What is cancel culture? Is it a side effect of the era of social media and the 24-hour news cycle? Is it the gap-filling mechanism for the space where the American justice system has failed and yet society demands a reckoning? Is it a manifestation of the United States punitive justice methodology? Is it merely the newest iteration of an otherwise ancient human custom?
These questions and more were posed and pondered in a recent conversation held by the Criminal Law Society and BC Law Professor Steven Koh. Students shared their views on how to define cancel culture, who is subject or not subject to it, its efficacy, and its justness. The discussion stirred many of my own thoughts on this phenomenon.
As this year’s 1Ls have surely discovered, and as future attendees of BC Law will come to realize, going to law school is a strange and special experience best tackled alongside friends and peers. Whether it’s cramming rules of civil procedure into your head, navigating the do’s and don’t’s of law firm networking events, or just figuring out where to find a good cup of coffee, one’s time at BC Law is easier and more fulfilling when you leverage the buddy system. As students, it is important to find and leverage a support system at the school. Friendly classmates are one; the BC Law administration and its prioritization of the health and wellness of the student body is another. In this blog, I’m considering a third support system: the people with whom we choose to live.
BC Law places a heavy emphasis on experiential learning, beginning your 1L year. But as a 2L and 3L, you have the opportunity to dive even deeper into practice through externships or clinic experiences. You can learn more about the clinic offerings at BC here, but because I decided to take the externship route, I’ll reflect on that experience.
Through BC’s Semester-in-Practice program, students are given the opportunity to secure job placements in Boston or beyond for course credit. The number of hours per week depends on the placement and the student, and all students must participate in a weekly seminar as well. I decided to spend last semester at Tripadvisor, where I worked (virtually due to COVID) 4 days a week.
“Sometimes I wonder if the Asian American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but no one is thinking about you.”
Let’s talk about this past week and the hate crimes perpetrated against Asian Americans the last few days in Oakland Let’s talk about this past year and our past period in American history This neglected narrative This invisible experience
While the country does its annual round of capitalizing off of Lunar New Year this weekend, I think about the Asian Americans who will spend what is supposed to be one of the most festive and important holidays in their culture cowering instead of celebrating Let me tell you about the attacks that have been happening because you won’t find them headlining on national news A conversation that is long overdue
An 84 year old Thai man was attacked in bright daylight and died from his injuries Vicha Ratanapakdee Say his name and pronounce all. of. it.
Numerous robberies and assaults in Oakland’s Chinatown A 91 year old man was pushed down It was like watching my own grandfather get slammed into the pavement Look up the video on your own if you want to see it but I refuse to circulate Trauma Porn – my trauma, your porn Non-POC: You cannot fathom how personally traumatizing it is to watch these videos
Faces slashed, grandmothers set on fire The sheer volume of violence is staggering I’m having a hard time grappling with this inhumanity against our elderly Our elders Who are revered and respected in our culture in a way unlike the culture of this country Who rose from the ruins of a broken nation seeking solace Searching for a better life in the Land of Opportunity that only knew them by the word Foreigner
In the wake of these assaults there is one word that comes to mind A word that has been grinded and conditioned into the Asian American experience: Invisible Anti-Asian sentiment since the beginning of this pandemic Targeted hate crimes have surged by almost two thousand percent
Where are you, CNN? Where are you, my fellow activists and leaders of social justice? Deafening silence from the news media and our so-called allies Feigned outrage only when it’s trendy I am traumatized by your apathy
You cannot be anti-racist without acknowledging the Asian American experience.
