#Pearl Harbor, Racism, & Media Accountability

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.

The original tweet along with its spawn.
The original tweet along with its spawn.

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.

From BK Nation.
From BK Nation.

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.

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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.

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8 thoughts on “#Pearl Harbor, Racism, & Media Accountability

  1. Holy shit. I’m sadly not surprised people “went there”, but I AM totally disgusted and disappointed. If we don’t learn our history, we’re doomed to repeat it, right? Or just never escape it…

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  2. Yes! To everything you said. There’s really nothing left for me to say except to express my sadness for humanity in the fact that this particular hashtag existed in the first place! How quickly people forget. And, yes, WWII was about 70 years ago but how can people forget the atrocities of only a few generations before us? Pick up a history book, guys!

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  3. 1) I think the educational system in America doesn’t do a very good job in teaching Americans about what goes on in the world. There a lot of Americans who make racist jokes about Pearl Harbor and about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but then don’t realize that the Japanese have been allies with the United States for quite some time.

    2) A lot of high-school teachers, and maybe perhaps college lecturers and professors are incompetent.
    These types of “educators” may say the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified without taking into consideration that the civilians of Imperial Japan during the World War II era didn’t elect the evil military dictatorship that came into power in Japan during the beginning of the 20th century. Where is the logic in bombing Japanese civilians who were powerless to stop the dictatorship of Imperial Japan.
    The civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had no voice to stop the war. This is one of the reasons why the Japanese gives such weak apologies for what Imperial Japan did. The bombing of Japanese civilians with atomic weapons unfortunately made the Japanese see their ancestors as victims during WWII rather than the aggressors who perpetuated such acts as the Rape of Nanking and the sexual slavery of Korean women.

    3) Even if Imperial Japan did not bomb Pearl Harbor, whites, blacks, Hispanics and other non-Asians would still see the Japanese and other Asians as a threat. Look at how white America treated Chinese American people. You almost hear nothing about the Chinese American narrative in American history. Filipino Americans have the same problem. Filipinos probably were treated worse than Japanese Americans, because the Philippines was taken as an American colony during the Spanish American war. Filipinos in America (during the first half of the 20th century), as a whole were treated as colonial subjects, and were not allowed to become American or call themselves American due to the status of the Philippines as an American colony. Of course you don’t hear about this in school because it makes America look bad.

    4) Sorry for rambling and going off topic.

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    1. I think lately the education system has been making steps both forward and backward in giving multiple perspectives on national and world history. History books are going both ways: diversified and more realistic accounts and ultra-edited and nationalistic texts. While I don’t condone the latter in any way, I don’t fault academia as much with the advent of so many resources available online and elsewhere.

      My main bone to pick (as seen above) is with the media for letting fear of retaliation dictate how they deliver actual news. The issues that unfold in the present are being delivered in such a way as to make America both the perpetual victim and perpetual hero. That is a slant that tends to ignore our history the most.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. I’m really glad other people are willing to discuss these issues! -Cheri

      PS – While the atrocities Japan perpetuated in their own history are horrific and unforgivable, it might be overstepping a bit to retract their identification as victims for something like the atomic bombings. These are two separate issues in history.

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  4. “PS – While the atrocities Japan perpetuated in their own history are horrific and unforgivable, it might be overstepping a bit to retract their identification as victims for something like the atomic bombings. These are two separate issues in history.”

    Yes, you’re correct. The civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were victims during the second world war.
    Only the Japanese dictatorship and its military should have been targeted by the Allies.

    WWII American military commanders were supposed to be moral superiors of the Imperial Japanese Army, but then again these same American military commanders had no problems firebombing civilians in Tokyo and dropping atomic weapons on civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The point I was trying to make in my first post was that civilians should never be bombed or targeted. If America is supposed to be a champion of freedom and democracy, then we should never target innocent civilians of “enemy” countries at all; otherwise, the people we are trying to liberate will see America as being no different from the oppressive regimes they were living under.

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    1. Definitely civilians should never be targeted. Military tactics differ from both historical bias and media bias, unfortunately, though I suppose it’s up to both to examine retrospectively.

      America as a “champion of freedom and democracy” is another slant I’m not sure I necessarily agree with, but that’s definitely how many Americans choose to view the nation. Same for phrases like “liberate…from…oppressive regimes.” It’s still propaganda that democracy is the only way and the American white savior complex should persist. We invaded (and continue to invade) the Middle East on shaky ground, but I think the issue is more complex than Right vs. Wrong.

      Anyway, my post was mainly to vent on how the media chooses to cover news today, but you make good points on how war affects the masses. People often forget this in clinical historical terms. -Cheri

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  5. “Anyway, my post was mainly to vent on how the media chooses to cover news today, but you make good points on how war affects the masses. People often forget this in clinical historical terms. -Cheri”

    1) I think the main news network that seems to be the main culprit in glossing over white racism against non-whites is Fox News. You already mentioned Fox News in your blog post.

    Fox News has/had some pretty racist and pathetic news commentators. The most infamous of the so-called journalists at Fox News was probably Michelle Malkin who published that racist and stupid book, “In Defense of Internment,” in 2004. She pretty much wrote that the U.S. was justified in the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII because Japanese Americans supposedly weren’t trustworthy. The crazy argument of her book tried to convince readers that the Japanese Americans of WWII weren’t trustworthy, and as a result that it would be okay to intern Muslim Americans in present times.

    The sad thing about Malkin is that she is Filipino. She didn’t seem to understand that justifying the internment of Japanese Americans was also in a way justifying the American government’s other racist activities in the 1940s, such as the American colonization of the Philippines, which ended after 1946. Malkin was the type of journalist who would do anything in her power to gain the sympathy of whites.

    2) I would imagine that there are a lot of journalists who are uncomfortable reporting on issues that have to do with race. Why? American society values a person’s ability to think and work independently, which is a good thing, but then when white reporters are confronted with topics that talk about racism they see it more as a personal attack on them rather than as an criticism on the institutions that support white supremacy here in America.

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    1. Definitely support your second point.

      I don’t know much about Malkin, but I think it’s important to also realize that when the reaction of white journalists to race issues also affects PoC journalists. It’s equally hard for them to take a stance that isn’t seen as “reverse racism” or merely siding with other PoC — which is not to say that it is a fair position to put them in at all.

      I don’t think it’s a position of “gain[ing] the sympathy of whites” so much as just plain racism between People of Color.

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