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Media's Racial Stereotypes Prompted Lobby 7 Poster

Guest column by Alo C. Basu, Edson T. Miyamoto, Pallavi Nuka, Pamela Prasarttongosoth, Alan L. Shihadeh, and Joaquin S. Terrones

Last week, the Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Committee for Social Justice put a poster up in Lobby 7 that posed the question: Is The Tech promoting anti-Asian stereotypes? We used a strip of the comic "Rhino Man" from March 7 and a World and Nation story to illustrate what was meant by "anti-Asian stereotypes" ["Empire State Gunman Acted Out of Rage," Feb. 25]. Our aim was to get people to debate the issue.

The column by Stacey E. Blau '98 ["Poster's Claims About The Tech Are Silly," March 14] made clear that she did not understand what the poster was pointing out. Racist stereotypes are so prevalent that most people have become inured to them.

We did not disagree that the story about the man who shot seven people at the Empire State Building was newsworthy. Also, we do not necessarily think that pointing out the gunman's national origin is racist, particularly if it is routine to do so in reports of shooting sprees, e.g., "Today a U.S. postal worker of Belgian origin opened fire, killing nine co-workers." We leave it as an open question to The Tech and its readers whether this is routine or whether it is more often pointed out when the perpetrator is a person of color. We suspect that the gunman's national origin was an issue only because The Washington Post writer harbored racist sentiments with regard to Palestinian people.

Even more disturbing to us was the sentence following the one that identified the gunman's nationality: "Because of his nationality, the incident provoked initial speculation that the terrifying shooting might be rooted in the nationalistic zealotry and terrorism that is a frequent offshoot of Middle Eastern political rivalries." Blau finds nothing objectionable in the sweeping phrase "the terrorism that is a frequent offshoot of Middle Eastern political rivalries." Perhaps this is because racist assumptions are so deeply ingrained in the mainstream press that people do not notice them any more. The fact that a whole region of the globe can be so tidily indicted without any factual grounding and without so much as a raised eyebrow by Blau, the other Tech staff, and many who commented on the poster speaks to the depth of their prejudice.

We know that the article was taken from The Washington Post, but The Tech is accountable for every word that it prints. By definition, editors of all newspapers routinely make decisions about what to print, what to omit, what needs to be cut and what should be reworded. Whether because of negligence or ignorance, and regardless of who wrote it, the result here was that The Tech printed a racist article.

The other image on the poster, which we labeled "chinky caricature," came from the comic strip "Rhino Man." The particular drawing to which we were referring harkens back to images of the Yellow Peril that have been present in this culture for decades in the forms of Fu Manchu, Dr. No, World War II anti-Japanese propaganda, etc. While we understand the concept of comic license and understand that comic strip characters seldom look realistic, the Rhino Man cartoon draws from racist visions of what Japanese people actually look like: the "slanted" eyes, the wide, yellow face, the Fu Manchu mustache, etc.

People of color are often depicted in ways that are offensive. The fact that these images are widely accepted does not detract from the fact that they are racist. For years in cartoons, black people were drawn with literally black skin, bugged out eyes, and thick lips that overwhelmed their faces. Racist imagery and stereotypes dehumanize individuals and create an atmosphere where oppression is not only permissible and understandable but also encouraged and necessary.

By raising these issues, we are taking power back over how we are depicted in the media. We were not trying to be victims; we are using political dialogue to overcome victimization. Racist images and ideas exist in the media because racism exists in society at large. Reasonable people don't have to wait to see someone beaten, raped, or killed before we respond.

It is not a waste of time to work toward an end to prejudice and discrimination. Stereotypes have a real effect on how people interact with one another, on legislation that is passed, and on who becomes the victim of a hate crime. We did not dream up these issues "out of thin air." Rather, they were in print in MIT's oldest and largest newspaper.