Opinion: Asian America women like me have been objectified and dehumanized. This was my experience in TV news.

Opinion: Asian America women like me have been objectified and dehumanized. This was my experience in TV news.

Originally Published in The San Diego Union-Tribune

Opinion by Lee Ann Kim - March 26, 2021

As a former television news anchor and reporter, I have had access, privileges and status that most people will never have in their lifetime. And yet this never shielded me from racism, misogyny and the pernicious docility myth that remains a ubiquitous experience for Asian American Pacific Islander women.

Kim is an independent producer and founder of the Pacific Arts Movement and a former TV news anchor and reporter. She lives in Sorrento Valley and is a member of The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Community Advisory Board.

As a former television news anchor and reporter, I have had access, privileges and status that most people will never have in their lifetime. And yet this never shielded me from racism, misogyny and the pernicious docility myth that remains a ubiquitous experience for Asian American Pacific Islander women.

While my heart breaks for all incidents of hate, the Atlanta area massacre tore open a Pandora’s box that I’m still trying to understand by laying out my intersectional experiences and sharing publicly for the first time.

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Throughout my life, I have clashed with societal expectations on how women of color should behave. For Asian American women, we are to be quiet, subservient and obedient.

Perhaps that’s why my second-grade teacher taped my chatty mouth shut and put a dunce cap on my head. I was the only student of color in class.

I am comforted that her public shaming was in vain since I ended up talking for a living.

In fact, when I secured my first TV job as a graduating senior, my mother presciently declared, “Lee Ann, you are no longer my daughter. You are now the daughter of the Asian American community. When people see you, they don’t see your face, they see our face.”

How wise my mother was. In the early years, people would always ask me if I was Connie Chung, who was 25 years my senior. Mom was right, they didn’t see my face.

While working in Houston at a start-up 24-hour news station, an older White manager picked up a small block of wood that he found in the newsroom, walked by my desk and hit me on the head with it. I was so startled because this came out of nowhere.

“Why did you do that?” I asked. He shrugged and said, “You’re replaceable,” then walked away.

More overt racism continued at my next job in Springfield, Missouri, where two weeks after I started as weekend anchor, our station’s satellite dishes were vandalized with spray-painted swastikas, and the words “F--- you, N-----, N----- Go Home.”

Springfield at the time was 99 percent White, so the use of the N-word was confusing. News colleagues explained that the Ku Klux Klan, which was active in the area, used the N-word for anyone who is not a White Protestant. As the first and only person of color anchoring the news in the market, the N-word it turns out, was for me.

You could imagine my relief as I transitioned a year later to my next job in sunny San Diego, where AAPI communities, restaurants, grocery stores, churches and organizations abounded.

That honeymoon ended when I learned that my station was planning a series of reports on “Sex Secrets of the Orient” despite having four Asian American women working on air. The series was assigned to an older, White male reporter. After a dramatic internal protest, the news management thankfully dropped the series.

Years later, a member of management, who was White and married with children, came into an editing suite where I was logging an interview, shut the door and grabbed the back of my neck and hair. He whispered into my ear, “I used to date women like you.”

This same manager, on another unprovoked occasion, pushed me against a set of lockers while telling me that he was the boss. As he held me up against the locker, I knew deep inside why he was doing this — he was playing out a fetish.

I regret that I never reported those incidents, nor did I ask for help when a National City police sergeant, whom I worked closely with on a prostitution story, made multiple sexually suggestive comments including, “How much would you charge me?” I didn’t want to jeopardize our station’s relationship with his department, so I laughed it off.

Finally, of all the letters I received from viewers, aside from being called a “zip-eye,” the most memorable came from a retired Navy commander who couldn’t bear that I had highlighted and cut my hair short.

He complained, “You are Oriental! That means you should have glorious long black hair. You were not meant to be brindle! You are meant to be the enticing almond-eyed girl with the long, black tresses that every old South Pacific sailor holds in his fondest memories.”

We know that fondest memories are not fond at all. They are dangerous tropes that have shaped the way women like me have been objectified and dehumanized. By sharing these experiences, I hope to heal some deep, buried wounds that have kept me and other Asian American women from showing up as our whole selves.

 

 

 

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