A Look at Asians as Portrayed in the News

Article excerpt

DURING THE PAST four years, the number of hate crimes against Asian-Americans as reported by newspapers has increased dramatically.

From San Francisco to New York, the story is similar: Asians are attacked or made the target of racial slurs.

Newspapers attribute this in part to the tough economic times. When jobs are hard to come by and the economy is in a recession, Asians, regardless of their ethnicity, economic class, educational background or immigration status, are seen as one, a group of people most identifiable in terms of skin color.

Race is a uniform that cannot be hidden by economic achievement, the neighborhood where one lives or the kind of car one drives. Asians by virtue of their race are increasingly targets of bias.

A U.S. Civil Rights Commission study released Feb. 28, 1992, finds that violence aimed at the 7.3 million Asian-Americans in the United States (the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country) is "a serious national problem."

Two days before the commission's report was released, a Japanese-American was stabbed to death in front of his home by a disgruntled unemployed Caucasian, who indicated that he blamed Asians for his economic problems.

Media images are so important to our construction of opinions and attitudes; they play a key role in not only how society sees Asians as a minority but how Asians see themselves in the context of the larger society.

A look at the types of stories that are being reported yields a pattern of repetitive themes and stereotypes. The stereotypes are well known: Asians as the hard-working model minority, as a docile, meek people. The themes are also familiar: Chinatowns as exotic ghettos where crime is rampant; gangs that kill indiscriminately; and a flood of new immigrants who are straining our resources and taking away jobs.

The era of on-line data searches has ushered in a new way to look for these patterns. Going through such data systems as Nexis, which has a collection of more than 350 full-text information sources from U.S. and overseas newspapers, magazines, journals, newsletters, and wire service and broadcast transcripts, it is possible to get a bird's-eye view of the media landscape.

One can look at not only what types of stories are being printed about Asians by the various mainstream publications nationwide; it is possible to get a solid sense of how various minority communities are covered.

For instance, the on-line system at the City University of New York provides news clippings published by 27 major newspapers nationwide. In it, I found 2,007 entries on Asian-Americans filed since 1989. Out of curiosity, I searched the system for the word "African-Americans" and found that more than twice that number -- 5,282 entries -- were listed. A search of "Hispanic Americans" yielded 4,710 stories.

In short, it is possible to find out what key media news organizations, among them the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and Christian Science Monitor, are printing when it comes to Asian-Americans. It is a telling look, indeed.

It is important to note that the majority of Asian-Americans live in California, Hawaii and New York; there are also sizable Chinatowns in Boston, Seattle and Chicago.

It is possible therefore to access through on-line data retrieval most of the newspapers located in cities where there is a large Asian population.

As such, the articles and information available and gathered reflect a relatively comprehensive record of what is (and is not) being written in mainstream newspapers about Asian-Americans in just about all corners of the country today. …