This weekend, tragedy struck. Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed in San Francisco. Over 180 people are injured, and two are dead. Nineteen passengers are still hospitalised, with six still in critical condition. Two thirds of the passengers were Asian, which is why the Chicago Sun-Times‘s headline is angering some online.
As pointed out by AsAmNews, the Sunday headline read, “Fright 214”.
There is, of course, a long tradition of mocking Asians — especially Chinese as well as Japanese — by not differentiating between “L” and “R” sounds in English. Case in point: the “fried rice” scene in Lethal Weapon 4.
For many, the headline appeared to perpetuate the stereotypical Asian accent.
“First, its pretty sick to use a play on words in a headline for a tragedy,” wrote AsAmNews. “Secondly, this one’s pretty racist.”
Some commenters on AsAmNews agreed that it was racist, with one even calling it a “sick joke”. Others seemed to think it was simply in poor taste and unintentionally showed bad judgment while covering the crash. It felt oddly reminiscent of ESPN’s “Chink in the Armor” headline.
Sun-Times Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk told the Asian American Journalist Association that his staff didn’t even think about how the headline could be perceived as insensitive.
“There was nothing intentional on our part to play off any stereotypes… If anybody was offended by that, we are sorry,” Kirk told AAJA. “We were trying to convey the obviously frightening situation of that landing.”
The Asian American Journalist Association thinks the headline might have slipped through due to a lack of diversity among newspaper staff.
Some will say that getting upset over something like this is being hypersensitive, that the Sun-Times didn’t mean malice, and that this loses sight of the tragedy at hand.
And as insensitive as the Sun-Times headline seemed, there were also Twitter users writing all sorts of awful things and even a Korean newscaster on Channel A that, according to Searchina, actually said, “We’re lucky that the people who died were Chinese.” (And yes, online in Chinese people are incredibly angry about this news anchor’s remark.)
But, intentional or not, the headline doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty