiments.

If a 20-year-old like Wallace, studying on a campus in which Whites are clearly outnumbered by Asians, can feel easy about uploading a public video mocking Asian languages and Asian family culture, there must be populations who share her attitudes albeit mostly below the radar. True, she hails from a sleepy Sacramento-area town in the Sierra foothills called Fair Oaks best known for its annual Chicken Festival. Still, it’s unlikely that she recorded and uploaded what she apparently conceived as her debut weblog video without some support or encouragement from at least a few others.

We get a hint of the group psychology in her proud admission at the start of her video that her friends know that she isn’t PC, politically correct. She’s the outspoken one who acts as the mouthpiece but they share enough of her views to remain friends. We’ve also learned that her father John Wallace, a retail shopping mall developer, may have egged her on. At around the time she was probably recording her video Dad posted that Alexandra was seeking a domain name for her new weblog. He was apparently not opposed to the idea.

“I personally know Alexandra Wallace’s father, John Wallace of Fair Oaks, Sacramento,” wrote a poster on a discussion about Wallace’s video. “I would have to say, the apple does not fall too far from the tree. I do feel sorry for her, if she grew up with racist parents and have always been taught that way, how else would she know better?”

Keep in mind, too, that the population of Fair Oaks is about 1.4% Pacific Islander and 0.4% Asian. It’s about as removed as one can get from Asian people and still be living on the West Coast.

The firestorm of insults and mockery Wallace provoked seemed to take her by surprise. She was also greeted by a hostile response from the UCLA administration which, while acknowledging her free-speech rights, was looking into whether the video constituted a student code violation. She also complained to campus police about harassing and possibly threatening calls and emails. On Monday, March 14, Wallace issued a brief apology to the UCLA community at large and took down her video. By then it had already gone viral. Not long after, she apparently suspended her studies as a poli-sci major and left school.

How could someone bright enough to have gotten into UCLA been so off the mark in her calculation of the video’s likely reception?

A clue can be found in the fact that Wallace posted the video on March 11, 2011, about a dozen hours after images from the Japan quake had begun flooding the media. I don’t think the timing is coincidental. Wallace had apparently been planning to launch a video blog for some time, according to her father’s posts. But her decision to use an anti-Asian theme for her first installment was probably triggered by the images she gleaned of tsunami and quake victims as much as from the fact that some Japanese student was insensitive enough to disrupt her study by seeking to reach relatives in Japan.

My hunch is that those images of Asians in distress triggered shallowly buried memories of Asian refugees, maybe even of Japanese American World War II internees, reawakening old racial attitudes toward Asians. In Alexandra Wallace’s case, those attitudes were likely handed down from an older generation, possibly her father’s generation or her grandfathers’.

In some American minds those attitudes were only lightly covered over with more recent images of the prosperity and modernity of China, Japan, Korea and other Asian nations, combined with inklings about Asian American prominence in Silicon Valley and in health care fields — possibly combined with the focus on muslim terrorists as the new enemy.

All this begs the question of how or why Wallace came to be on a campus like UCLA in the first place. My contacts with the peculiar psychology of such people tells me that they don’t see anything contradictory about wanting to enjoy the fruits of modernity while retaining historic racial prejudices.

John Wallace may be another example. Assuming that his development ventures take him out of the foothills and into the suburbs around Sacramento, he would know the importance of the Asian population to the area’s economy. Not only are they about 20% of the population of the suburban developments that sprang up during the past decade, they are a very visible percentage of the weekend tourists who drive out to enjoy the historic sites or just to fuel up and have lunch on their way to Lake Tahoe. They are also a high percentage of the investors who help finance or buy the shopping centers that someone like John Wallace might develop.

The Wallace family is far from being alone in this persistent brand of rearguard racism. Even some prominent, socially savvy Americans seem to enjoy showing how un-PC they are by flaunting anti-Asian bigotry. Dan Turner, press secretary of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, resigned after circulating a joke about the Japanese tragedy. Japanese car plants happen to be the biggest source of foreign investments in Mississippi. Toyota is opening a new plant in Blue Springs this year and Nissan has operated a busy plant in Canton, Mississippi for several years. Ironically, even the GM plant in Shreveport in neighboring Louisiana has had to shut down for a week due to a stoppage of parts from Japan. Aside from sheer human decency, Barbour understandably wouldn’t want to jeopardize his state’s jobs because an aide sees the quake as an opportunity to show how un-PC he is.

Then there’s comic Gilbert Gottfried who was making good money as a spokesman for the insurer AFLAC until he was dropped for making a Japan tsunami joke deemed in poor taste. He probably didn’t know that Japan accounts for about 85% of AFLAC’s global business.

The results would probably have been the same had a Japanese press secretary or comic or university student made offensive comments about white or black Americans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The upside of these kinds of incidents is that it reminds us that we live in an age when most people no longer believe that members of other races are entitled to less than full consideration as human beings.