02:52. That is all the time it takes for UCLA political science major Alexandra Wallace to alienate and offend, expose her own ignorance, and pretty much put an end to her prestigious UCLA education. Wallace accomplishes all of this in her video “Asians in the Library,” initially posted to YouTube on March 11, 2011. The video is commonly labeled a “racist rant” which suggests that she turned on her webcam and, in the heat of the moment, let the hate flow. However, there is clear evidence that someone took the time to edit the video and an article from The Sacramento Bee quotes her father as saying that she was planning to purchase a domain name to support the video’s distribution . While this does not mean that the video isn’t technically a rant, it is important to recognize that this was not the rash outburst of a young woman with no sense of how the internet and publicity operate. Wallace did not assume she was safely anonymous among the noise of the Internet. Rather, if her father is to be believed, she sought publicity and intended to use the video to launch her career. In my opinion, the evidence of forethought and planning makes the video even more egregious.
What she clearly did not plan was the overwhelmingly negative response. Dreaming of a career as a video blogger, she expected neither death threats, nor the exposure of her personal information, nor to be ostracized on campus. Her official apology, printed in The Daily Bruin on March 14, indicates that if she could take the video back, she would. Questions of her sincerity aside, it is clear that the Internet remains unsatisfied. New video responses continue to appear on YouTube almost three weeks after her official apology.
As a researcher who is writing about viral structures, and an educator in a program in Emerging Media and Communication at UT Dallas, I have been watching the debacle with interest. The video provides a valuable opening to discuss ongoing issues of racism and the insufficiency of strategies of “color blindness” in U.S. culture. It is also a concrete lesson on the uncontrollable and long term consequences of our online actions.
But there is one more lesson to be gleaned from the video and the responses to it. What follows is in no way intended to condone Wallace’s ideas, nor her actions. I find her ignorant and offensive. However, I do feel compelled to focus the discussion here, if just for a very brief moment. (more…)