Anti-Asian Sentiment in the Media

NCT 127 at the 2018 AMAs

Asian Americans and Asians worldwide have experienced an onslaught of attacks during the pandemic due to conservative outlets referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus.” But before people started using hateful words like “Kung Flu” or “Chinese virus” it’s important to remember that anti-Asian racism has existed for hundreds of years which has led to continued repercussions on Asian people worldwide.

The reason hate continues to exist and has now escalated into elderly Asian Americans being attacked is because of daily microaggressions and racist comments that continue to go unchecked and unchallenged. And public figures in the media play a large role in downplaying and normalizing anti-Asian sentiment. 

Racism BTS faces in the media

Recently, Matthias Matuschik, a host on the German station Bayern 3, made headlines over his racist fueled comments regarding a BTS cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

According to News18’s article, the German host stated that BTS was “similar to a virus like COVID-19” and that they should “go on a 20-year ‘vacation’ to North Korea.”

“Matthias also slammed BTS for covering ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay, calling it sacrilege and blasphemy. He went on air calling BTS a virus like COVID and said he hoped a vaccine for them would be available soon.”

The station claims that Matuschik did not “intend” to be racist or hurtful (Source: Distractify).

You don’t even need to peel back the deep layers behind his comments to know they are racist and hurtful. Comparing Asian people to COVID-19 is racist, especially in a time where Asian people are being violently targeted. And the comment about North Korea can not be excused.

In another instance that I witnessed in November of last year, ABC 7’s segment “On the Red Carpet” aired an image of the K-pop group NCT 127 while talking about BTS and their AMA achievements.

I called out the mishap on social media and reached out to NextShark about what had happened. Eventually, I got the attention of George Pennacchio, the entertainment reporter of the segment (only after NextShark picked up the story).

George Pennacchio - BTS TV Mishap
Pennacchio claimed to not have seen my Instagram stories where I called out the racism. He saw both of my stories but denied having done so.

George Pennacchio ABC7 BTS Racism

In the screenshots above you can see that Pennacchio never apologizes for any wrongdoing.

He may not have intended to cause anyone harm and it might not have been him who put the media clips together, but he is the face of the segment. ABC7 never made a comment or issued an apology and the only reason Pennacchio even messaged me in the first place is because I got the attention of NextShark who ultimately wrote an article.

He even tries to deflect and change the narrative to have it be as if though I should be grateful they even aired the BTS segment.

These are just two examples of people in the media who refuse to take a step back and reflect that they did something wrong.

Brushing off these two incidents purely because you think BTS fans are “crazy,” “obsessed” or because “they messed with the wrong idol group” is extremely harmful.

Regardless of whether or not you’re a BTS fan, it’s clear that the constant criticism against them is just thinly veiled xenophobia. The treatment BTS faces in the media is part of a larger and more insidious problem towards Asian people as a whole.

Why are Asians seen as interchangeable?

The BTS and NCT 127 incident was not the first time this has happened in the media and it doesn’t seem like it’ll be the last. Why is it that things like that never happen to white artists? Someone who works in the media should have access to the internet. Why couldn’t they double-check their work? Why is it only non-white people who are viewed as interchangeable? 

At my previous job, I was constantly called a fellow co-workers name.

One white male higher up would either address me as “Tiffany” or no name. If he couldn’t remember “Tiffany’s” name he would just call me “you.” “Tiffany” and I do not look alike. We do not even have the same skin tone.

If I were to have called this out people would’ve laughed or told me to relax because they didn’t mean any harm. But why is it that the two non-white females in the company were constantly mixed up?

The one time I did call out racism that happened to someone else, (a co-worker started laughing because she thought a male colleague was from the Philippines and was happy to find out he wasn’t) I was told that it wasn’t their intention and they were sorry that I interpreted it that way.

Why is it always “I’m sorry you felt that way” and not “Yes, I messed up. I’m sorry I said hurtful words. I will reflect on my actions going forward.”

Anti-Asian jokes and microaggressions are just as harmful as flat out racism

I think there’s this narrative that has been created that if you weren’t stabbed, spit on or called derogatory names that what you experienced wasn’t “that bad.”

There will be people who want you to just “get over it” or “let it go.” And some of these people will also be Asian, which is even more hurtful. Microaggressions and distasteful jokes build up over time and should not be ignored or tolerated.

Subtle racial discrimination builds up over time and ultimately leads to violence, apathy, or the justification of said violence.

Examples of microaggressions towards Asian Americans

“Where are you really from?”

“Wow, you’re so exotic!”

“Asian men are unattractive because they’re feminine”

“Asian women are passive and submissive” 

Imagine hearing these words (and more) on a daily basis. What do you think that ultimately does to a person? 

Min Jin Lee Tweets
Source: Twitter @minjinlee11

Last year before COVID-19 had even reached American shores, I had a “friend” tell me that they were scared they got COVID-19 after an evening of hanging out with Chinese people, Chinese Americans and people in Koreatown… (Same friend who wanted to wear cheongsam for Halloween but refused to listen when I said it was offensive to me as a CHINESE person)

This person was also scared that I too had contracted the virus and proceeded to douse themselves in hand sanitizer throughout the night. Hearing this, some people might think that it isn’t a big deal, but it is.

I even felt the need to apologize for calling them racist and making them cry. I felt as if though I had overstepped a boundary and overreacted. 

But I didn’t need to apologize. And I don’t need to be silent about my experiences.

Words hurt both mentally and physically.

Targeted words supporting ethnic stigmas are deeply entrenched racism, even when they’re meant as a “joke.”

And telling an Asian person that you’re worried you now have COVID-19 because you hung out with them is not part of your nosophobia, it’s racist. 

The irony is that the US is now leading the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, while China, South Korea and other Asian countries have lower COVID-19 infection rates compared to several western countries.

You don’t need to be physically assaulted to be taken seriously. And you don’t need to be a victim of verbal or physical attacks to stand in solidarity with those who have been hurt.

Staying silent against such injustices is also problematic. It makes you a perpetrator. 

How can you justify putting chopsticks in your hair, enjoying Chinese food and then putting Asian people down because you think they are all carrying COVID-19? And how can you justify your silence and inaction if you witness or hear about such things?

If we continue to let such thoughts and words go unchecked then we dehumanize victims, create internalized racism and the continuation of racial trauma and hate crimes. 

How you can help the Asian community?

At the end of the day, activism should always be intersectional. We should care about the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, just like how we should care about anti-Black hate crimes, Hispanic children being put in cages, the forced sterilization of Hispanic women, police brutality and so on. Our common enemy has been and continues to be white supremacy.

Stop AAPI Hate

#Hate is a Virus

Asian Mental Health Collective

Raise awareness on social media and via word of mouth – Share info with your followers, friends and loved ones and motivate others to take action.

Education – There are countless books, documentaries and podcasts to inform you on the Asian American experience and history. 

Find more resources to help Asian communities here. 

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