President Obama talked to reporters about the shooting of Trayvon Martin on July 19, 2013. His comments came in response to the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who gunned down Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American teenager. “Another way of saying that,” Obama spoke, “is that could have been me 35 years ago.”
While President Obama and I both come from different worlds and experiences, I sampled a bit of how he felt when I read the news of the 2021 Atlanta spa shooting. On March 16 of this year, Robert Aaron Long gunned down eight people, six of whom were Asian women. When I saw a photograph of one of the victims, Hyun Jung Grant, and her two sons, a feeling of intense grief overwhelmed me. And I’m still struggling to process how I feel. When I saw her face with her two sons, I thought, “That could have been my mother.”
My mind’s internal chain of associations didn’t stop there. That could have been my grandmother. My friends from high school or college. What cut deeper is that one of my friends from college had a mother who was a beautician just like Grant. Long could have just as easily killed her because Long had a “bad day,” as the media uncritically recounted.
Both of her sons are now orphaned. And they’re never going to see their mother alive again. When I saw their faces, a more visceral realization occurred to me that they both could have just as easily been me.
Grant’s humanity, of course, was mostly lost on the mainstream media, which has paid more undue attention to feebly assessing the motives of the perpetrator of the crime. Long was an ashamed sex addict and apparently patronized salons for sexual services. Right now, the media seems more interested in verifying whether or not the victims were actually sex workers, as if that somehow rationalized or perhaps even justified Long’s rage.
For the ethically bankrupt segments of the media who cares about what the victims did for work, this begs the implicit question, “Did they ask for what was coming for them?” The answer, of course, is as stupid as the question is vile. Of course they didn’t. Only professionals who direly need to retake media ethics courses at Missoula would assume as much. But the American media persistently pursued inquiries into their professions with as much reluctance into actually stating that the crime was motivated by racism and misogyny.
The Korean-language news publication **Chosun Ilbo** actually performed due diligence and spoke to eyewitnesses. They claimed that Long explicitly shouted that he targeted Asians. But the press seems to care more about whether or not Long had sex. Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are remembering what African Americans always knew: you can’t entrust the media to care about your experiences, let alone get them right. There’s also no guarantee that law enforcement or the legal system will deliver fair and balanced justice.
A similar spectacle as the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings harkens back to another media event: the murder of Vincent Chin. On June 19, 1982, amidst the decay of Detroit’s Big-Three automotive industries due to its rivalry with Japanese companies, a laid-off autoworker and a Chrysler plant supervisor mistook Chin for Japanese and beat him to death. Both received no jail time and a paltry $3,000 fine.
The APIA community was rightfully outraged. The murder marked a turning point in APIA history and stirred a pan-Asian American consciousness. The community arguably was divided by their own historical differences. But for that moment in time, they saw themselves as a united demographic.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders equated the lenient sentencing with the low amount of attention and representation in the media. The narrative similarities between Chin’s murder and the mass shooting in Atlanta are plausible especially since **Chosun Ilbo’s** reportage hasn’t received as much coverage as it should in the press, and major outlets, for whatever reason, thought it was responsible to dispatch reporters who weren’t well-versed in the victims’ native tongue. Without a doubt, the mass shooting in Atlanta wasn’t just an event — but a media event.
It’s perfectly sensible and undeniable, in this sense, to argue that higher representation in the newsroom will lead towards more coverage of APIA issues and possibly even restorative justice on their behalf. That said, a friend once warned that Progressives and the Left have failed at some of their goals because they’ve allowed themselves to be seduced by “the politics of spectacle.” It’s one of the reasons why Occupy Wall Street and other similar movements ever failed to attain whatever they were trying to achieve.
I’d stake a similar precaution to APIA activists as well. While the rhetoric from the culture industry matters, Millennial and Zoomer activists in particular place too much stock in the entertainment Industry and popular culture in general. A major consequence of which is that it distracts attention from the coalition-building that yields more tangible returns.
The death of Vincent Chin saw the birth of the pan-Asian civil rights organization American Citizens for Justice. Perhaps something similar or greater will follow in the wake of Atlanta.
I just wish that it didn’t take the lives of eight innocent people to do so.