In San Francisco, California, an 85-year-old Thai immigrant died after a man violently shoved him to the ground. In Brooklyn, New York, an 85-year-old Chinese woman was slapped and set on fire by two men. In Los Angeles, a 27-year-old Korean-American Air Force veteran was stuck in the face, called slurs, and told to go back to China. In Manhattan, New York, a 65-year-old Filipina woman was kicked to the ground, beaten, and screamed at outside of an apartment building while passersby and staff members watched until the attacker walked away.
These events, all occurring within the past year, are just a fraction of the increasing incidents of violence against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community since the start of COVID-19. Last month, Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy organization, revealed nearly 3,800 incidents of hate against Asian-Americans since roughly the start of the pandemic, an increase of nearly 150 percent from the previous year. But racism towards the AAPI community is nothing new. It has been in existence long before the pandemic, a fact the media is often hesitant to share.
The mainstream media is a public service: it has the responsibility to its audience to present news in a way that tells the full story, unbiased and correctly. Along with this responsibility, however, the mainstream media also has the power to shape what stories are covered, how these stories are told, and what narratives are portrayed to the public.
So, when Aaron Long opened fire on March 16 at three different spa locations across Atlanta, Georgia, and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian American women, the mainstream media was not just reluctant but also unwilling to name the massacre what it clearly is: a racially-motivated crime. The hesitancy of the mainstream media to validate the gravity of the incident is dangerous, as it skews public perception around the severity of the event.
“There’s a lot of different things to take into account. If you don’t put a name to it and don’t point out all of the different requisite intersecting issues and problems [in Atlanta], then it just gets lost under this big umbrella of, ‘Oh, that’s, that’s bad news’. And then people tend to move on,” said Lian Parsons-Thomason, secretary for the Asian American Journalists Association New England Chapter during an interview with The Bradford.
In conjunction with the mainstream media’s lack of multi-faceted and complete coverage on the events in Atlanta, Parsons-Thomason feels that, as seen in the reporting of the Atlanta shooting, key voices and perspectives are often left out.
“In my opinion, a lot of outlets have also not reached out to Asian American communities or journalists for their perspectives, which I think is a huge flop. I often worry that, without representative journalism, whether from direct sources or from the people who are reporting themselves, there are parts of the stories that will be overlooked,” said Parsons-Thomason.
The inaccuracy of representation – or lack thereof – by the media and society as a whole has been present long throughout American history, resulting in the creation of stereotypes and preconceived notions about the AAPI community.
Stereotypes, such as the “model minority myth,” have produced a narrative that Asian Americans are exempt from the struggles and racial trauma that other groups face. Indeed, this narrative is harmful, not only because it spreads the false idea that the AAPI community doesn’t experience racism, but it also impacts individuals on a personal level, invalidating and isolating members of the AAPI community.
As a result of this damaging narrative, Parsons-Thomason feels that the mainstream media tends to shy away from stories surrounding the AAPI community; even when the community is covered, the media often overlooks important details and doesn’t fully and accurately represent the AAPI community.
“A lot of those stories tend to be glossed over because they’re not convenient to a certain narrative… A lot of Asians are never seen as fully American… because you’re still often seen as foreign, regardless of how long your families have been here. A lot of Americans and specifically White Americans are more hesitant to back people who they see as an other,” said Parsons-Thomason.
However, it is important to note that even when hate and racism against the AAPI community are accurately represented in the media, stories centered around AAPI trauma cannot be the only ones present. If these stories are the only ones that are shared, society will adopt inaccurate portrayals as truth – and without the most pivotal voices present in their own stories, there is no way for the public to develop a full and accurate understanding of the community. As a result, a lack of proper representation makes it impossible to properly address and work towards overcoming the deeply rooted issues the AAPI community faces.
For these long-standing issues to be addressed, outlets and journalistic groups within the mainstream media need to start reflecting on their own tendencies and question their role and responsibility in serving the public. According to Parsons-Thomason, a starting point for newsrooms to expand diversity is reflecting on who they are hiring, the backgrounds and identities of these individuals, who is being reported on, and if the newsroom utilizes outsourcing.
“More comprehensive reporting, not just on tragedy or hate crimes, would be helpful not only to the AAPI community, but to journalism, as a whole. Bringing in multiple perspectives will make your stories better and will make your reporting stronger… if you have diversity of thought and opinion and experience, your storytelling will be better… and serve the people who you want to serve better,” said Parsons-Thomason.
While there is plenty of room for improvement within the mainstream media, the practice of self-reflection should extend beyond newsrooms so people can take accountability at a personal level. By consuming news from a well-rounded selection of trustworthy sites, individuals can break away from the risk of understanding only parts of full, multi-faceted stories. Students at the high school should constantly question their own internal biases and where they are getting their information from. Whether it be acknowledging thoughts you previously aligned with or being open to listening to the opinions of others, the normalization of growth and change in perspective is a critical first step to the improvement of our society.