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ABC News’ Juju Chang talks about the history of anti-Asian racism

Juju Chang gave a talk about her coverage in anti-Asian violence with ABC News.
Juju Chang gave a talk about her coverage in anti-Asian violence with ABC News.

Miami University’s lecture series kicked off its 2021-22 programming at Hall Auditorium on Monday, October 4, with a lecture from Juju Chang, a co-anchor for ABC News’ Nightline and frequent contributor to Good Morning America.

Chang was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in Northern California. She began her career as a desk assistant at ABC in 1987 after graduating from Stanford University with degrees in communications and political science.

Her recent work has focused on mass shootings, femicide in Honduras, violence against the LGBTQ+ community and racial inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Earlier this year, Chang covered the increase in anti-Asian violence, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She co-hosted the ABC News special “Stop The Hate: The Rise In Violence Against Asian Americans,” which featured coverage and commentary from prominent Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists, politicians, athletes and celebrities. 

She also reported from the scene in Atlanta two days after a 21-year-old white gunman targeted three Asian-owned spas and killed eight people, six of them Asian women. Her interviews with the families of the victims were featured in the ABC News 20/20 special “Murder in Atlanta.” 

Chang’s lecture centered around the history of racism against Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S. and the deeper cultural forces that contributed to this rise in violence. She said Asians and Asian Americans are often treated as “perpetual foreigners.”

Chang emphasized how many instances of racism against AAPI involved language that insinuated the victim’s non-belonging or blamed victims for the pandemic.

“Many [attacks] included anti-Asian slurs, references to China, references to the coronavirus,” Chang said. “The truth is that this is the type of scapegoating that’s been happening to other communities throughout history.”

On the topic of the perpetual foreigner myth, Chang recalled an interview she conducted with Japanese American actor George Takei. As a child during the second World War, Takei was forced into an internment camp, as were many other Japanese Americans. 

Chang sees this as evidence of the lack of belonging that Asian Americans have felt for decades, beyond the recent wave of pandemic-fueled violence.

“Some of these Japanese Americans had been American citizens for three or four generations,” Chang said. “This didn't just happen overnight. This wasn't just a 2020 idea. This was something that has been bubbling in our history.”

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Chang also discussed the destructive power of stereotypes, even those that may seem less harmful on the surface. She talked about the dangerous hypersexualisation of Asian women in America, especially in the case of the shooting in Atlanta. 

In an interview with police, the shooter argued that he targeted the spas not because of the race of the employees, but because he had a “sex addiction” and he felt compelled to “eliminate” places where he assumed there would be sex workers. Chang said this shows the importance of seeing issues of sexism with an intersectional lens.

“One could argue that if you go into three Asian themed spas and kill six Asian women and conflate that with sex addiction, that that is more than about sex,” Chang said.

Chang also discussed the idea of the “model minority”: the notion that Asian Americans are all upwardly mobile and inherently successful in academics. She asserted that, although often used as a compliment, this idea erases the experiences of the large number of working-class Asian Americans. 

“What you don't see is the people in the Asian American community who are struggling, parts of Queens in New Jersey, and little Pakistan, or little Koreatown, little Chinatown,” Chang said. “They are full of recent immigrants, undocumented immigrants, uneducated immigrants, people who are living in generational, grinding poverty, but it's invisible because they're cloaked by this myth of the model minority.”

Chang said her desire to tell the stories of these marginalized communities has always been a cornerstone of her work, but covering anti-Asian violence earlier this year was a uniquely personal task, especially in the case of the shooting in Atlanta. 

In an interview with The Miami Student, she recalled her interview with Randall Park, the son of one of the victims, just 48 hours after his mother died.

“When I looked into Randy's eyes, I saw my son,” Chang said. “As a working mother, as a Korean American, as someone who has seen the struggles of the first generation of immigrants, [who come] here and make sacrifices and make choices that should not be judged. That, to me, was a penetrating moment. I mean, penetrating to my soul.”

After Chang saw how covering these traumatic events took an emotional toll on her Asian American colleagues, she got involved with Dumplings for Therapy, a charity event that sold dumplings from a restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown to raise money for therapy sessions for AAPI journalists. 

On the topic of representation, Chang credited AAPI icons like Takei or Connie Chung, the first Asian American to become a nightly news anchor, for giving her “permission to dream.” 

But she also noted that the need for representation goes beyond just getting Asian Americans in front of the camera.

“Visibility is about more than just having people on camera look a certain way,” Chang said. “When we say representation in media, we often mean in executive ranks, in ownership ranks, in the power structure, the systemic underpinnings of power in this country.”

Luther Michalski, a senior bioengineering major and Miami’s Asian American Association’s Asian Culture Chair, attended the event. He appreciated hearing from someone so closely involved in covering the attacks against the AAPI community. 

“I feel like with the work Juju has done, you really get an idea that these are real people that this is happening to,” Michalski said. “That makes the tragedies all the more heartbreaking, and it makes the support all the more powerful.”

Justine Ferrer, a junior information systems and analytics major who attended the event, was happy to see the lecture series picked such a noteworthy Asian American speaker. 

“It was nice, being Asian American, getting to hear this from somebody, somebody who is so credible too,” Ferrer said. “I’ve watched so many things with Juju Chang.”

Chang closed the event with a call for audience members to check their own unconscious biases, and reiterated how important that is to breaking down stereotypes.

“Any stereotype is disruptive,” Chang said. “The more we see each other as individuals, and not as stereotypes, the more success we will have together.”