The Atlanta Spa Shooting: How news outlets have perpetuated racism and stereotyping

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Members of Congress and Georgia state representatives pose for a photo outside Gold Spa in Atlanta, one of the businesses hit during the March 16 shootings, Sunday, March 28, 2021. Prominent news outlets like BBC, New York Times, Reuters, NPR, US News and I’m sure many others have labeled the victims of the Atlanta shooting as those of “Asian descent,” continuing the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype even when many of the victims were identified as Americans with Asian ancestry (i.e. Asian Americans). Photo courtesy of Sudhin Thanawala / AP Photo.

It’s been a few weeks now since the spa shootings in Atlanta and I have to say that as an Asian American, I am appalled and deeply saddened by how the news and media have perpetuated the racism and stereotyping that the shooting itself represents.  

Prominent news outlets like BBCNew York TimesReuters, NPRUS News and I’m sure many others have labeled the victims of the Atlanta shooting as those of “Asian descent,” continuing the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype even when many of the victims were identified as Americans with Asian ancestry (i.e. Asian Americans). Though a subtle choice in words, labeling Americans as nothing more than individuals of “Asian descent” alienates these individuals and almost casts their tragic passing as a non-American loss.  

What is the perpetual foreigner stereotype? It’s the belief that individuals in ethnic communities are considered as the “other” in predominant white U.S. communities. This stereotyping is so common in everyday life that Asian-Americans have become conditioned to “othering” themselves in the U.S. I’ve personally been in uncomfortable situations both on and off campus where my American identity has been questioned when I have never even set foot outside of the U.S. until my eighteenth birthday. “Othering” the Asian American Atlanta victims in their death is an all-time low of American disrespect and ignorance.  

I also found it disappointing how after the Atlanta shooting, so many authors on various platforms began writing about the prevalence of anti-Asian hate as if it’s a new and unheard of concept when in fact, the xenophobia has been around since before the civil war. According to NBC news, there were 3,800 racist incidents reported, especially by women just in the last year during the pandemic. CNN states that these reported statistics are much less than the true number of racist incidents as law enforcement agencies aren’t required to submit their crime data to the FBI.   

Have you heard about the 2018 murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s murder in a bar? Have you read about the 2017 shooting of Tommy Le? These are examples of reported hate crimes, much like the Atlanta shooting, that barely received any backlash or activist support from Asian and non-Asian communities. In fact, to be quite honest, I wasn’t even familiar with either murders. Not only was there minimal level of coverage but not all Asian/Asian-Americans themselves spoke out about either tragedies. This stems from culture and generations worth of teachings. Actress Lucy Liu told CNN that, “I think culturally, we are not a people that speak out and talk about being victims and I think that’s something that we learn.” I believe this is spot-on. Additionally, I think that there’s a real fear amongst Asian-Americans to speak out, especially in the U.S. In a country that already alienates them and projects hate, speaking up, drawing attention, and demanding for rights may be asking for trouble. To preserve what took Asian-Americans years to establish their livelihoods, saying nothing may seem more safe.  

With that being said, there are a few changes needed in the U.S. for it to be a safe place for Asians and Asian Americans like Srinivas, Tommy and the victims of the spa shooting in Atlanta. Firstly, non-Asian groups in the U.S. must be better educated in the realities of Asian-American racism. Only then can these non-Asian groups be critical allies to Asian-American communities. Secondly, individuals like myself who are the American-born children of Asian immigrants must work to deconstruct the stigma of speaking out against the atrocities that our committed against our cultures; we must convince our parents and older relatives that it’s not burdensome to want social improvement from a country that provided them with opportunity. With these changes, Asian-American communities will have the confidence to stand up against microaggressions and openly own their dual Asian and American identity.  

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