“Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World?” asked one Foreign Policy headline. “This Is Not Dystopian Fiction. This Is China,” proclaimed another from The New York Times. “An Assertive China Challenges The West,” a Financial Times headline declared, above a cartoon of a grotesquely caricatured red and yellow dragon claw poised to snatch up the globe.
These sensationalist headlines directly paved the way for “Eight People Killed in Atlanta Area Massage Parlor Shootings,” a New York Times article from March 16, 2021.
That same day, the organization Stop AAPI Hate reported 3,795 hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) since the beginning of the pandemic. Mere minutes later, the shooting of three Asian spas in Atlanta, Georgia by a domestic terrorist crowded the front pages of newspapers.
Every day, checking the news or social media means being greeted with yet another bloodied Asian face, yet another Asian American attacked without provocation in the streets of major American cities. In the wake of the Atlanta shooting, many are demanding: What caused this spike in anti-Asian hate crimes?
Anti-Asian sentiment runs deep in American history, from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act to the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But today, one of the factors directly responsible for inciting widespread hatred and fear of Asian Americans is the language used by the media.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the media has allowed itself to become a platform for politicians to gain attention through slurs like “Chinese Virus” or “Kung Flu.” Even on the day of the Atlanta shooting, FOX News featured former President Trump saying “Chinese Virus” on repeat. This terminology generates misdirected anger and irrational fear against all persons of Asian descent.
Even before the pandemic, sinophobic headlines about the “China threat” spread xenophobia. Criticizing the Chinese government is not only fair game but absolutely necessary in the international community; however, the media must recognize that such articles not only promote hatred of Asian countries, but all Asian American people.
One of the latest examples of the media’s shamefully insensitive use of language regarding Asian Americans was CNN’s March 16 report, headlined, “Suspect in Atlanta-area spa shootings might have intended more shootings in Florida, mayor says.” Not only did the report incorrectly spell one of the Asian women’s names, Xiaojie Tan, it also provided no information on the victims beyond these names. Instead, it featured interviews with the shooter’s grandparents and former roommate, accounts describing him as a “deeply religious person” who felt mentally “tortured.” The article even included the shooter’s Instagram biography, the normality and humanity of which were terribly at odds with his brutal actions.
The article humanized Aaron Long, a domestic terrorist, more than it humanized the eight victims, six of which were Asian women. This sort of coverage demonstrates to Asians across the country that they don’t even matter as much as the man who shot eight people. It seems like CNN was too busy trying to justify the shooter’s actions to even figure out who the victims were.
Sadly, this sort of treatment in the media is something that Asians have had to grow used to. For too long, Asian Americans have been seen as the “model minority” — a group that is meek, submissive, and does not fight back, always working hard with heads down. This stereotype, as well as Asian Americans’ perceived proximity to whiteness, have silenced and invalidated their experiences of racism in the US.
To combat hate, we must shatter these myths. Going forward, our generation must hold the media accountable to its duty to act with the awareness that its language has immense power to incite racism against Asian Americans and perpetuate destructive stereotypes.
The media must treat Asian American victims of hate crimes as more than the latest additions at the bottom of a 3,800 name list. It must, at the very least, respect them by correctly learning their names and humanizing them more than their killer.
The indirect and race-neutral headline “Eight People Killed in Atlanta Area Massage Parlor Shootings” should have been “Domestic Terrorist Murders Asian Women In Targeted Hate Crime.” The media should not have allowed itself to become a platform for powerful figures to spew slurs like “China Virus” or “Kung Flu.” It must not perpetuate the sensationalist phobia of Asian countries, and by extension Asian people, through intensely anti-Asian rhetoric. News outlets must humanize, center, and respect the Asian Americans who lost their lives to hate and the ones who live to fight it.
In order to put an end to racist violence against Asian Americans once and for all, we must first recognize the impact of our language on Asian American people, both in the media and in our own community at Berkeley High School.