Humorless at Harvad

Posted: Mar 23, 2001 12:00 AM
A young Harvard undergrad enraged the campus emperors of political correctness this week when he tried to tickle their funny bones. Justin Fong, a writer for the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, quickly discovered that the emperors have no clothes, no spine, and absolutely no sense of humor. Fong, a 19-year-old sophomore from Foster City, Calif., poked fun at himself and his peers in a satirical Sunday essay titled "The Invasian." The very serious, underlying topic: Self-segregation by Asian-Americans at Harvard. The typical Asian-American student, Fong observed with cheeky annoyance, "hangs out only with Asians; walks to class with Asians; plays a stringed instrument in addition to the piano; eats dinner at a table full of Asians; talks on his or her cell phone (made in Asia), in an Asian language with Asians; has Asian parents; eats Asian food preferably in Asian restaurants in Asian districts of Asian Boston; (and) complains that General Wong's Chicken is not sufficiently 'authentic' ... Some of these folks just blend and mold together to the point that I can't even tell them apart." A sixth-generation American of Chinese and Japanese descent, Fong wondered: "(W)hat makes these people cluster together so exclusively? Is there some common sense of persecution or victimization? ... I would contend that Asians in America are among the most educated and the wealthiest. I would not argue, however, that they are among the happiest -- this remains an important distinction. They talk about Wen Ho Lee as if he was a figurehead for all of Asia in America -- and that when he was 'wrongly accused' it meant that there was some return of yellow peril. Whenever an Asian is murdered in America, everyone gets paranoid. I think they need to slow their roll and get a grip." Fong is sick of overzealous ethnic politics at Harvard. "We have to realize that we have a lot in common," he told me this week. "That's something a lot of Asian-Americans on campus fail to recognize. We're in America now. I'm an American. That's my culture." Checking off racial identification boxes, he adds, is "unfair." Fong, who calls himself moderately liberal, acknowledges historical injustices against Asians, "but there's so much about America that we can enjoy." Fong anticipated that he would be branded a racist for speaking his mind and bucking the victimology trend. He was right. A swarm of about 100 clustered in protest outside the Crimson's offices on Tuesday. "It's like Ku Klux Klan propaganda; newspapers wouldn't print that," Alice Wong, 19, a Harvard freshman, told the Boston Globe. Jeff Sheng, 20, told the Globe that Fong's article was "the most outrageous thing" he had read in his three years on campus. "People are too sensitive," Fong told me, chuckling at protesters who demanded the piece be censored -- and then turned around and e-mailed it to Asian-American activists across the country. "They need to take a breath and relax." What Fong didn't expect was the quivering reaction of some of his editors, who tucked their tails between their legs and ditched the First Amendment under pressure from the humor-challenged mob. (Even more damning, in my view: Not one professor or administrator at the Ivy League bastion of liberal-mindedness has called to show support for Fong's views or his right to express them.) The paper ran an editorial expressing regret that Fong's "piece was not edited more judiciously." Crimson president C. Matthew MacInnis apologized a second time "for publishing a piece that did not adhere to its standards." Fong told me that a dozen people reviewed the piece before it was published, including another staffer of Asian descent (presumably to provide racial sensitivity vetting). Not one person said at the time that it failed to meet the Crimson's standards. "I was disappointed by the apologies," Fong said. Welcome to the craven and politically expedient world of 21st century journalism, kid. It's a place where truth takes a back seat to "tolerance," non-conformists are neutered, and editors have turned into community handkerchief-bearers whose primary mission is to pacify the cheerless ranks of the perpetually aggrieved.