Article by Nick Zotalis
Penn State alumna Dr. Srivi Ramasubramanian spoke about the role of identity and the media’s representation of identity on Friday, March 31 in 113 Carnegie Building. Ramasubramanian is the Associate Dean for Climate and Inclusion and an Associate Professor of Communication and Texas A&M University. An Indian-American herself, she specifically focused on the stereotyping of Asian-Americans in media.
Ramasubramanian was introduced by Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs Joseph Selden. Selden spoke about American politics, referring to President Trump as “the person in the White House.” He issued a challenge to the white people in the crowd in particular, asking “Will you be part of the problem or part of the solution?” Selden ended with a quote by Tom Wicker, “To know things as they are is better than to believe things as they seem.”
Ramasubramanian thanked the professors whom she had studied under as a graduate student and AHANA for enabling the event to take place. She emphasized the value of identity and retaining one’s heritage. She displayed a list of terms that describe her, such as non-white, Asian-American, etc. Ramasubramanian affirmed that one can have a “hybrid identity” which comprises multiple terms, and she rejected the “melting pot” of America, arguing that a melting pot analogy implies that everyone melts into the same final product.
Ramasubramanian classified three portrayals of race in terms of the media’s portrayals. She claims that while whites are portrayed as an array of different characters, minorities are split into being depicted as problem minorities, plagued with crime and lack of education, or model minorities, who are hardworking and successful. As a counterexample to some common stereotypes in media and in popular culture, Ramasubramanian asserted that Asians, not Latinos, are the fastest growing undocumented population in the United States.
She also touched on the portrayal of foreigners in the media throughout the years, specifically focusing on Asians. She visited the cinema of the early 20th century to talk about another dichotomy of portrayal, using the examples of Fu Manchu, a brutal villain, and the Dragon Lady, a stereotype of Asian women that is hypersexualized, deceitful, and mysterious. Ramasubramanian pointed out that this same sort of limited view of foreigners still applies in media today.
Ramasubramanian ended with a Q&A session where she discussed the value of alternative media online in combating stereotypes in media. She reaffirmed the importance of preserving identity and told personal stories about struggling to do so, especially after the 9/11 attacks when passersby would tell her to get out of America, despite the fact that she is from India. She expressed the hope that events such as this talk give her. She left the audience with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
Feature Image Credit: Penn State University