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Crying racism will not solve Sujit Choudhry's sexism

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SEPTEMBER 23, 2016

Reflecting on the media circus surrounding her testimony at Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, Anita Hill noted, “It was as if I had no race.” Thomas’ characterization of the hearings as a “high-tech lynching,” and the implication of racial discrimination, pitted race against gender. As a result, Hill’s harrowing experience of longtime sexual harassment was neatly and emphatically erased.

Now at UC Berkeley, we have a new charge of “high-tech lynching”: Sujit Choudhry, ex-dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, has sued the university for racial discrimination as a person who is “of South Asian descent.” Again, racial discrimination has been invoked in an 11th-hour defense of masculine power. Again, a Black woman’s race has been erased. Again, a legal battle is being waged on a Black woman’s body.

As South Asian feminists, students and alumni of UC Berkeley, we refuse to accept this attempt to marginalize the testimony of a survivor. We refuse to see systemic racism against South Asian Americans perverted into a convenient defense of sexual violence.

People of South Asian descent occupy a particular place in the U.S. racial order and are ourselves very diverse. While people of Indian descent, the group to which Choudhry belongs, are the highest-income ethnic group in the U.S. and are heavily represented among the faculty at elite universities such as UC Berkeley, many South Asian Americans are targeted by post-9/11 Islamophobia, racial profiling and xenophobic violence — in addition to sexism, queerphobia, classism and casteism within our communities.

At the same time, our “model minority” status has repeatedly been used to justify anti-Black racism in the U.S., and anti-Black racism is rampant within our own communities. Given this position, we must remain precise and critical when we talk about racial discrimination. The struggle against racism against South Asian Americans should not serve to displace struggles against anti-Black racism and sexism. Choudhry’s claims of racial discrimination ignore these intersections. He wielded his position as a tenured, highly paid, South Asian male dean over Tyann Sorrell in private, and now he claims to occupy a shared position of racial subordination with her in public.

The administration’s failure to address instances of sexual assault over decades remains outrageous. Time and again, protection of tenured faculty members’ careers is elevated above the careers and welfare of other employees at UC Berkeley who have less power. And yet, this failure does not validate Choudhry’s actions. Choudhry is not the ultimate scapegoat: Both Choudhry and the administration are trying to teach each other a lesson. The victim was and remains to be Tyann Sorrell, and it is with her that we stand in solidarity.

The group of South Asian Feminists includes current students and alumni of UC Berkeley. They are as follows: Gowri Vijayakumar, Alum, UCB Sociology ‘16, Assistant Professor, Brandeis University Tara Gonsalves, Ph.D. Candidate, UCB Sociology Sridevi Prasad, Alum, UCB Molecular and Cell Biology B.A. ‘15, Program Assistant, Institute for South Asia Studies at UCB Harsha Mallajosyula, Alumni, UCB Goldman School of Public Policy, Class of 2015 Neeta Pal, Alum, Berkeley Law Aditi Pradhan, Alum, UC Berkeley Karin Shankar, Alum, UCB Performance Studies ‘16, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Barnali Ghosh, Alum, UC Berkeley, Class of 2001 Anirvan Chatterjee, Alum, UC Berkeley, Class of 1998 Sheena Paul, ASUC Senator Fall 2015-Spring 2016 Sumayyah Din, UCB Undergraduate Shivani Narang, UCB Undergraduate Sagaree Jain, UCB Undergraduate, Co-Director, South Asians for Social Justice Anisha Chemmachel, UCB Undergraduate Sameer Nayak, UCB Undergraduate Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, Alum, UCB Rhetoric, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada Rishita Apsani, J.D. Candidate, Berkeley Law Henna Kaushal, Alum, UC Berkeley Swati Rayasam, MS, UCB School of Public Health Saba Ahmed, Alum, B.A. ‘07, J.D. ‘14 Michaeljit Sandhu, Ph.D. Candidate, UCB Sociology Anoop Jain, DrPH ,UC Berkeley Anvi Bahl, UCB Undergraduate Varsha Venkatasubraman, B.A., History, Berkeley ‘16 Jasleen Kaur Singh, Berkeley Law Mariam Azhar, Berkeley Law, 2019 Nira Pandya, Berkeley Law, 2019 Bilal Malik, Berkeley Law 2017 Sarah Mirza, Berkeley Law 2018 Seema Rupani, Berkeley Law 2017 Nirali Jani, UC Berkeley, Graduate School of Education

SEPTEMBER 25, 2016