Fright 214-Intentionality?

A guest post from one of our 2013 Impact Fellows:

This past July 4th weekend, there was a horrible plane crash in San Francisco that frightened many. As many people tuned glued to the news to find out more, the focus changed from the victims and families to the inevitable racism that, for some odd reason, seems to always follow.

As the plane was flying in from South Korea, with a stop in Shanghai, maybe observers took to Twitter to claim that the North Koreans were attacking and other racist, and down right outrageous, claims about the accident. (More info)

Then the focus shifted to a strange headline posted by our one and only Chicago Sun-Times:

Upon first glance, the racism is subtle and disguised. I actually was completely confused when I heard about the outrage about this caption. I actually looked first at the comparable death counts “2 die in crash”, “1 dead in west side shooting”….yet I didn’t see the comparison. This is because I am sensitive to the amount of media coverage the homicides receive in Chicago. I actually had to read further to understand what was wrong with the headline:


Despite my “training” and the constant critical lens I tend to view things(perhaps Chris and I can talk about Despicable Me 2 another time), I failed to notice this. Soon after, the argument shifted from “Is this racist?” to more so “was it intentional?”. Just because something wasn’t intentional or if someone quickly adds “jklol i’m messing with you” to an insult, does it make it hurt any less? I’m actually not sure because this example was SO subtle that I failed to even notice it.
To quote a former IFP alum (2012), Peter Limthongviratn:

“I don’t believe that it was intentional either but there’s a part of me that’s just skeptical. This is a very pervasive joke and reference that it makes me doubt that they didn’t know. As journalists, they should understand how much power their words have and how people will perceive them. They should always be aware of the effects of their words….I believe that it is important to understand that racism operates in so many ways, even in well-intentioned situations. People will be triggered regardless.”

How does Intentionality change how we view racism? Are we too “sensitive?” Is this just another example of “micro-aggression?” How similar is this to the “Chink in the Armor” headline about Jeremy Lin that everyone was so outraged about?