by guest contributor Jenn Fang, originally published at Reappropriate
Last week, Colorado University — Boulder found itself at the center of a firestorm from the Asian American community after the campus newspaper, Campus Press published an opinion piece by an editor, Max Karson, entitled “If It’s War the Asians Want…”. In the piece, Karson engages in race-baiting and advocates kidnapping and torturing Asian/Asian American students on the CU campus.
Yesterday, student editors of Campus Press and the faculty advisor met with CU’s dean of journalism, Paul Voakes, to discuss the fall-out from the piece. In addition to covering the criticisms of the piece (something Campus Press seemed reluctant to do), the editors agreed to:
Invite student organizations to meet face-to-face with the editors.
Adopt an “opinions policy,” with standards and procedures for determining the acceptability of opinion columns or reader-generated content.
Schedule a series of diversity-awareness workshops for the entire staff with the CU Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, with participation of professional journalists of color.
Host a series of workshops for opinion writing and editing, to be presented by experienced professional opinion editors.
The problem with all this is that Max Karson is still absent from all the discussions. Karson didn’t attend the meeting with Voakes, and has refused to comment in detail on his piece, saying only, “I wasn’t trying to create a firestorm per se; I was trying to create a dialogue”.
But, a Wikipedia article has been written on Max Karson outlining his history of racially-insensitive and offensive statements. In a couple of self-published newsletters, Karson spewed racism against African Americans and argued that women were biologically incapable of sexual pleasure. Last year, Karson was briefly suspended for defending Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho in a manner that left some classmates feeling threatened for their own safety.
Throughout Karson’s media-starved cries for attention, the academic institutions he’s been in have protected his hate-speech under Karson’s First Amendment rights. But Karson is not merely waxing philosophical on race in America; he is inciting his readers to violence, be it rape against women or a modern-day lynching against Asian Americans. At what point does the university step in and acknowledge that while speech should be free at an academic institution in Boulder, the university has a responsibility to protect female and minority students from threats of physical violence?
Throughout Karson’s questionable career as a writer, he has hidden behind the veil of “satire”, arguing that he’s actually an extremely progressive person who writes hateful speech in order to mock a culture of discrimination. I find this argument unconvincing: satire is a very traditional genre of writing that uses common literary ploys (and undeniable wit) to tear down an argument it is purported to defend. As such, the intent of the piece as satire is interpreted by the article’s heavy reliance on flawed or exaggerated logical arguments — basically logic gone awry. Satire is a dicey genre to write in; even history’s most famous satirists (Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain to name just two) fell victim to misunderstanding and political backlash.
And Max Karson is no Jonathan Swift. Karson’s pieces offer no twists on logic, no reference to the argument he is trying to satirize, and no literary wittiness. Karson’s writing is little more than racist fantasy, as high-brow as The Man Show.
While I applaud the move by Campus Press staff to undergo diversity training and to open up forums of discussion through their newspaper and online archives on this subject (and CU’s student legislators for condemning Karson and Campus Press), Karson needs to be fired from the paper’s staff and should undergo judicial review by the campus administration. He has a documented history of inflaming racial tensions for personal gain, advocating physical violence against those he perceives as different, and counteracting CU’s mission of fostering an open and welcoming academic environment.
Please write a letter to the Campus Press urging them to remove Max Karson from their staff. This post has a template you can use, along with links to the appropriate contact form.