For Black History Month, Stuart's office of DEI and the NCGLS hosted two speakers with a purpose to bring our community together through dialogue. In a series titled "On the Margins of Intersectionality," we first welcomed Olga M. Segura, author of Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church who addressed the complicated and often strained relationship between people of color and the Church due to its historical formation and current function steeped in systemic racism. In her book, Ms. Segura demonstrates how the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement and the church are intersected in many ways and therefore is presenting “a radical call to dignity and equality for all people.” Ms. Segura spoke to Middle and Upper School students as part of the Women In Leadership speaker series through the National Center for Girls' Leadership at Stuart and addressed parents later that evening.
After sparking thoughtful and critical conversations among our community, we looked forward to welcoming Vivian Wu Wong to campus as our second speaker in the series for her discussion entitled, "Building Black and Asian Solidarity: Remembering the Past, Acknowledging the Present, & Charting the Future.”
Ms. Wu Wong spoke to both the Middle and Upper School students as well as an adult audience in the evening, and opened the program by sharing how the history of Black and Asian solidarity in America is not often taught. By knowing this shared history and what led to the division, we can educate ourselves to mend bridges and dissolve widely perpetuated stereotypes. As Ms. Wu Wong said herself, "I've always been moved by messages of unity and resistance. Unfortunately, more recently, these messages that have divided and continue to divide people of color in this country have gained more momentum." In sharing her story, starting with her experience with racism as a child and then later attending college in California with more students who looked like her, Ms. Wu Wong identified her college years as a time when people of color came together to support each other and demand change from the institution. “In the 1960s, the Black Power movement in the United States and people's revolutions in Asia, Africa, Latin America inspired a yellow power movement in the United States. That gave birth to an Asian American identity that spread through college campuses on the west and east coasts.” An example of the solidarity between Asian and Black communities at this time was reflected in the friendship between Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American civil rights activist, and Malcolm X.
Ms. Wu Wong also spoke about the term "Model Minority Myth" and its re-emergence in the 80s. Propagated by mass media to divide people of color, it highlighted Asian-Americans as a high-achieving minority who had made it on their own, thereby allowing an implied denial of racism and other inequities in the American system to spread over time. As a result, the amplification of the “model minority” inferred that "if other minorities aren't succeeding, then it must be their fault." This dangerous idea pitted the Black and Asian communities against each other. The stereotype of Asian Americans as naturally gifted was then used to attack affirmative action programs. The main point that Ms. Wu Wong aimed to drive home by sharing the development and growth of this "model minority myth" was that "every time, every single time we hold up our Asian American students for being successful Asians ... somehow we're finding a way to put down our black and brown students. And so these are the tremendous costs involved in promoting this or any other stereotype."
So what does this mean for us? What can we do about this? Similar to Ms. Segura's talk and overarching message, Ms. Wu Wong emphasized the importance of learning our real history. "The best way to combat these stereotypes and these more narrow messages and interpretations of what's happening in our society today, we have to find ways to lessen their impact. And for us to do that, we actually have to learn our history, our history as Americans, as African Americans and as Asian Americans. We can't rely on the media to create a healthy representation of any of us, mainly because racism is entertaining and it's profitable. The important thing is for you to find a way to tell your story in a way that can help you bridge these gaps and connect with those around you."
Ms. Wu Wong's presentation was followed by a panel Q&A between Ms. Wu Wong and Anthony Jones, manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District; Latoya Edwards, president of the West Windsor-Plainsboro African American Parent Support Group (“AAPSG”); and other attending guests.