Media Watch Race The World Inequality

It’s time we recognize the media’s role in perpetuating Asian hate

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

It took another tragedy for Black Lives Matter to become mainstream, and the #StopAsianHate movement is no different. Despite the skyrocketing numbers of Asian-targeted attacks across the United States last year – there were 3,800 incidents – recognition that the Asian community is being targeted is only now landing headlines and receiving nightly news segments. 

Perhaps this coverage is too little, too late.

Of course, the Asian-targeted shootings in Georgia on Tuesday, March 16 deserved mass media coverage. But what about the 3,800 biased crimes Asian Americans had to endure in 2020? Those deserved just as much awareness and attention, but there are so many victims out there who have been ignored. 

This has been going on for too long. In February, a Chinese man was walking home in Manhattan’s Chinatown when someone sprang up from out of nowhere and stabbed him in the back. The victim, whose name has not been released, was in the hospital for more than two weeks before being discharged on Sunday, March 14. 

How has this perpetual fear affected the lives of Asian Americans daily? How have Asian-run businesses uniquely suffered because of COVID-blaming and the implications behind the term “Chinese Virus”? 

Asian Americans have faced a long history of discrimination in this country. From “yellow peril” to the myth of the model minority, racism is nothing new to them. The first wave of immigrants from Asia, particularly from China, faced brutal discrimination in America in almost every aspect of society. This culminated in the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which not only prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering the country but also forbade Chinese Americans from returning after visiting family still in the homeland. The “racial purity” desired by the government didn’t allow this act to be officially repealed until 1943, but Asian Americans had to endure even more government intervention on their rights before then. The Alien Land Laws prevented non-citizens from owning land, which particularly targeted Asian Americans since they were prohibited from earning their citizenship altogether.

 From entertainment to politics, recognizable Asian groups like BTS and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) have spoken out about #StopAsianHate, but stereotypes persist. 

Plus, the lack of media coverage naming events like these as hate crimes and holding people accountable has allowed for such horrific events to persevere. I can’t help but wonder that if the news media had appropriately covered these events, would there be as much Asian hate today? Identifying these attacks as hate crimes could contribute to people understanding this as a major problem in America. 

The media has had a major hand in sensationalizing the hardships Asian communities have faced, as many people blamed Chinese Americans for the COVID-19 pandemic, including news outlets themselves. French newspaper Le Courrier gained notoriety when they published a January 26 article with the headline “Yellow Alert”. Even when the media seems to be trying to help the situation, sensationalism and ratings are always their priority. With the constant coverage of COVID-19 and the debate on whether or not the virus was released from a lab in Wuhan, China, sensationalism has only strengthened the racist fear of Asians. 

It didn’t help that former President Donald Trump had branded COVID-19 with terms like the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung-Flu”. His viscious rhetoric encouraged many people  to believed that Asian Americans spread the virus and therefore deserved hate, ridicule, and violence. 

It wasn’t until eight women were killed, six of them Asian, that the media started to address #StopAsianHate instead of the “Chinese Virus”. While many news outlets have condemned former President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase, the nonstop coverage of its political incorrectness has rooted itself in people’s heads–in a drastically negative way. After Robert Aaron Long, 21, open-fired on three Asian-owned massage parlors across the Atlanta, GA area, he told Cherokee County authorities that he had a sexual addiction and by murdering the targeted victims, he was eliminating his “temptation”. Considering that this is not the first case of Asian-targeted violence in America, many have analyzed this alleged motivation. 

“We’re perpetually foreigners, and that idea plays out with women as being oversexualized,” said Helen Kim Ho, founder of the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in an article from The Washington Post. “All of that had to have played out in this man’s own mind. In addition to the unspoken notion that Asian people are easy targets.” 

On the topic of perpetuating fear/hatred toward the Asian American community through sensationalism, John C Yang, president and executive director of AAJC, directly addressed the media’s role in all of this. “The media has a responsibility to […] lift up the stories of Asian Americans,” he said on an episode of Only in America, a podcast from the National Immigration Forum. “If they do that responsibility, we’ll start to see a different narrative about what Asian Americans are.”

Next month is May, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While the conversation about #StopAsianHate should be a year-long discussion, it’s important to remember this message in May while these communities are hard at work to promote ending systemic racism in America. The media has the power to shape the news into how they want people to view events, people, and the world itself. So when they change their narratives to influence certain ethnic groups, particularly Asian Americans who have shouldered the blame for the world’s current problem, we can finally walk the path that ends Asian hate. 

To learn more about Asian hate and how to join the conversation, click here for guidance and resources from the Asian American Journalists Association

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Race Inequality

Indian Americans aren’t immune to racist violence, so why do we act like we are?

Indian Americans like myself who care about social justice need to encourage our families and friends to confront reality.

The reality is that the recent series of hate crimes against us are part of a larger history of racism in America. We need have to have tough conversations with our families and friends about our own prejudices and anti-blackness within our communities. We need to decide that we will not be held up as “model minorities” at the expense of others. White supremacists do not hate Indian Americans for what we are, but what we are not.

Regardless of the privileges that Indian Americans have in education and income, our skin will never be white. Hatred is not discerning and it does not check your resume first. 

