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Asian Americans and Race: It’s Complicated

  • 4 Tackle Identity Question at Journalists Conference
  • Hundreds at N.Y. Times Train for ‘Unconscious Bias’
  • Judge Throws Out Class Action Suit Against CNN
  • Cortes, Ex-Fox News VP, Sues His Former Company
  • U.S. Muslims Perceive ‘a Lot’ of Discrimination
  • Black Producers Defend ‘Confederate’ Show Idea
  • Short Takes

4 Tackle Identity Question at Journalists Conference

When four Asian American journalists get together in public to talk about what that identity means, the conversation can veer from some Asian American men’s newfound attraction to the alt-right to how much to write about race to whether others truly consider Asian Americans to be “people of color,” as they do African Americans and Hispanics.



“Race Relations in the U.S.: Our Place as AAPI Journalists” was the title of a session Thursday at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in Philadelphia, a gathering that attracted 839 people, according to Kathy Chow, executive director. “AAPI” refers to Asian American Pacific Islander.

Participating were moderator Iris Kuo, CEO and cofounder of LedBetter, a research group that runs a database and application showcasing the number of women in leadership at the world’s top consumer brands and companies; Jay Caspian Kang, a correspondent on “Vice News Tonight” and writer-at-large for the New York Times Magazine; Jeff Guo, who writes about media, politics, data and “the unknowability of life” at vox.com, and Tracy Jan, who reports on race and the economy for the Washington Post.

In 2010, Asian Americans were 4.8 percent of the U.S. population; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders were 0.2 percent. In newspaper and online newsrooms, they were 4.25 percent, according to the 2016 diversity survey of the American Society of News Editors [PDF]. That newsroom percentage more closely matched that of their share of the general population than the figures for African Americans, Latinos or Native Americans.


An abridged, sometimes paraphrased report of the conversation:

Jan: The Asian American voice does get lost in the fray. A lot of the hate is targeted at Muslims, Latinos and black people, though brown Asians, too, have been threatened and killed.


Kang: There’s not much in the national conversation about Asian people. I don’t even know what Asian means . . . I just don’t think there’s an identity.

Guo: It’s not a term we invented. [Some trace it to Yuji Ichioka, a pioneering San Francisco-born historian, in the late 1960s.]

You’re not black and you’re not white.If you’re the kind of person — upwardly mobile, East Asian, who went to college, it’s easier for you to assimilate into white culture. To pay attention to that kind of [racial] stuff doesn’t endear you to the people writing the paycheck.

Asian Americans have always been a part of the fabric of America; the Chinese helped build the transcontinental railroad. The story of Asian Americans is important because it is intricately tied with the story of race in America. Asians were used to define and constrict African Americans.


Kang: It’s a very, very bad time to write about race. Everything has become so standardized. Too much of the writing is about representation in Hollywood. There’s a lot of baked-in laziness. Some just don’t know how to write about race. [Kang also mentions an anti-black history among Asians.]

From left: Jay Caspian Kang, Jeff Guo, Tracy Jan and Iris Kuo at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in Philadelphia on Thursday. (Richard Prince)

Jan: I see my work as, “if I weren’t there, it wouldn’t be told.”



Guo: We write, we speak English. I look at some of the foreign correspondents who write about China; they come out with these stories about China that are laughable. For example, recent stories about Chinese idolizing Ivanka Trump. It’s like they’re not seriously worshipping Ivanka Trump. It’s like a joke. Asian people are having fun.

Still, my parents are immigrants. I’m not equipped to write about Cambodian refugees. My parents came in a plane, not a boat.

I feel very conflicted. I do have a responsibility to tell these Asian stories, even if I don’t have (the background), because who else is going to write these stories?


