UBC’s National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism: What does Media have to do with Anti-Asian Racism?

The second panel of the National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism, hosted by UBC, took place on June 10. The panel, called What does Media have to do with Anti-Asian Racism? was moderated by UBC Professor Minelle Mahtani. Panelists included Madison Wong, freelance journalist, lifestyle writer from Global News; Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC; Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute; and Barbara Lee, founder of the Elimin8Hate Campaign and founder of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival.

The panel focused on questions around media coverage and representation of Asians, damaging stereotypes of Asians and ways in which Asian-Canadians can get more recognition in journalism and other forms of media. Kurl made a poignant comment on how non-Asians think about the issue of anti-Asian hate:

“Non-Asian Canadians … who are the majority, are far more likely to say that media coverage of anti-Asian hate and conversations about anti-Asian discrimination are … overblown and unhelpful,” she noted. “On the other side of the coin, people who are of Asian ethnicity or descent are much more likely to view this media coverage, these conversations … as something that is helpful.”

Wong discussed her journey as a young, Asian-Canadian woman in journalism, citing experiences of racism and gaslighting.

“I've found myself debating multiple times if I will ever have a place in this industry,” she said. “You know, I've had awful experiences with primarily white folks who have just made me feel terrible about my future.”

Simu Liu’s recent comments about his negative experiences as an actor on the popular Asian-led sitcom, Kim’s Convenience, was a hot topic during the panel. Gill’s thoughts about the situation encapsulate the general consensus of the panelists.

“It’s really heartbreaking that Simu and some of his fellow cast members or others who worked on that show felt like they could never speak up while they were working,” she said. “So let’s like his posts, let's support him, let's support others in not being afraid to share their experiences so that we can learn from them, and do things differently.”

My main takeaway from this panel can be summarized in one sentence: media of all kinds has a huge impact on anti-Asian hate and racism.

When young Asian individuals see targeted, stereotypical representations of themselves on TV or in film, not only does that negatively affect their self-worth, but it also reinforces biases against them in white communities. Whether it’s the fetishized Japanese woman or the emasculated South Asian man, stereotypes about Asians influence our sense of belonging and place in Canada. The only way we can combat these is by allowing Asian creatives to take the initiative in showcasing their stories on television or in film.

Many of the panelists spoke on their struggles in the newsroom. Wong was very passionate about young, racialized and otherwise marginalized journalists needing “the right support” in the journalism industry, from professors in journalism schools all the way to senior staff in newsrooms

I also found that social media is a huge way in which we can support ourselves and other Asians. By simply liking or sharing someone’s post about their experiences or social issues, we can boost awareness on topics that are important to us when major news outlets refuse to do so.

“I would say that it’s everybody’s responsibility to call things out,” stated Lee. “I think it wouldn't matter if we had lots of different stories because the Asian community is not a monolith.”