Enough with the narrative of the Model Minority What is the Model Minority Myth? I guess I’ll save you the self-education And tell you about a nation that only respects you when you keep your head down and talk nice Get good grades and that’s the price of being tolerated in White America But despite staying out of trouble and being quiet equality never comes with being compliant
Because you see, the Model Minority Myth was weaponized by our government back during the Civil Rights movement to say that there is a “correct” way to be a minority The audacity of White Supremacy To give us a pat on the head for being silent To take a diverse race of people and reduce them to a monolith The audacity of White Supremacy To use us as their tools to undermine the Black fight for civil rights To pit minority groups against each other and further the divide
A nation built on the backs of Black people and immigrants Born with this burden that we were doomed to carry as soon as our lungs drew in the first breath The breath that got heavier and heavier with each year of life A life of N*****, Ch*nk, Oriental, “blacks” as a noun with a lower-case B, Dred Scott, Korematsu, Plessy Yellow Peril, Chinese Excluded, For Colored Only A life of imperialism and colonization and cultural appropriation A life of “I think you may have confused me with the other [insert indistinguishable face of color] in this room” and “I’ve never dated a [insert fetishizable object of color] person before” and “But what’s your real name” and “Can I touch your braids” and “Your English is good” and “You don’t sound Black” and “Your lunch smells funny” and “Go back to your country”
No amount of the Model Minority Myth embedded in deep interracial conflict will change the fact that we have always been seen and treated as secondary citizens If citizens at all
From a young age I didn’t know how to take up space It’s having to laugh off microaggressions because we are made to feel that the racism against us isn’t real – is miniscule, is just a joke Gaslit over and over We are told to embrace our “good stereotypes” I mean what exactly is our plight when we’re all just so good at math Right? But this Myth invalidates the reality of the Asian American experience Our internalized racism, our intergenerational traumas Our women the subject of hyper-sexualization Our men the epitome of emasculation It paints us as submissive and void of personality Strips us of our individuality It erases the millions of low income Asian Americans that exist in poverty It ignores the historic underfunding of Chinatowns as people huddle around what little reminders they have of their homeland It silences our struggles and shoves them to the sidelines This repulsive notion of white proximity
I’m tired of being told that we are not Oppressed Enough. Enough.
We are not your model minority.
I’ve said this a hundred times and I’ll say it again: The burden should not fall on people of color to be educators I’m going to be honest and I hope you will be modest enough to listen Because writing this piece was so exhausting So emotionally draining I wanted to swallow my words, swallow my pain To shut off my brain and just mourn in bed I wished I was privileged enough to write about Snow Day instead But instead I opened a Google Doc and my curtains and my wounds
This toxic rhetoric of “Your oppression isn’t as bad as mine” and “Now is not the time” Sorry but I didn’t know that racism had a sign-up sheet A hate crime against one community is a hate crime against all of our communities We all suffer under the puppetting hand of this systemic oppression The problem is not us and each other and this underlying tension The problem is White Supremacy so pay attention
If your anti-racism isn’t intersectional, are you really anti-racist? Don’t ask us to shrink our space when we have already gone our whole lives feeling small I promise that there is enough space to go around this arena of Oppression Olympics that was designed to be the modern day Hunger Games Designed to point fingers and call names but we are all pawns of the same system So shouldn’t we be asking instead: who designed it? And how do we get out? Unity is not possible with White Supremacy But unity against it is necessary to defeat it The only way out is together Diversify your narratives so we can do and be better So that we can uplift all of our communities and stand in solidarity This struggle for safety This struggle for scraps of space at each other’s expense
But now that I’m here, let me make this clear: Asian Americans cannot find safety in the same institutions that terrorize Black Americans Although we are wounded, the police must still be defunded Increased policing is not the answer Black Lives Matter So we must make good on our promise from last summer To use our privilege and protect the Black community So instead of calling for increased policing that will harm Black bodies Let’s get to the root and provide adequate services and resources for all of our communities Let’s rid this false notion that there is mutual exclusivity in this fight for equality The solution lies in addressing this violence that is rooted in White Supremacy A violence that is not the violence that we see but the violence that is Unemployment, Homelessness, Wealth Hoarding, Redlining, and Poverty
So let’s turn this mentality into a new story One where Asian Americans can take up space unapologetically and speak their truths and shed their invisibility One where our white and POC allies support us openly by condemning anti-Asian violence in their own communities I challenge you to check your own biases and follow through on your commitment to diversity See us, show up for us, and take on responsibility Hold accountability
Marginalized freedoms have always been and will always be intertwined My pain is your pain is our collective pain It is our collective grief and our collective loss And so your fight is my fight and my fight Should be yours, too
Rosa Kim is a second-year student at BC Law. You can reach her at email@example.com.
