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When Politics Feels Personal

Last summer, Sigma Tau Delta issued a statement strongly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the teaching of a diverse literary and linguistic curriculum from pre-school to graduate school. The Society welcomes diverse members, reads texts from many traditions, and celebrates literature and storytelling as avenues to cultural understanding and appreciation.

This spring, America has unhappily witnessed yet another outbreak of cultural deprecation and anti-diversity violence. America tragically mishandled the COVID-19 epidemic—an epidemic that has unequally disadvantaged communities of color and that has shone a light on systemic injustices suffered by non-white groups across America. The murders of six Asian-American women in Atlanta has tragically drawn national attention to the shameful increase in the slurs and attacks endured by almost 18 million Americans of Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent. AAPI communities have been unfairly blamed and stigmatized by bigots, and this ignorant prejudice must be resisted. As a response to this recent violence, the Society has once again issued a statement, this time strongly condemning all attacks—physical and verbal—on AAPI communities. These attacks have forcefully reminded me of how close my personal ties are to Asians and Asian-Americans: my friends, cousins, students, and colleagues are all affected by the violence itself and the threats of still more violence.

In spring 1983, I attended the wedding of one of my three college roommates. Kyung Hee was a Korean national, a citizen of The Republic of Korea (South Korea), who had come to the United States as a high school and college student so that she could achieve near-native fluency in English. She married an Irish Catholic classmate of ours at St. Paul’s in Cambridge, MA, and wore two different wedding dresses: a traditional Western white gown and, later in the afternoon, the traditional multi-colored and embroidered Korean wedding dress.

Early in the celebration, the officiating priest rejoiced in the symbolism and optimism that a multi-racial and multi-ethnic wedding meant for the world—that it celebrated a coming together of two distinct cultures to make one new family. I sat in the pew and for the first time suddenly realized, “Kyung Hee and Bob are from two different races.” And then I thought, “How old-fashioned of the priest to notice racial differences. No one notices racial differences between Asians and whites any more.” I could not have been more wrong: too many people believe that all physical differences between Asians and Caucasians represent deviations from an imaginary Caucasian excellence.

Imagined racial superiority is deadly and dangerous.

We as a Society must speak against this hatred.

Last week, a jury in Minneapolis found a police officer guilty of murdering an African American in his custody. Several days later, Congress passed new anti-Hate Crime legislation and devoted new resources to studying, preventing, and punishing hate crimes against those whose “crime” is being different from an imaginary idea of a “real American.” Both of these events are positive signs I very much welcome as America begins to understand what it means to be a nation built around documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—rather than a nation built on blood and soil. Being true to our founding principle that all are “created equal” has never been fully realized, but we must never stop striving to live up to our enlightened ideals.

Sigma Tau Delta has always valued diversity in English language and literature studies, but faced with the escalating dangers of the white supremacist movement, we must more actively promote the equality of all people and the importance of all literary traditions. What Sigma Tau Delta does best is read and respond to the narrative and lyric traditions of varied cultures and generations. We can continue to read literature by an increasingly diverse array of writers; we can continue to include authors of color, of differing abilities, and of different orientations and identities at our events and in our Common Reader tradition; we can maintain our outreach to all students of literature and language across our Regions and chapters. We can honor the stories and poems and memoirs of all humans.

Kyung Hee and Bob are still happily married. Their two children are my fellow Americans. When I sat in the pew at their wedding—in all the wisdom of my twenties—I imagined that the priest’s concern over racial bigotry was old-fashioned. Sadly, racial bigots are emboldened by the promulgation of white supremacist narratives and by the sufferings caused by COVID-19.

We as a Society must speak against this hatred.

DSteinbergDiane Steinberg
Sigma Tau Delta Board of Directors, President
Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter, Co-Advisor
The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ


More from Footnotes: May 4, 2021

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  • One of the unintended, and, indeed, intended consequences of this type of approach is that it will always first identify a person’s skin color. Literary works will promoted or denigrated based solely on skin color. While Sigma Tau Delta should most certainly examine a diverse literary and linguistic curriculum, it must be mindful that to do so in the name of racial profiling is reckless, and unlawful.
    Hear me out.
    The author, President Steinberg, references the Atlanta murders of Asian-American women, implying that these dreadful crimes were perpetrated by bigotry and prejudice against AAPI. This narrative has been disputed by the FBI, Atlanta authorities, and the prosecution of the case, who have chosen not to charge the defendant with hate crimes. Meanwhile, recent violence in horrific attacks on AAPI in New York, and San Francisco, were committed by POC. My point is, that throughout this blog the author references crimes that imply, implicate, or explicitly point to the problem as widespread “Imaginary Caucasian excellence,” and white supremacy. Within the lens of this blog there is no acknowledgment of individual accountability, only criticism and condemnation of one race. The author of this piece claims they had no inclination to observe the married couple’s skin color, yet now we are admonished to seek out cultural disparities.
    When politics feels personal, perhaps it would be better not to inject those personal opinions in the name of an excellent organization such as Sigma Tau Delta. Our members are wonderfully diverse, with a rainbow of political opinions, and even non-identity politics. All are welcome. We should seek inclusion, not separation. We are international society, after all.
    Of course, racial bigotry, bias, prejudice, and discrimination should never be tolerated. Yes, we should speak out against it. As an organization and as individuals, we can seek out the wide variety of cultural writings and language stick expressions toenrich ourselves, and each other.
    One of the comments below states, “I sometimes feel sorry for the sad, but loud voices of the ignorant, aided and abetted by those with the money and power to incite the undereducated still not convinced that we are all in one species.“ What a profound statement! The commenter illuminates a core problem with the societal divisions in America today, and even the wider world. Whether it is politicans, extremists from all points of the political spectrum, corporate entities dictating political ideology, those with the administrative leverage to have a platform, or organizations that promote a racial dogma as a litmus test for their agenda, these are voices that are causing segregation and disunity. For example, the aforementioned statement certainly sounds like the calling card of organizations like Black Lives Matter
    First of all, Black Lives Do Matter! However, it is important to distinguish that the BLM organization that uses this cultural catchphrase is a destructive force in the United States today. By now, closer inspection of BLM has revealed it to be an extremist, violent, Marxist network with radical proposals that seek to destroy the very fabric of the culture that blindly supports it. BLM advocates for the destruction of the familial building blocks of society and economic opportunity, both schemes that would make BLM complicit in the devastation of the very communities they claim to represent, and beyond.
    I mention BLM, because last summer, following the tragedy of the death of George Floyd, and in the midst of a pandemic, Sigma Tau Delta published a blog also by President Steinberg. In it, the author collectively voiced support and affirmation for the black community across professions, vocations, and situations, and rightfully so. The blog included recommended reading on the BLM movement. Many of the works were stimulating reads, delving into the lives and experiences of black individuals. A good number of the texts, including featured links, were writings advancing the ideology of the BLM organization, including anti-racist, Marxist credos which are currently causing a great deal of cultural schisms among US institutions. Among other “woke” literary selections, these readings may have seemed essential, at the time, to tune in to the revolution at hand. In retrospect, it is surprising to see Sigma Tau Delta become a mouthpiece for an organization that continues to sow racial strife and societal unrest. True, BLM, brought unprecedented attention to civil injustices, forcing a social reckoning from Coast to coast.
    And to be sure, these readings are essential to discover what the ideological intentions of racially-decisive rhetoric are, but they perilous and antithetical for equality.
    There are writings that paint their ideology as fact, or their themes so bold, as to challenge societal institutions. Such books often have been threatened to be banned in society. No book should be banned. Like Mein Kampf, How to be an Anti-Racist, and others, they should be studied within their time and context.
    Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be lost than any of us, that while this racially-antagonistic ideology was aggrandized by the blog, less than a year later, further incompatibility targeting one race is espoused again. In the heat of the moment, we have to be careful not to appease an organization, or bow to rhetoric that divides us. Perhaps, the author intended to only push back against the white supremacist movement, however, within the context of the entire article, the implication is painted with a broader stroke.
    There have got to be ways to foster the commonalities that we share, and that we aspire to. I was not born in the US, but I revere the principles that allow everyone to take advantage of the opportunities and benefits afforded to them, under the laws of the United States. I can tell you that that is why so many people want to come to America, for the hope of a better life, not one rife with language of racial hostility, and communist ambitions that millions wish to escape from. This country is not racist, although racism exists.
    As an organization Sigma Tau Delta must expect better decisions by leadership when it comes to politically-charged topics. There is always room for discussion, for growth, and for ways all of us can come together to celebrate our cultures and heritage. I’m thankful for the opportunity to offer commentary and constructive criticism.
    This is a long text, and you can blame it on being wordy by nature! Much love to all of you, hurt by the cold, warmed by love, and nourished by the words of ancient texts and modern communications. Think for yourself, and may we all find peace

    • This is so well worded. I’m glad to see other people who think alike. I am grateful for your comment. <3

  • Focusing on the murder of just the Asian women and to not even mention the two men who died in the Atlanta shooting is wrong. Isn’t that racist in and of itself? I am beginning to question my association with this English honor society if it feels the need to make statements such as this with this article.

  • It is racist to claim that white people are responsible for every action committed against another person in this country. If you do any research at all you will actually find that most Asian hate is committed my POC. You can easily look this up in the last couple of horrific crimes committed again them. One of the most dangerous things we can do is feed into groupthink rather than focusing on the individual. There is a something very wrong with our country, and part of it is the witch hunt that is going on claiming that every white person in this country is a racist because they don’t agree BLM. BLM uses it’s money to buy mansions in white neighborhoods rather than using the money to build schools and help POC. Stop blaming white people. Its racist and it’s repulsive to see a article like this in such a cherished society. One day we will look back on this period of time with shame, and I’d prefer this organization to not be a part of it.

  • The misconception that one has, is that we are stating, that our lives are more important then any other lives. And that is not so, we are simply stating that, “You can’t call all lives matter until you include us.” I stand by it because we need to start counting and can’t be left behind because we are here and here to stay. Thank you for standing by what is right.

  • I could not be prouder to have my name associated with an organization with the true values that I myself believe. I sometimes feel sorry for the sad, but loud voices of the ignorant, aided and abetted by those with the money and power to incite the undereducated still not convinced that we are all of one species. Hopefully one day in the near future all of the -isms will vanish from the American language and landscape. Language is the key, the more we learn and share the better off we will all be. Educate yourself and all in which you connect. Many thanks to Diane Steinberg for having the courage and candor to continue to stand for all of us and for using the pen rather than the sword