Investigators are trying to sort out what happened in the July 6th crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco. But one thing the accident — which has so far led to the death of three Chinese teenagers and injured more than 180 — has made too clear is that racist views about Asians remain entrenched in U.S. society.
1. Comments about Asians as “bad drivers”
Just after the Asiana Airlines flight crash-landed, some thought it a fitting moment to resurrect an outdated stereotype about Asians as bad drivers.”Of course the Korean plane crashed. Asians can’t drive, what makes them think they can fly a plane?” was one comment reported on the Tumblr Public Shaming.
2. References to Asians’ appearance
Among the responses collected on Public Shaming were some that resuscitated yet another ugly stereotype about Asians’ physiology: ”Dayum asians cant drive… nd now they cant fly???bf*ckin chinks! Open ur eyes mof*ckers!” Another individual perpetuated the same ignorance by writing that the airplane “probably had an Asian pilot and that he was squinting so much he couldn’t see the runway.”
3. Chicago newspaper mocks Asian accents
The Chicago Sun-Times found itself at the center of a controversy after publishing the headline “Fright 214″ for a story about the Asiana crash. The wording “‘perpetuated the oft-used stereotype of an Asian accent,” says the Asian American Journalists Association. While Chicago paper’s editor apologized for offending anybody, he still noted that it simply hadn’t occurred to them “that the play on words could be construed as offensive.”
4. Racist names for pilots
Asiana Airlines threatened to sue Fox News affiliate KTVU after one of its announcers read out racist Asian names for the pilots. The names were provided to KTVU by a summer intern from the National Transportation Safety Board; he or she is no longer with the agency.
Simply reading the names (which included “Sum Ting Wong,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow”) out loud would have alerted (you hope) KTVU that the names were a prank of the most juvenile sort. A person with knowledge of Asian culture and language would have recognized that “Sum” and “Bang” are not surnames in Mandarin or Korean (and they would have detected the stereotype of an Asian accent in the Chicago Sun-Times’ headline). KTVU’s racist faux points to the need for more instruction about Asian names, languages and culture.
5. Assumptions about South Korea’s “hierarchical” culture “blamed” for the crash
After the airplane crashed in San Francisco, a few U.S. news outlets rushed to assume that “South Korea’s hierarchical culture might have played a role in the accident” as Paul Cheung and Bobby Caina Calvan write on Poynter.org. CNN, CNBC, the Washington Post and The Times were among those who reviewed previous crashes of South Korean planes and then specifically asked if “the country’s strictly hierarchical corporate culture inhibited a trainee pilot from questioning his trainer,” the Los Angeles Times says.
As one person wrote on the web, “it is too early in the investigation to blame South Korean culture, before even the black box data analysis has come out.”
Just days before the Asiana crash, the American Society of News Editors released its newsroom census. Minority employees now make up 12.37 percent of all newsroom employees, a figure that is slightly up from last year and certainly a trend in the right direction, as the responses to the Asiana Airlines crash very much reveal.
Having more diversity in newsrooms could very likely have prevented not only KTVU’s serious misstep but led news outlets to realize when they were reinforcing long-outdated racist attitudes. With the U.S. on its way to becoming a true multiethnic society, the need for a greater minority presence in newsrooms is imperative, to provide thoughtful, informed coverage about events here in the U.S. and around the world.
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