These conversations are particularly challenging in immigrant families like my own. I know how hard my parents worked to provide my sister and me with opportunities and freedoms that they did not have.

Still, I believe we need to do more with those privileges than simply advance ourselves.

We need to work to ensure that everyone has equitable access to opportunities. I believe this must start with tough conversations within our own communities about the privileges we have and don’t have. We have access to our communities in a way that no one else does and can help the people we love become thoughtful about racial realities in America and its historical contexts.

I do not believe that we can form meaningful, non-transactional coalitions without doing this work in our own communities first.

It’s challenging and uncomfortable work to engage in.

I, for example, grew up insulated from fears about racial violence due to the privileges of education and socioeconomic status. I grew up in a community that wasn’t over-policed and I wasn’t taught to fear the police. When I started driving, my parents were more worried about me being able to change a tire than interactions that I might have with the police.

My parents have learned to be thoughtful about police brutality from me. I have warned my parents about the dangers of driving while brown in a predominantly white neighborhood. It hadn’t occurred to them before that some of the challenges they faced may be about the color of their skin. These are conversations that have happened over years and on a sustained basis.

For me, it was not about looking for moments to have these conversations, but rather, diving into the uncomfortable conversation when the moment presented itself.

Early on, when my family discussed racism and bigotry, my parents did not identify those problems as ones that apply to them.

They realized that anti-blackness was wrong, systemic and epidemic. They remembered being warned about “criminals” when they came to the United States in the early 1990s and being told that those criminals were black. However, they did not understand how the white supremacist ideologies that perpetuate those narratives extended to their own experiences. They could not identify incidents where they were discriminated against based on their race.

They believed that in America if you worked hard that anyone can succeed.

That type of meritocracy is ideal, but not real in America.

Not everyone has access to the same opportunities. I have personally experienced how people’s discomfort with you, because of your race, can limit opportunities to advance.  It took me time to appreciate that actions that have the impact of creating racial hierarchies are just as damaging as actions that intend to discriminate based on race.

My parents are also starting to identify the difference between racial equity and racial equality and recognize moments where their opportunities may have been limited because of race.

The children of immigrants often serve a unique role in their families, translating for their parents and helping them navigate an unfamiliar place. I did not enjoy teaching my parents quotes like, “When people are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” to help them contextualize experiences they’ve had at work. Sharing that knowledge with the people closest to me is, however, necessary.

How can I do the work of creating a more just and equitable society if I’m unwilling to start with the people closest to me and most likely to listen to me?

This past election showed us that we all live in echo chambers of media, but also of our social circles. There have been endless articles about the polarization of the American public. Those of us who care about justice have to step outside of the comfortable work of attending meetings of like-minded individuals and find the opportunities where we have privilege and access to help more people understand the truths that we hold so dear.

We have to risk shattering our loved ones’ idealized views of this country in order to change it.


Beauty Lookbook

After years of denial, I finally realized why I hated my Asian hair

Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to dye my hair. Looking like all the cool anime characters I grew up with was a life goal for me: mysterious gray hair like my first crush Kakashi from Naruto, dark blue like Amy from Sailor Moon, platinum blonde like the adorable Chii from Chobits.

Anything but my ugly, boring, straight, black-brown hair.

There weren’t many Asian or Asian-American characters on TV while I was growing up. The few times we were represented, I felt like their appearance seemed dull next to their usually blonde and white counterparts. They usually weren’t as cool as the white girl, so I didn’t want to be associated with them. I wished so hard for my hair color to be lighter and I anxiously awaited the day that it would happen.

[bctt tweet=”Maybe it came from only seeing Asian stereotypes on TV. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

My mom promised me that when I graduated from high school, I would be allowed to dye my hair – but not without first sighing, “Your black-brown hair is so beautiful and soft. Why would you ever want it to be a different color?”

I would stomp my feet and say, “I hate it! It’s so BORING.”

Since I turned 18, I’ve dyed my hair a handful of times. It made me feel special, beautiful, and different. I felt special only when my hair was any color but the ugly, boring, Asian black. I finally felt like my hair was expressing my identity and how I really felt on the inside.

“Look at me!” I wanted my hair to shout at any passerby, “I’m different! I’m special!”

Though a part of my desire to dye my hair was self-expression, it was also based on the idea that black straight hair was boring, that being a “normal Asian girl” was boring. I wasn’t Asian, I was American and I wanted to have lighter hair to showcase that side of me too. I felt like if I had colored hair, it would differentiate me from “other Asians.”

 I don’t think this idea of a “boring typical Asian girl” came from only one source. Maybe it came from only seeing Asian stereotypes on TV. Maybe it came from people saying that all Asians are nerds and that that was why I got good grades. Maybe it came from kids pulling their eyes into slits and calling me a chink. 

Whatever it was, I knew that I didn’t want to be that.

[bctt tweet=”I wasn’t Asian, I was American and I wanted to have lighter hair.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Years later, I’d realize that I had fallen victim to a common Asian trope.

