This past weekend, as most of you know, the Women’s World Cup Finals saw USA’s team going up against Japan. The game was brutal from the start — four goals for Team USA in the first sixteen minutes or so — and both sides rallied back and forth, making for a tense match beginning to end. I went on Twitter to joke that it was hard for me to pick a side to root for as a Japanese-American. (I ended up rooting for Japan. As Lori mentioned in her previous post on growing up Japanese-Okinawan in Hawaii, nationalistic pride dies hard. Also I’m a sucker for the underdog in any match and four points behind from the start, well, ouch.)
Cue 24 hours later, and I’m back on Twitter, staring into the abyss because one of the top trends is #PearlHarbor. I click it, already making connections as to where this is going. And — sigh, yes — people went there. They really went there.
By now a lot of outlets have covered the story. Someone on Twitter made the facetious claim that Team USA’s win over Japan — in a soccer tournament, let’s not forget — was righteous “revenge” for the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. Most articles claim the original tweet belonged to a parody patriotic account because…well, Internet. Then enough people ran with the hashtag and the “joke,” until the tag was flooded with enough people arguing and repeating the claim to get the whole thing trending. Again: Internet.
However, while a lot of outlets have reported on the trending (BBC, NBC, and The Mirror to name a few), I have yet to see any actually discuss the outright xenophobia intended behind the original jibe, aside from quoting the Tweets they pulled which mention this fact in 140 characters or less. Even more egregious seems to be the history lessons these various outlets are passing up for the sake of driving home the simple point of, “This is why we can’t have nice things,” which seems to be the only thing anyone is saying on the topic.
Is that really the end of the discussion?!
Lately that seems to be how most mainstream news sources and other media outlets have chosen to handle anything remotely related to racism. The nation may be making some remarkably liberal strides, (thank you, Supreme Court, for tackling marriage equality and the start of reaffirming the right to abortion), but everything in regards to the racial profiling, police brutality, and other race issues still seem roundabout. There is a collective shying away from accusations of racism. We debate it. We bring in the experts and the other talking heads. We pick and choose quotes from the left- and right-wing blogs out there. But the actual journalists and mainstream anchors? Mum’s the word.
Why is it so hard to put it out there? Mainly because it involves both the acknowledgement of white privilege and a long history of colonialism, slavery, segregation, and racism. The nation spent a good several weeks debating the ethics of the Confederate flag as though the history of white Southerners somehow eclipsed the history of black slaves in importance. The coverage of everything from the murder of Trayvon Martin to the Ferguson riots was and is coded in racially biased language: the victims are referred to as “thugs,” mug shots are used instead of regular photos, and every 24-hour news station seems to find it very important to debate whether this was about race at all.
Yes. Yes, this is about race.
There is a history behind each of these issues that demands our attention and that history is two-sided. The attack on Pearl Harbor was devastating and unforgivable, claiming 2,500 lives. I grew up in Hawaii, on Oahu, knowing the history behind it, hearing the shame and grief and rage firsthand from my grandparents. But we cannot forget that what followed was first the internment of 110,000 – 120,000 Japanese-Americans in camps across the US (which the History Channel refers to as the Japanese-American “Relocation”) for up to four years. Sixty-two percent were US citizens. It took forty-four years for the US to apologize and begin granting restitution. Let us also not forget the true “revenge” for Pearl Harbor: the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed by the first and only use of nuclear warfare in history in August 1945. At least 129,000 people died, and the after-effects of radiation persisted for decades.
Japan has done awful things in their own long history, some for which they have not begun to apologize — but so has the US.
The #PearlHarbor Twitter trend fiasco is not an isolated incident occurring in a vacuum. The frenzy of nationalism that has fueled a great many things since 9/11 has created a permanent mindset of Us vs. Them. About 99.9% of the time, the “us” is basically white America only. Hence the endless debates over whether “we” should retain the right to flying the Confederate flag, or whether “we” need to suspect every person in a hijab or turban of carrying weapons of mass destruction in their shoes. (The racism between PoC is a post for another day and another time, folks.) Hence the people of color accused of crime being labeled thugs and worse while the white mass shooters are merely victims of mental illness. Hence the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church being turned from a hate crime driven by racist sentiments to possibly one driven by anti-religious sentiments (“It was a church, after all,” Fox News reminded us all.)
Which brings us back to the #PearlHarbor fiasco. It may just be a Twitter trend, a there-and-gone blip that induces either eye-rolling or fist-pumping, but it is also a trend of a large problem in both the nation and how our news chooses to cover what is really happening on a day-to-day basis. And not just our news, but most of our media. The announcers for the US-Japan game accused the Japanese players of an aggression somehow related to their race at least twice. Media representation in terms of racial diversity is still referred to as being “politically correct.” These microaggressions abound — and they add up.
I’m not exactly the person to offer up a magical solution for all of this, but it seems to me that the only way we — the real, collective “We” — can start making strides in the right direction is in accountability. Yes, it’s great that the media has collectively acknowledged the #PearlHarbor Twitter trending as bad, but it’d be even better if they took steps towards acknowledging why exactly this is bad — see above history lesson, see anything that involves calling out people, including, yes, their potential readers, as racists. It was a goddamn soccer game, but it turned into a reveal of incredibly xenophobic sentiments focused on a single, stubborn view of history. And in a world where Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube all co-exist, there’s no excuses left for not knowing.
The same applies to coverage of the acts of police brutality and homicide by police perpetrated against black youths. The numbers grow daily. These assaults keep happening — a thirteen-year old girl at a pool party, people, this is about RACE — because we lack accountability. It needs to start with the media.
Stop sending the message that these issues require a debate to determine fact from opinion. Stop toeing the line between saying what is popular and saying what is right. Stop creating bias based on race: that white boy with the Confederate and South African apartheid flag sewn to his jacket did not pick this specific church out of a dislike for mere Christians. That man who killed 12 and injured 70 in an Aurora theater isn’t just some poor soul suffering from mental illness. George Zimmerman is not a hero.
Start making your readers take accountability for their actions, words, and ignorance. Start taking accountability for what you say that perpetuates their actions, words, and ignorance.
This cannot be the end of the discussion. This needs to be the start.