Alexandra Wallace, the student who posted the racist YouTube video about Asian students, is withdrawing from UCLA. University administrators at UCLA opted not to discipline her. Wallace apologized, called the video a mistake and is leaving the university amid what she says are death threats. The national conversation sparked by this video has focused on whether the video was racist or not (uhm, yes) and whether the students’ speech constitutes “free speech” and what right universities and colleges have to regulate such speech. Predictably, there’s a raft of response videos, including this one with over 2.5 million hits. The latest twist is the focus on death threats against Wallace as the real harm here, not the supposedly “trivial” racism of her video (this is the popular take over at Stormfront and in a few comments on this blog). Of course death threats are wrong, and should be condemned (even when they’re described by local police as “more annoying than threatening”).
The question I want to pose for readers this morning is this: is redemption possible for Alexandra Wallace? And if so, what would it look like?
I agree with @AngryAsianMan when he writes:
I’m actually a little bummed that she’s leaving UCLA. I would have loved to see her continue her education — in more than just political science — and learn a thing or two about co-existing with fellow “Americans” — yes, Asians — in the UCLA community, having to make those walks of shame across campus while forever known as the “ching chong ling long ting tong” girl.
I’m a little bummed, too. By leaving UCLA and citing “death threats,” this young white woman has re-cast herself as a victim of racism rather than a perpetrator, which is a pretty amazing slight-of-hand given that video. Given her abrupt withdrawal from UCLA, the re-frame as a white “victim” in this story, I’m not optimistic that she’ll learn from this experience, which she called a “mistake.”
In fact, if I had to predict an outcome, I’d say that Wallace will probably go on to a reality show of some kind and become a darling of the far-right and white nationalists (as she already appears to be). I think it’s too bad that one of the unintended consequences of the digital era is that mistakes of a 20-year-old can reverberate so widely and so quickly, and that they can live on forever. For any of us who have lived well passed our twentieth birthday (a couple of times), it’s truly cringe-worthy to think about our younger, often mistake-filled selves being endlessly available online.
I think there’s another scenario possible for Alexandra Wallace.
She could enroll in another school, maybe to study sociology at UC-Santa Barbara or UC-San Diego, and learn about the legacy of racism that’s been handed down to her. Maybe she’d even decide to change her name to distance herself from that legacy and this controversy.
I imagine that she would spend a few years reading her way through this list of books and articles, and spend her other time watching these documentaries. Then, she’d go on to start a series of workshops for college students called “Unlearning Racism” and “Using YouTube for Good and Not Evil.” Or, maybe she’ll start a speaking tour with other whites busted for their own racism online, talking about what they’ve learned from their mistakes. Or, maybe she’d make her own documentary about white college students working on their own racism.
Or, perhaps inspired by reading Ruth Frankenberg and bell hooks, she’d decide to follow in their footsteps and go on to graduate study at UC-Santa Cruz in the History of Consciousness program, where she’d take a seminar with Angela Davis. When she finished at UC-SC, she’d go on to write books and articles about white racism.
I believe that redemption is possible for Alexandra Wallace, but it’s going to take more – much more – than an apology and calling this video a “mistake” and withdrawing from school as a victim. What she’s got to do is somehow bring herself to see this as an opportunity to learn some of the deep lessons about racism that she’s clearly missed in her 20 years. This series of events could turn into purposeful work and a contribution to society if Alexandra Wallace decided to use her energy working against the corrosive legacy of racism.
It could happen.