Jan: A good story is a good story. I recall being the only Asian American on a fellowship to China last month. There was so much negative coverage of the EB-5 visa program, [which grants green cards to foreigners who invest $500,000 in the United States. “The nearly three-decade-old program has come under new scrutiny in recent months, in part because of a sales pitch to Chinese investors by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate business,” Jan would write July 7 for the Post.] However, hardly anyone was writing about why the program was attractive to middle-class Chinese. So I did. We’re missing a bunch of different stories.

Guo: There is an assumption that there can be some neutral perspective. Isn’t the “neutral perspective” often the white perspective?


Kuo: I used to work in a foreign bureau in Hong Kong. A pet peeve of mine is how the stories were written as if to say, “Look at how weird these people are.” What frustrates you about race coverage?


Guo: That is also a pet peeve of mine; when people approach coverage strictly from a cultural perspective, not considering the historical and economic background — such as stories about Japanese growing square watermelons that don’t mention why.

Kang: It’s preoccupation with pop culture. I thought people would stop caring about how many Oscars were awarded.

Deportation stories. Every deportation is exactly the same. It’s like deportation porn. . . .


Jan: The sad white working class, with a photo of a sad white person looking out the window. What about poor black people? I’m not going to write about poor white people without writing about poor black people. It’s a trope.


Guo: There are sympathetic narratives. You are writing about situations that these people of color are embedded in, and at some point they’re not human any more.

Kuo: A question arises about whether Asians are “people of color.”


Kang: Asians have been granted “conditional whiteness.” I don’t think we are people of color if you ask the New York Times. When people talk about race and say “people of color,” they don’t mean Asians. . . . “people of color” have been black and Latino.

I’ve been going to Asian masculinity forums. These guys seem to be concerned about their lack of identity. They know about the alt-right touting the idea of Western civilization. If I were black, I would have certain cultural touchstones. They have nothing [comparable, they think], so they go back to the death march of Bataan in World War II.

[The white nationalist group] Storm Front actually recruits Asian people. For a lot of people it’s going to end up being very appealing. My story is coming out next week. I’m also doing a podcast.



Guo: For NPR, Sarah Goo wrote about letters from grandfather to her grandmother. They were love letters, but are also about America and family history. A lot of Americans today have a lot of immigrant roots, but the Asian story is not just an immigrant story.

Kuo: How can one’s Asian American background be used to advantage?

Kang: I was able to get into spaces the white reporters could not because I spoke a little Korean, but there are so few spots to use that advantage.


Jan: Just your understanding of being an outsider can help when interviewing other “outsiders,” such as evangelicals. There are certain ways you ask questions; the way you carry yourself. Everyone uses what they have as a reporter.

When I was at the Boston Globe, I think it helped being an Asian reporter in some black neighborhoods. I have had people explicitly tell me, “I wouldn’t talk to you if you were white.”


Guo: Being Asian, we experience a variegated privilege in America. It’s patchy.


In writing about race, there are so many things you can’t know. I don’t feel qualified to write about race. All I have is my very narrow personal experience.

And yet, it’s the first step to anything else. Until people are sick of seeing Asian doctors, they’re not going to see [Asians as] anyone else. Same with journalists. Until we have more Asian journalists, we’re all going to be [asked to write those stories].

Louis Bolling, Huffington Post: JCamp concludes as Asian American Journalists convene in Philadelphia


Peregrine Feissell, Ala’a Ibrahim, Sheila Raghavendran and Avery Yang, AAJA Voices: Missed deadline: The delayed promise of newsroom diversity

The New York Times newsroom. (New York Times)

Hundreds at N.Y. Times Train for ‘Unconscious Bias’

“Several hundred” employees at the New York Times Co. have taken training in “unconscious bias,” the Times says, resulting in “a huge cultural shift” in hiring and recruiting efforts.



Unconscious biases are defined as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness,” according to the University of California, San Francisco. “. . . Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. . . . “

Staffers at the American Society of News Editors and the Radio Television Digital News Association said they did not know of other media companies conducting such training, although Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcasting and online at the Poynter Institute, said some might use other terms for the concept in their diversity training.