“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales
In the law, and especially in litigation, it can seem like being gentle has no place. The adversarial system is set up like a zero-sum game, and it can feel like softness is in direct contrast with winning in the courtroom. However, in a profession where we lawyers are painted as aggressive and combative, perhaps gentleness is a silent strength, particularly in our relationships with our clients.
I’m in the COVID-19 Housing Relief Clinic this semester, and we spent this first week in trainings. During these training sessions, we conducted role-play situations, both interviewing and counseling “clients.” In our training, the “clients” were just our supervising professors and the situations were merely hypothetical. Yet, these simulations reflected the very types of cases and clients that, as student attorneys at the BC Legal Services Lab, we might see this semester. For example, some of these scenarios included a wife trying to keep custody of her son in a divorce case with her potentially abusive husband or a landlord using unjust practices to force evictions.
At first, I wondered how useful this training would be. After all, how much is there to learn about just talking to clients? Turns out the answer, is a lot.
The first month of law school felt daunting, yet inspiring. The incentive to perform well and desire to keep pace with my classmates helped sustain my initiative. As that motivation began to diminish slowly, once finals were over I entered a complete hibernation from my legal studies. While it’s necessary to step back and recharge over break, it’s not so easy to make the return to a new semester.
As we all know, in law school there is no “syllabus week.” Instead we jolt into full length classes and hundreds of pages of readings. If you’re also struggling with the stark transition from over-indulging in the latest HBO series (I recommend His Dark Materials) to your respective Wolters Kluwer, I’ve researched a number of techniques to reinvigorate motivation.
the hill we climb. If only we dare. It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
–Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
“We are where we are, with the huge bloody problem delicately referred to as ‘race relations,’ because of a history.”
–Charles R Lawrence III and Mari J. Matsuda, “We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action”
If you need some light in these dark and unsheltered times, go watch or re-watch Amanda Gorman’s performance of “The Hill We Climb” at the recent Presidential Inauguration. If the poem itself does not inspire, maybe the poet will. Watching that virtuosity and vision in a 22-year old gives me hope that we may be able to find a path forward.
But as we begin Black History Month, I am reflecting on how we understand the path forward in light of the past. That was a central theme of Gorman’s verse. It is also a perpetual site of conflict in our politics and culture. This tension is apparent even in Gorman’s words. Her poem is yet another entry in a long rhetorical tradition of American jeremiads.
The jeremiad is named for the Prophet Jeremiah, who warned the people of Israel of the consequences of failure to fulfill their covenant with God. From that scriptural origin, “jeremiad” has come to refer to a rhetorical denunciation of sin and the related call to reform.
The first American jeremiads originated in the Puritan sermons of early New England colonies. John Winthrop—in language that echoes in the title of Gorman’s poem—exhorted his Puritan congregants to consider, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”
Within a generation, the Puritans were confronting the failure of their divine experiment. The jeremiad became a ritual means of purification, a coping mechanism for a religious community faced with its own moral failure and depravity. It consisted of three parts: 1) a scriptural precedent that established communal norms; 2) a condemnation of the current state of the community; and 3) a prophetic vision of salvation from moral failure that reconciles the discrepancy between ideal and reality. The jeremiad instantiated the American capacity for delusion and self-deception. It became an exhortation of low expectations:
“Even as the preacher exhorted, they knew enough about their listeners not to expect much from them…Theirs was a peculiar mission, they explained, for they were a ‘peculiar people,’ a company of Christianity not only called but chosen, and chosen not only for heaven but as instruments of a sacred historical design…In their case, they believed, God’s punishments were corrective, not destructive…In short, their punishments confirmed their promise.”[i]
The mutuality of sin and salvation purged the community of its guilt and implicitly encouraged its misconduct. The American jeremiad became a kind of rhetorical group therapy. It required nothing more from its audience than faith in its narrative. Belief, not action, was the prerequisite for salvation.
