You’ve probably seen the utterly inappropriate, extremely racist and ultimately befuddling video posted to YouTube by Alexandra Wallace. This obscenely ignorant undergrad decided, for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, to film herself criticizing the entire Asian student community at UCLA, accusing them of (among other things), lacking self-sufficiency, foregoing American manners (whatever that could possibly mean), and, worst of all, speaking on their cell phones in the library. Her rant was immediately denounced by the university’s administration, a vast majority of its students and various anti-defamation leagues, and Wallace issued an apology soon after the video went viral. But in the wake of her stupidity arose the most amazing thing: a host of videotaped responses, serious and funny ones, parodies, angry tirades, musical answers and related satires. An entire collection of genius work that can be viewed as incisive commentary on not just Wallace’s video but on the nature of modern racism and the Internet age in general.
Despite this, a majority of the news coverage regarding the event has centered around the hate speech with which some chose to respond to Wallace’s rant. In the same way that her tirade, which is essentially three minutes of stupidity, got way more press than is probably deserved (and I am well aware that I’m helping to foster that), the dangerous and violent responses of a decided minority have entirely captured the public’s attention. They haven’t escaped Wallace’s notice, either; she released a statement to UCLA’s Daily Bruin stating that she was withdrawing from classes at the college due to “the harassment of my family, the publishing of my personal information, death threats and being ostracized from an entire community.”
Whether or not Wallace should have dropped out of school is not a question I feel comfortable answering. I’m inclined to say that she should have ridden out the storm and that, given enough time, things would have died down to an annoying buzz rather than their current thunderous roar. Ultimately, though, that decision is hers and her family’s to make. What concerns me is a twofold problem that I see happening again and again: firstly, that people feel like the way to respond to ignorance is with more and greater ignorance, and secondly, that all of the good that came in the wake of this incident – all of the satirical creativity, all of these new ways to tackle issues of race and racism via technology, all of the intelligent conversation that has sprung up around those silly three minutes is utterly lost among the ugly and rash decisions of a few.
As becomes the case with so many saddening things, it turns out that there have been some bits of genius during these past couple of weeks, light spots to move toward, to reflect on. Instead of celebrating them, though, we as a society continue to be focused on our darkest recesses rather than our lightest selves. There are lightness and goodness in the ways in which we’ve learned to use technology and the instant gratification it provides to educate each other, share with each other, and learn from each other. The Internet is not some theoretical demon, and the series of interconnected tubes is not going to swallow us whole. Wallace’s story stands as one of the boldest so far in reminding us that the Internet is not a private playspace. However, this is a lesson most of us have already learned; what we need to focus on now are the ways in which the public nature of the medium can be used and celebrated for the good that does exist.