“We usually come at it as challenging assumptions,” Tompkins said Friday by email. “We see it in who people interview and what images they use in stories.” Bill Church, senior vice president of news at GateHouse Media, which says it operates in 555 markets across 36 states, said by email that his company “hasn’t done diversity training with a focus on ‘unconscious bias,’ but it’s a smart approach.”


Carolyn Ryan, assistant editor of the Times, mentioned unconscious bias training Thursday during “Normalizing Diversity: How to Create a Culture of Hiring and Retaining Journalists of Color in Your Company,” a panel at the Asian American Journalists convention in Philadelphia. Ryan said afterward that the Times training took place in March and April.

Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal, and Sudeep Reddy, a managing editor at Politico, with Ryan at the session, said they favored diverse interviewing panels as a way to counter hiring bias toward people who “seem like me.”


They also said they were guarding against efforts by celebrities and/or well-connected executives to short-circuit the hiring process to the detriment of less well-connected people of color.


Ryan called one such tactic “side door hiring,” which “leads to people being part of the staff almost invisibly.”

“I’ve known people who’ve gotten jobs because they were at a dinner party,” Ryan said. The job was to last three months, but the person managed to join the staff permanently by entering through the “side door.” Robinson, meanwhile, said he was “keeping an eye” on “executive referrals.”

The unconscious bias training sessions were conducted by Paradigm, a Silicon Valley-based consulting group. “They were well attended by managers across the company,” Danielle Rhoades Ha, vice president, communications for the New York Times Co., said Friday by email.


“Later this summer we plan to offer a virtual version of the sessions for our offices and bureaus outside New York. . . . We have instituted various practices aimed at improving our recruiting methods and our inclusion efforts. Those include making sure that candidates meet with diverse interview panels and mandating more neutral language in job descriptions to attract a broad range of applicants.”


The Paradigm website includes a testimonial from Erin Grau, the Times’ vice president, operations. “We first chose Paradigm to design our unconscious bias training because their workshops are action-oriented and grounded in social science research. Their training received an overwhelmingly positive response (99% of employees understood the concept of unconscious bias, 97% intended to engage in behaviors to reduce bias, and 90% would recommend the workshop to a colleague) . . .

“With Paradigm’s help, we have seen a huge cultural shift, and data proves the programs, processes and frameworks we’re putting in place are moving the needle. Our biggest success story to date has been a double-digit increase in the share of women in technology. . . .”

Judge Throws Out Class Action Suit Against CNN

DeWayne Walker, a plaintiff in the suit against CNN.

A federal judge has thrown out a racial discrimination class action suit filed by current and former black CNN employees against CNN, Turner Broadcasting and New York based parent company Time Warner,” Rodney Ho reported Wednesday for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.



“ ‘This discrimination represents a company-wide pattern and practice,’ the lawsuit asserted back in December, 2016, ‘rather than a series of isolated incidents.’ Attorney Daniel Meachum at the time said the company has been discriminating against blacks for more than 20 years.

“Although only two people were named plaintiffs in the original case, he said he had found many more people who qualified for the class-action suit. In an interview today, he said he has now more than 190 people willing to attach their names to the lawsuit.

“U.S. District Court judge William Duffey Jr. didn’t buy the argument, saying it ‘is fraught with conclusory claims, unsupported by factual allegations sufficient to support the inferences claimed by Plaintiffs.’ . . . ”


“Meacham, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said he plans to address Duffey’s issues with the initial lawsuit and re-file sometime in the future. . . .”

Francisco Cortes started at Fox as an apprentice, then rose through the ranks to become Fox News Latino’s first director.

Cortes, Ex-Fox News VP, Sues His Former Company

Roger Ailes’ reign at Fox News engendered numerous discrimination and harassment claims upon 21st Century Fox, but on Tuesday, the Rupert Murdoch company got hit with a different kind of lawsuit,” Eriq Gardner reported for the Hollywood Reporter. “This one comes from a television executive accused of sexually assaulting an on-air contributor.