The Almighty has His own purposes. If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
Lincoln’s address satisfied a deep national yearning for a conciliatory moral narrative. His formulation followed the classic jeremiadic tradition by sublimating the country’s vice into virtue. God’s very engagement with American history was proof of its unique status. The horrors of both slavery and war proved the national march towards salvation.
But this is just one kind of American jeremiad. Another, the African-American or Black jeremiad, grew out of enslaved Black peoples’ fiery denunciations of white oppression. This jeremiad was not blind to American injustice and depravity. It bore prophetic witness to it.
For Black people in America, obvious parallels with the biblical story of Exodus countered white supremacist arguments that Black suffering proved their inferiority before God. Slavery was instead proof that the African-American community was God’s chosen people. Their suffering and hardship heralded God’s greater plan for the future.[ii] Reformulating the Exodus narrative, the African-American jeremiad provided assurance of the Lord’s salvation and nurtured a communal identity as a divinely favored people.
The early form of this African-American tradition was similar to that of its Anglo-American counterpart. But the tone and content were entirely different. The White Protestant jeremiad was a ritual of purification, an unfailingly optimistic prophecy of redemption. The (white) orator always addressed a “we,” his partners in a failing community. By contrast, the African-American jeremiad was a warning to the white, oppressive other. It served ritual purposes for the Black community, but its intended effect on white audiences was to persuade and admonish, not to comfort. An example? Think of Dr. King’s adaptation of the negro spiritual, “Go Down Moses,” in which he exhorted President Kennedy to “Go down Kennedy, way down to Georgia land. Tell old [Sheriff] Pritchett to let my people go!”[iii]
For much of our country’s history, these two rhetorical traditions existed in opposition to each other. They offered mutually exclusive views of America. But if you watch or read Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” you will see elements of both. It is not wrong to find comfort and hope in the midst of suffering and failure. But we cannot ignore history or evade its call to action. Belief in a brighter day to come is no substitute for acting to bring it about. As Gorman said,
the new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.
–Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”
[i] See Sacvan Bercovitch. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin (1978).
[ii] See Albert J. Raboteau. A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History. Boston: Beacon Press (1995).
[iii] See Keith D. Miller “Alabama as Egypt: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Religion of Slaves” in Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Sermonic Power of Public Discourse.
As we began the second full semester under the hybrid in-person and online model this week, I found myself thinking back to the beginning of my first semester as a 1L. As a chatty person, I filled much of the first few weeks of law school trying to meet and talk to my fellow classmates, learning about their general backgrounds. Everyone was so overwhelmingly interesting that I felt I would be learning new things about the people in my section well into the rest of the year.
Looking back, I felt a pang of longing for those first few weeks. I had taken these passing conversations and small talks for granted, thinking there would always be time to chat with the people who filled the seats in my classes and the halls of the school. I would have never guessed that I would be taking remote classes in my apartment, only seeing my classmates through a computer screen.
But at the same time, in the midst of the strained communication and connection that we all have faced over the past year, I found myself longing to understand people better: to connect and learn about others in ways a simple conversation likely would not yield.
The newest issue of BC Law Magazine features five students’ personal admission essays. These narratives not only reflect students’ passions, tribulations, and motivations, but masterfully display how events in the lives of these students have both defined who they are and propelled them to become who they want to be. These essays, and the students who wrote them, present a sense of connection to the BC Law community, as we learn about some of our fellow students and what motivates them to pursue a career in law.
You can read the personal admission essays here. You can also check out the entire Winter 2021 edition of the BC Law Magazineon their website.