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Race + Racism

Go Back To China

I opened the front door to our apartment on Tuesday, brought in The New York Times and spread it out on the kitchen counter. That’s when the moment really hit me. There it was, on the front page – my open letter to the woman who had yelled at my family to go back to China.

Had we ever run anything like it before on A-1? I’ve been at The Times for 13 years, and I certainly can’t remember anything similar. And for it to be about racial prejudice experienced by Asian-Americans, specifically – I’m no historian, but my colleagues tell me it’s probably safe to call it unprecedented.

I asked Matt Purdy, deputy managing editor of The Times who made the decision about the placement, for the back-story. He said his thought-process was relatively straightforward. “It was important, engaging and perfect for the front page,” he said.

But for a group whose members have often felt that discrimination against them is overlooked, it is difficult to overstate how meaningful that decision was.

The flood of messages and stories from Asian-Americans on social media, under the hashtag #thisis2016, is evidence of a collective yearning for broader acknowledgment of this sort of racial prejudice (the comments you see framed in red above and below all come from tweets).

The response was so overwhelming that Sona Patel, a social media editor on our team, proposed pulling together a video of Asian-Americans sharing their own painful experiences directly to the camera. We wanted to turn it around quickly, so three producers, John Woo, Yousur Al-Hlou and Adeel Hassan, started reaching out on Tuesday to a broad range of Asian-Americans who had been commenting on Twitter, Facebook and The Times site. More than two-dozen people responded within just a few hours.

It was, admittedly, an incomplete portrait of the Asian-American community, something we were later criticized for. One group notably missing was South Asians, who have endured some of the harshest forms of racial backlash in recent years; there was one Filipina. But it was a sizable cast, cobbled together on short notice.

We asked them to come in the next day, thinking maybe at best half would show up. Instead, almost all did. People came on their lunch breaks. One woman even booked a babysitter to make it. At least two told their bosses they were taking the afternoon off. It all speaks to just how strongly they felt about the issue.

So now what?

A reporter for a Chinese-language newspaper in the United States asked me whether I thought the extraordinary response to my piece would change anything. I told him, well, no. Not directly, at least.

In my mind, the only way to really chip away at this sense of otherness that I alluded to in my letter – a sense that so many Asian-Americans share – is through greater representation in the mainstream culture. That means on television and in movies. It means in sports and in politics. It means in news coverage, at places like The Times.

And, yes, it means including Asian Americans of all colors and backgrounds, something we aim to do a better job of doing as well.

We’ll be talking about these dynamics and the path forward in a live chat next Tuesday with a handful of Times reporters, experts, and prominent Asian-American writers and thinkers, including Erika Lee, author of the “The Making of Asian America.”

We hope you’ll join us, and we also would like to know what you think we should discuss. Share your questions or ideas for discussion by emailing Race Related - NY Times.

By Michael Luo


See article from source: Race Related



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