Francisco Cortes, a former vice president at Fox News Latino, states in a complaint filed in New York federal court that he ‘served as a useful “scapegoat” for Fox to demonstrate that it aggressively handles sexual harassment complaints, as part of a carefully orchestrated plan to permit the Murdochs to eliminate concerns in the U.K. regarding their $15.2 billion acquisition of Sky in the U.K., and to protect the identity and shelter the reputations of the two unknown persons who, it must be assumed, were, unlike Mr. Cortes, not Latino, and not financially insignificant to Fox.’

“In March, The New York Times’Emily Steel reported that Fox had reached a $2.5 million settlement with Tamara Holder to resolve claims that Cortes had forced himself upon her. It was added that Cortes was close to Ailes.

“According to Cortes’ new $48 million lawsuit, Holder’s settlement in February included not only him but two other unnamed individuals. The deal is also said to have had a mutual non-disparagement provision.


“ ‘Nevertheless, a mere two weeks later, Tamara Holder and Fox delivered a previously planned and carefully negotiated joint statement to The New York Times regarding the allegations, in violation of their obligations,’ continues the complaint.

“Cortes alleges that statements to The New York Times destroyed his reputation and irreparably damaged his career opportunities. . . .”

U.S. Muslims Perceive ‘a Lot’ of Discrimination

The early days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been an anxious time for many Muslim Americans,” the Pew Research Center said in announcing a new survey on Wednesday. “Overall, Muslims in the U.S. perceive a lot of discrimination against their religious group, are leery of Trump and think their fellow Americans do not see Islam as part of mainstream U.S. society.



“At the same time, however, Muslim Americans express a persistent streak of optimism and positive feelings. Overwhelmingly, they say they are proud to be Americans, believe that hard work generally brings success in this country and are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives — even if they are not satisfied with the direction of the country as a whole. . . .”

In February, the Asian American Journalists Association established a task force to aid journalists covering Muslim American communities. On Thursday at the AAJA convention in Philadelphia, the task force presented a panel on “Covering Muslim Communities & Islam” that was critical of American media coverage.

Some of the panelists’ points:


As reported in the Washington Post, “there were 89 attacks committed by different perpetrators in the United States” during a five-year period the Post examined. “Between 2011 and 2015 in the United States, Muslims perpetrated 12.4 percent of those attacks.” However, “Of the 89 attacks, 24 did not receive any media coverage from the sources we examined. The small proportion of attacks that were by Muslims — remember, only 12 percent — received 44 percent of the news coverage. In only 5 percent of all the terrorist attacks, the perpetrator was both Muslim and foreign-born — but those four attacks got 32 percent of all the media coverage. . . .”

There is little coverage of Muslims that does not justify the coverage by citing their religion. The website http://www.muslimsdoingnormalshit.com/ makes this point with humor.


The media decision to call President Trump’s ban on travel to certain Muslim countries a “travel ban” rather than a “Muslim ban” led to some misleading phrasing. The six countries have been called “Muslim majority” nations, when in reality most are 90 to 95 percent Muslim.


Few report the relationship of those countries to U.S. foreign policy toward them.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism initiative is considered by some to be “a modern COINTELPRO,” the government domestic spying program of the 1970s.

Most of the stories quote non-Muslim judges, non-Muslim lawyers and a non-Muslim president of the United States, but not Muslims.


The ordinary often becomes exoticized. In 2015, as Emily DeRuy reported at the time for National Journal, some Muslim Americans posted pictures of their homes after media outlets combed through everyday items in the apartment of San Bernardino shooting suspect. The everyday items were shown on Twitter under the hashtag #MuslimApartment


On the website Muslimah Media Watch, Muslim women critique how their images appear in the media and popular culture.

Recommended reading and viewing includes: “Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World” by Edward W. Said, and the book and documentary, “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.” The film, coordinated by Sut Jhally and created by Media Education Foundation in 2006, is an augmentation of the book by Jack Shaheen.

