Missing in Action: "Framing" Race on Prime-Time Television

Article excerpt

RACISM IN THE POST-CIVIL RIGHTS UNITED STATES IS REPRODUCED THROUGH SUBTLE and naturalized ideologies (Bonilla-Silva, 2001; Feagin, 2000; Omi and Winant, 1994). (1) Consequently, efforts to document and combat racism need to match this shift into the ideological realm. This study analyzes the racial ideologies surrounding Asian/Pacific Islander Americans (APIAs) in prime-time television. By examining one of the most widely consumed media of popular culture, this article empirically demonstrates how APIAs continue to be marginalized and stereotyped in prime-time television through particular frames. (2) It also identifies specific instances in which this medium pushes the racial envelope, challenging existing stereotypes through counter-ideologies.

Anti-Asian Racism and Ideology in the United States

Overt racist practices in the United States have historically shaped federal, state, and local policy. Explicit and direct in supporting individuals deemed "white" (Almaguer, 1994; Foley, 1997; Oliver and Shapiro, 1997; Wilson, 1978), U.S. legislation has historically denied people of color equal rights (Nakano Glenn, 2002; Takaki, 2000). Racialized meanings, characterized by fluidity and shifts over time and space, have affected the economic well-being and citizenship status of various groups. Historically, those deemed "white" have benefited from economic and social privileges withheld from those deemed "nonwhite" (Almaguer, 1994; Nakano Glenn, 2002; Takaki, 2000). (3)

Overt racist acts punctuate the historical experience of APIAs. Sought for their labor power, Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian "coolies" were brought into the western United States and Hawaii in the 1800s (Almaguer, 1994; Nakano Glenn, 2002; Takaki, 2000). As they did with African Americans and other people of color, white employers coerced Asian labor, usually by way of duplicitous "labor contracts" that ultimately resulted in subcontracting and land tenancy (Almaguer, 1994; Nakano Glenn, 2002). Whereas European immigrant men were encouraged to bring their families to the United States and were treated as potential citizens, Asian men were regarded primarily as sojourner laborers (Nakano Glenn, 2002).

As a means of preserving racial boundaries, Jim Crow segregation was a key white supremacist principle enforced by the state. Like African Americans and other people of color, Asians were subject to de facto segregation. In addition, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the Gentlemen's agreement of 1907-1908, and the 1917 Immigration Act denied entry into the Unites States to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Asian Indians, and others (Ong and Liu, 2000:15). Not until the Immigration Act of 1965 were the bans against Asian immigrants lifted. Furthermore, exclusion acts and anti-miscegenation laws prevented Asian families from being reunited in America and denied Asians the right to marry outside their race.

Before the Civil Rights Movement, ideologies served as justifications for overt racism at the state, local, and individual levels (Omi and Winant, 1994). Racialization sprouted with European colonialism and "has been first and foremost a way of describing 'others,' of making clear that 'they' are not 'us'" (Cornell and Hartmann, 1998: 27; see also Omi and Winant, 1994). In the U.S., whites waged ideological warfare on Asian immigrants with the same violent and savage character they had used against African Americans, though the effects were perhaps less severe given the smaller numbers of Asians in the United States (Lieberson, 1980: 368). (4) To exclude Asians from American society, whites characterized Chinese men and women as aggressive heathens, unworthy of citizenship (Almaguer, 1994; Takaki, 2000). Similarly, the Japanese were perceived as "perpetual foreigners," "aliens" whose allegiance rested with the Japanese government (Nakano Glenn, 2002). Besides exclusion, this racist ideology contributed to the most devastating anti-Asian, anti-citizen action in the United States: the incarceration of nearly 110,000 U. …