On Monday, March 29, the American Constitutional Society hosted Justice Goodwin Liu in the discussion “Violence Against Asian-Americans and the Portrait of Asian-Americans in the Law.” The ACS is made up of over 200 chapters of law schools around the country, including Boston College’s Law School, and is committed to increasing the diversity of the legal profession and advocating for progressive policies.
Justice Liu was introduced by Vikram D. Amar, Dean of the University of Illinois College of Law. Justice Liu began his legal career as a litigator, eventually clerking for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He is currently a professor at the University of California, Berkley School of Law and has served as an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court since his nomination in July of 2011.
Justice Liu began his talk by providing his own experiences with racism in the past. Both of Justice Liu’s parents were doctors who emigrated from Taiwan to the US in the 1960’s, and Justice Liu spent much of his early childhood in Florida before moving to California at the age of seven.
One of Justice Liu’s most significant memories was how often he’d come home with his lunch barely touched from school; he explained that his mother often made traditional meals for his lunch, and the comments he received about how his food looked and smelled from his fellow students made him too embarrassed to eat.
“Just because something is different than what you’re used to doesn’t mean you’re allowed to insult it,” Justice Liu explained. "Though many people likely don’t say it with a hurtful intent," he added, "that doesn’t make it any less painful to hear that part of someone’s culture is 'weird.'”
Justice Liu also shared a story of how his best friend in high school would constantly refer to him as “slant,” a derogatory comment about how his eyes looked.
“He wasn’t trying to be mean with it, and to be honest it took me a few years to figure out the significance of it,” Justice Liu explained.
He went on to describe how situations like this are how racism against AAPI individuals in the US often manifests, and that what is often viewed as “benign” ignorance or insensitivity can be just as painful to individuals as hate-fueled attacks that have been on the rise in the US in the past year.
Individuals in the legal profession are uniquely situated to help deal with the rise in bias-motivated attacks on AAPI individuals and other groups, Justice Liu explained.
In addition to working with law schools to increase the diversity of their student bodies through organizations such as the ACS, students who go on to pursue a career in law should use their positions as attorneys, clerks, and judges to advocate for social justice issues and remain vocal advocates for equal rights and policies that fight racism and other forms of discrimination and oppression. Additionally, law and college students alike should continue to take part in organizations and events that advocate for social justice.
Justice Liu’s points resonate strongly with the sentiments of many of BC’s on campus organizations and BC students, as many have been pushing for the administration to take these issues seriously.
“I think it’s great that folks are recognizing how much of a problem it is,” explained Genevieve Diehl, MCAS ’23, but went on to explain that just recognizing the problem is not enough. Diehl added that it is important for those who benefit from white privilege to “use their good intentions to begin dismantling it while the rest of us grieve the deaths in our community.”
In a similar way to what was seen during the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer, it is important for all individuals to uplift and emphasize AAPI voices in a way that is constructive and eliminates the prevalence of bias towards such groups.