Production Blogs

On leading while grieving

AKA: If you work for USC Annenberg admissions, please admit more Asians to journalism.

I wish there were more Asians at Annenberg Media. Full stop. I’m not used to being forced to represent my race. Nobody should be forced to do that, but for POC in white-dominant spaces, that’s life! Annenberg TV News is no exception.

While it’s an honor to be able to change this industry for the better with my perspective (Life goal! Seriously!), I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable being the spokesperson for Asianness in any situation. I’m mixed and Southeast Asian, a very different experience from being East Asian, which is what most of the narratives of Asianness revolve around in the United States. That’s why, the morning after the Atlanta spa shootings, I wished more than anything that there could be another Asian woman to help lead ATVN’s coverage of this horrific act of violence toward the AAPI community, in a year already marked by the increasing visibility of anti-Asian attacks. I knew I could step up and be an ethical leader, and I was confident in my ability to produce responsible coverage. I just didn’t want to do it alone.

That was a grim Wednesday morning. The night before, I stayed up late obsessively scrolling through Twitter, internalizing all the horrific details as they unfolded. I sobbed and told my family I loved them, thinking about how those women had nobody to protect them. Then I woke up early to write my pitches for our show, which I centered on not the horror of the shooting, but the way our community (and the AAPI reporters covering it) was grieving, and what people could do to help.

As an Asian woman who’s been forced to think a lot about the role of sexual fetishization and violence in my life, it was important to me to make everyone – our audience AND the people working on the show – understand how serious this was, how much it felt like a culmination of a long history of sexual violence and dehumanization toward Asian women. I felt nauseous all morning. I expected every pitch we heard during the morning meeting to be about the shooting. But when 8 a.m. came, I felt a sort of numbness when I realized that mine were the only ones. Then I was surprised that I was surprised. I should’ve known that the only reason I dreaded loneliness was because that was reality.

That pitch meeting put me in a bad mood. Just 12 more hours to go! Oh, god. I was already cynical and sleep-deprived, and knew I had to watch my attitude. I was not in the mood for jokes that day, which if you know me as a producer, is pretty off-brand. I really focused on trying to balance working through all my internal rage and resentment at the world, while having to be a patient and diplomatic leader in providing explanations on racism for people, telling them why what happened in Atlanta was intrinsically rooted in racism, even when the police said it may not have been. Sometimes my rage almost won. I remember feeling salty when someone suggested we should cover Saint Patrick’s Day and talk to Irish students about how they were celebrating. I was very honest with my response: “I don’t care about Saint Patrick’s Day.” At some moments, I think I put some fear into people’s hearts. But I think I led effectively and without too much conflict, and I was proud of the show we ended up with. Watch it below, if you feel so inclined.

I must say, I was definitely a lot calmer having Alex Song as Executive Producer, even though he’s not a woman (love ya bro!). We raged over text messages about various microaggressions, which really helped me keep my cool on Zoom. We shared our rage about constantly having to offer up our friends as sources when white reporters realize they have no connections to the AAPI community, not just today, but whenever we cover Asian stories. (Go out and make some Asian friends, y’all! Or follow some activists or something.) He also helped me navigate a situation where a source got upset at the way one of our reporters reached out to them, which I should’ve been more active about monitoring before any emails were sent, looking back. You live and you learn. I was so grateful to have at least one person around who I could debrief with about all my frustrations at the end of the day. It’s hard to do that with people who don’t share your experience, because of the risk they’ll take it personally and center themselves in your pain.

That Wednesday, my heart was in need of a lot of emotional support. But when you’re leading a show, that’s not always available. You have to be strong in your stances, because it’s a serious and important situation. Social justice is lonely when you don’t have people around you who just intrinsically get it, who you don’t owe any sort of explanation to about your identity. I’ll happily call out racism every time I see it, but man, it helps to have people to back you up. So, gentle readers, next time you see someone defending their perspective alone, consider giving them affirmations! Vocally express your support. The work starts with all of us.