Black Producers Defend ‘Confederate’ Show Idea

It may be the most explosive response ever to a TV show that hasn’t shot a frame, doesn’t have a script, or even a plot written yet,” Eric Deggans reported Thursday for NPR.


“All we know is HBO’s Confederate will be a TV show set in a modern America where the Confederacy never lost the Civil War and slavery still exists. After days at the center of the controversy, Executive Producer Nichelle Tramble Spellman says the experience has been like getting ‘a crash course in crazy.’ “ She and her husband, Malcolm Spellman, are black.


“That painful education began last week, after HBO issued a press release announcing Confederate as the next series under development by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the two executive producers of the cable channel’s hit series Game of Thrones. . . .”

Deggans also wrote:


“ ‘First thing to tell everybody is what the project is not,’ says Malcolm Spellman. ‘The project is not antebellum imagery, it’s not whips, it’s not plantations, it’s not a celebration or pornography for slavery. And, most importantly, it’s not an entire nation of slaves.’

“Instead, the couple says, the series will likely feature an America divided, where the South has a system which looks like Apartheid-era South Africa. The goal, they say, is to show how today’s problems with racial issues — over-policing of black people, disenfranchisement through voter I.D. laws, lack of representation at the highest level of power — is rooted in the nation’s legacy of slavery. . . .”

Reid Nakamura, the Wrap: HBO President Addresses ‘Confederate’ Backlash: ‘It’s a Risk Worth Taking



R. Thomas Umstead, Multichannel News: TCA 17: HBO’s Casey Bloys Admits Mistake with ‘Confederate’ Announcement

Short Takes

A celebration of the Anderson Monarchs baseball club for underprivileged youth in South Philadelphia, past, present and future, was held on June 10. Sportswriting legend Claire Smith, second from left, threw out the honorary first pitch. Smith traveled with the Monarchs in 1997 while working for the New York Times. (Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer)

ESPN writer Claire Smith “is receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for her ‘meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” Bob Brookover wrote Wednesday for the Philadelphia Inquirer under the headline, “Claire Smith’s impact would make Jackie Robinson proud.” “No award for a baseball writer is more prestigious, and she will become the 68th recipient at a ceremony Saturday at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. She is the first woman to receive the award and just the second woman to ever be individually honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. . . .”

Ann Curry

Ann Curry will host a new PBS series next year called ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ Ted Johnson reported Wednesday for Variety. “The six-part program will feature reunions between people who have been affected by real-life events, like a Japanese-American woman who sought to find a classmate who helped her when she was a girl at the outbreak of World War II. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-American girl was bullied in school, but the classmate reached out to become friends with her. The girl and her family were interned during the war. . . .”



Black Enterprise Chief Content Officer Derek T. Dingle said that Time Inc.’s desire to sell Essence magazine could present a unique opportunity for African American entrepreneurs, Selena Hill reported for Black Enterprise on Tuesday. “Time Inc. has owned Essence for 12 years,” Dingle said. “Now, it plans to sell a majority stake as a means of unlocking its value. It would be fitting if an African American-led group of investors could purchase that majority stake and apply new business and digital strategies to enhance the brand for a new generation. As such, Essence’s return to the BE 100s — our listing of the nation’s largest black companies — would be much welcomed as well as serve as a source of entrepreneurial inspiration.”

The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today expressed concern regarding actions taken Tuesday by the U.S. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and U.S. Capitol Police officers to prevent journalists from taking photos or videos of officers arresting protesters outside the Senate chamber,” the Radio Television Digital News Association said Wednesday. “A number of news outlets, including the digital publication The Daily Dot, report Capitol Police ordered journalists not to photo the arrests, and ordered journalists who had taken photos and videos to delete them. They also were reportedly told that the public hallway in which they were standing was a ‘crime scene,’ so they had to leave. . . .”