The frustration felt by Asians has been growing on Twitter in the past few months. From Chris Rock’s Asian jokes at the Oscars (leading to the creation of #RepresentAsian and #OnlyOnePercent), to the whitewashing of Asian characters in the upcoming movies “Doctor Strange” and “Ghost in the Shell(which created #whitewashedOUT) – 2016 might just mark the rise of the Asian activist community on Twitter.

With #whitewashedOUT, people shed light on the whitewashing in mainstream media and shared stories of what it was like growing up Asian in the Western world, where it felt like you never saw yourself in the media. As stories were tweeted and retweeted, and as my timeline was filled with stories from Asian people that felt like they were taken from my own life, I discovered a big part of why I was obsessed with dying my hair. I didn’t hate it because it was a boring color.

It was because I hated my Asian-ness.

I couldn’t believe it at first because I had been on this journey of self-love for so long now. I was happy with my body, my life, my friends, my family, and, I thought, my appearance. I haven’t had self-confidence issues concerning the way I looked since I was a teenager. I loved the way my hair felt. Even after it was bleached and dyed, it still retained its softness and health (something that my Asian friends envied me for).

But in actuality, I didn’t truly love my hair. I loved that it could take all of the chemicals and still impress people with its resilience. I loved that no matter how light I tried to make it, it would still flutter softly when the breeze blew through it, resulting in inquiries such as, “Oh my god, can I touch your hair?”

I loved my hair because it seemed like it was happy being any other color than black too.

Now it’s time to love my hair for what it is – beautiful, straight, black-brown hair that turns a little golden in the summertime. The same hair that Mulan, Sailor Mars, and Trini Kwan has. Their black hair didn’t make them boring or ugly. Their black hair was theirs to claim and they didn’t need it to be any other color to be an inspiring character. They’re badass Asian women who embraced their black hair. Why can’t I?

[bctt tweet=” I think I’m going to stick with my black hair for a while. It’s a good look for me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Self-expression is still important to me (and crazy hair colors are nonetheless still cool), but I will no longer be dying my hair as an act of self-hatred. I’ll be dying it because I love myself in all my different forms – black hair or not. And damn it, if I’m going to be Othered anyway, at least it will be on my terms.

But before that happens, I think I’m going to stick with my black hair for a while. It’s a good look for me.

Race Inequality

What do “big dick Asians” and anti-blackness have in common?

Last month, Eddie Huang, author of “Fresh Off the Boat,” brought to our attention the full extent of just how harmful his misguided attempts at reclaiming Asian masculinity are. Self-appointed spokesman of his “big dick Asians” movement, Eddie seeks to oppose the racist emasculation of Asian men in a way that I can only see as counter-productive.

He’s mistaken from the start, conflating masculinity for misogyny, a rising trend among Asian Americans. The attempts of Huang and many other Asian American men attempts to reclaim their manhood all manifest through the objectification and conquest of women.

As a typically female-presenting Chinese person, I can’t believe the internalized racism and misogyny that I’ve faced from fellow Asian men. It all ranges from “Why do Asian girls only date white guys?” to ham-handed pick-up artists techniques that leave me cringing. I have to ask the question: Why are Asian men resorting to the definition of masculinity instilled by their oppressors?

Do not reinforce the docile Asian woman or abusive Asian husband stereotypes, and definitely do NOT incorporate anti-blackness and homophobia into your definition of “macho.” This is your chance to reclaim masculinity, guys – at least do it well.

But back to Huang. See, last month he got into a Twitter argument with notable black feminist Mia McKenzie. The exchanges between black and Asian communities have always been tenuous. Good at times, worse at others. It’s important to remember that as Asians, no matter our gender, we benefit from anti-blackness. (I’m looking at you, Eddie.)

McKenzie asked Huang to clarify a statement he made on Bill Maher, that “Asian men have been emasculated so much in America that we’re basically treated like Black women.”

He pointed to an OKCupid study showing that Asian men and black women were among the least desirable – a fair study, with truthful statistics – but what happened after the fact just blows me away. I expected misogyny from Eddie Huang, but from a self-proclaimed lover of hip hop/”the struggle,” I never expected this.

After he got to explain his side, all McKenzie did was explain why what he said was problematic and ask for an apology. Now, I’m siding with McKenzie here, but even if I weren’t, there are ways to disagree respectfully and this is not it. This is a thinly veiled sexist pass.

Rightfully, both non-black people of color and the black community were quick to call him out.

(For the full conversation, click here)

Finally, a takeaway lesson we could all learn from this (besides that performing masculinity as misogyny is definitely a misguided attempt to redefine men) is that we need to be more aware of anti-blackness in our communities. I was wary of Eddie’s hip hop-drenched persona from the start (how are you gonna act like you’re about that life when your fame comes from media about you growing up in a suburban white neighborhood?). As a collective community, we need to be more aware about calling out problematic and high-profile people.

I care about all the Asian men that feel lesser because of a feminized Asian narrative, but I’m starting to question if they care for me. I’m starting to wonder if they care for anything aside from their own struggle.

How does it feel, Eddie, to have the Asian community not back you up? This is a warning to future “big dick Asians”: We do not tolerate misogyny. We do not tolerate your efforts to set back our path towards solidarity.