The defamation suit Asiana Airlines plans to file against an Oakland TV station for using fake pilot names that mock Asian names may herald a new era of Asian corporate sensitivity to US racism.
During KTVU’s Friday noon broadcast anchor Tori Campbell read a list of fake pilot names crafted to suggest the phrases “Something Wrong” and “We Too Low”. The report was deemed by Asiana to be “demeaning” enough to prompt a review of “possible legal action” against both KTVU and the NTSB.
In the past Asia-based companies have never shown sensitivity to American racial stereotypes or attitudes toward Asians. Even when Asian American groups have asked Asian companies to show support for demanding more respectful treatment of Asians by pulling advertising from shows that offended Asian American sensibilities, they have remained aloof, anxious to avoid becoming identified with Asian American interests.
Their thinking may have been the short-sighted belief that they are here to rake in dollars from Americans at large, not to become identified with one not particularly large ethnic segment. Of course that kind of thinking overlooks several important factors, not the least of which is the fact that such Asian companies rely heavily on the services of highly educated, bi-lingual Asian Americans who are often the sinews of their American operations.
Asiana’s announcement of its intention to sue KTVU is the first time that an Asia-based company has shown any willingness to address a racially offensive media portrayal. Of course the mockery in question happened to involve the names of Asiana’s own Korean pilots and not an offense against Asians in the abstract. Still the impulse to threaten suit is a step in the right direction though the legal basis of the suit itself may not hold up in court.
The suit is no doubt intended as a way to slap the station with negative publicity in a metro area full of Asians likely to be offended by the elementary-school playground mentality behind the mock pilot names. Legally the suit isn’t likely to win a substantial verdict since it would be virtually impossible to show any actual damage to Asiana’s reputation above and beyond the fact of the crash itself.
Still Asian Americans should hail Asiana’s willingness to use the legal system and attendant media publicity to counter the callowly racist attitude that surfaces from time to time on American media. We can only hope that it’s the beginning of an era of Asian companies recognizing their stake in not having Asians and Asian culture undermined by blatantly disrespectful media portrayals. After all, any sense that things Asian aren’t entitled to the full measure of respect would redound to the detriment of the the pricing power of Asian companies and their ability to attract quality employees.
With their economic clout, companies like Asiana, Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, Panasonic and the like can be a powerful force in the fight against the perpetuation of shabby attitudes by stubbornly racist elements in American society. The loser who thought he could get away with slipping mock Asian names into a major news story is crying out to be ferreted out by his employer through the legal discovery process and thrown into the square to face the wrath of Asians who have had enough of that kind of nonsense.
Let’s hope that Asiana’s lawsuit marks the birth of a sense of ethnic citizenship by Asian corporations doing business in America. Then they may actually be worthy of our support as America’s most affluent consumers.