AAJA Chicago was disappointed Thursday morning to see a column published by the Chicago Sun-Times that included language describing Asian Americans in an insensitive and dismissive light.
The chapter’s board was particularly dismayed that this offensive language was used in a week when so many Asians and Asian Americans are hurting after the deadly acts of violence in Atlanta, and the day after AAJA published guidance and local resources to help newsrooms cover Asian Americans with respect, context and dignity.
In a piece about Chicago officials adding parking meters at Montrose Harbor, headlined “Lakefront ‘forever open, clear’ — and metered? Free parking ending in popular Montrose Harbor area,” columnist Mark Brown mentioned the various fishermen he encountered when walking along the lakefront to report his story.
“Incidentally, I spoke with a Korean, a Filipino, and a Romanian. One little guy who I took to be Vietnamese looked too busy reeling in his catch to chat. I found it easier to converse with a retired surgeon from Wrigleyville.”
After our chapter raised the issue with the paper, we were pleased to see the Sun-Times quickly remove the two lines from the column and insert an editor’s note to say the paragraphs did not meet its editorial standards.
But publishing the lines was unacceptable from the start. We urge the columnist and editors involved in the piece’s publication to question the relevance of including: the passing references to the ethnicities of four people with whom the writer spoke, but didn’t quote; the description of one Asian man as a “little guy who I took to be Vietnamese”; and why the writer finds it “easier to converse” with a retired surgeon from Wrigleyville, who did not have his race or ethnicity listed.
We choose to believe this offensive language was not written in bad faith, but rather out of ignorance. Regardless of intent, however, the impact is the same.
AAJA Chicago calls on the Sun-Times to evaluate its editorial processes to ensure future stories don’t include harmful language that treats some Chicago residents as “others” based on their backgrounds and reinforces harmful and dehumanizing cliches about Asians; while some are humanized by their jobs and given space to offer their perspectives. As writers, we must continuously probe our own unconscious biases and consider how they affect which communities get to see themselves reflected in the news media and how our descriptions of them might contribute to damaging stereotypes.
We ask all Chicago newsrooms to review AAJA’s guidance on covering anti-Asian violence and racism. We also strongly encourage news managers, editors and reporters to use similar resources provided by our partners at NABJ and NAHJ so news coverage can start to treat people of all races and ethnicities with the respect and compassion they deserve.