A Gallup Poll this month found that “61 percent of whites report having a great deal of confidence in the police while only 45 and 30 percent of Latinos and blacks share the sentiment, respectively,” Donovan X. Ramsey reported July 19 for the Marshall Project. “Interestingly, though, the poll reveals that the racial divide on this question has widened in recent years with white confidence increasing three percentage points since Gallup last polled it in 2014. Meanwhile, confidence in the police has dropped 5 percentage points among blacks and a whopping 14 percentage points among Latinos. . . .”

Michiko Kakutani

Vanity Fair has learned that Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times chief book reviewer and Pulitzer Prize winner, who has been, by a wide margin, the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world, is stepping down,” Joe Pompeo reported Thursday for Vanity Fair. “Her final review, on the debut novel by Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo, was published on Tuesday. Reached by phone Wednesday night, Kakutani said that she could neither confirm nor comment. But sources familiar with her decision, which comes a year after the Times restructured its books coverage, told me that last year’s election had triggered a desire to branch out and write more essays about culture and politics in Trump’s America. . . . “



In “Environmental Justice? Unjust Coverage of the Flint Water Crisis,” a July 11 paper for the Joan Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University about Flint, Mich., Boston Globe essayist Derrick Z. Jackson “asks what catastrophes might have been averted had national media outlets stepped in sooner — and why it took so long for the Flint water crisis to become a story worthy of national attention. He points to a lack of newsroom diversity, a history of national media paying little attention to environmental justice in communities of color, and the tendency to act only after harm has been verified by doctors and scientists — rather than in response to widespread citizen concern,” the center summarized.

“The Washington Post today introduced ‘About US,’ a collection of news and commentary focused on the changing demographics in America,” the Post announced on Thursday. “Published in the PostNation blog and in newsletter form later this year, the content will provide conversational insights and timely information about identity, including matters of gender, race and class, . . . In today’s edition, Post reporter Wesley Lowery contemplates becoming a gun owner as a black man, a transgender veteran explains how military service led him to discover his identity, and About US lead writer Vanessa Williams explores how identity politics define America’s future and its past.”

Jean Yoon

Jean Yoon, Reuters’ regional editor, Asia, and global editor, strategic centers, “will be originating a new role at Reuters as its first executive editor, editorial strategy, based in New York,” Corinne Grinapol reported Tuesday for adweek.com.


Univision Communications announced Thursday “the launch of the 2017 internship program with Miami Dade College’s Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC), the region’s premier animation and gaming educational facility,” TVNewsCheck reported. “MAGIC’s top animators will be working with Univision Digital this summer and fall. The program allows students to work with multimedia editors and producers in news, entertainment and sports digital teams. Interns have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the digital publishing world and work alongside an award-winning newsroom on a wide range of projects for all of Univision’s digital platforms. . . .”


The New York Times continues to report on the undercovered killings in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Roman Catholic Church estimates that at least 3,300 people have been killed in the region since October. Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura wrote Friday about ubiquitous mass graves in the town of Nganza. “The ground that covers them has turned almost smooth again. The only sign that there are people buried here are the government soldiers in red berets and aviator sunglasses, posted nearby with AK-47s. They are deployed not for protection but to stop anyone from investigating witnesses’ claims that the security forces went door to door here in March, gunning whole families down in their homes and then closing the doors behind them. . . .”

Three Myanmar journalists accused of breaking the law by covering an event hosted by a rebel army were defiant as their trial began in the country’s northeast on Friday, in a case that has raised concerns about freedom of expression,” Wa Lone, Aye Win Myint and Simon Lewis reported for Reuters. “Reporters Aye Nai, Pyae Phone Aung and Lawi Weng are charged under the Unlawful Associations Act —a colonial-era law that includes broadly worded prohibitions on contacts with banned groups. They face up to three years in prison each if convicted. . . .”

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Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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Journal-isms is originally published on journal-isms.com. Reprinted on The Root by permission.

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