2017 is the quarter-century mark for a couple of events that began in 1992. Nine days from now, it will be the 25th anniversary of a jury acquitting four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with using excessive force against motorist Rodney Glen King. (I suppose I need to point out that the jury was reported to be racially mixed; the four officers were white and King, who died in 2012, was black.)
We’ll no doubt be reading and watching a lot of news coverage and retrospectives from that time in the days to come regarding the aftermath sparked by that verdict, namely the six days that have come to be known as the Los Angeles Riots, aka Los Angeles Rebellion.
I go with the word “riots” because, while there may have been elements of civil unrest or rebellion in the immediate wake of that verdict, it pretty much became a dictionary definition of a riot in short order. Since the news business favors brevity, “riots” also works since it is shorter than “rebellion” or “civil unrest.”
Also in the news business, the anniversary of a landmark event, followed by retrospectives every multiple of five years, are a sensible time to revisit and reassess, and examine what has and hasn’t changed. I’ll do that, too, with regard to the 1992 L.A. Riots in my next column. (On that note, if you have a particular memory or recollection from April 29-May 4, 1992 that you’d like to share with Rafu Shimpo readers, send me an email at the address listed at the end of this column.)
For now, though, I’d like to look back 25 years at this column, “Into the Next Stage,” which debuted in March 1992. The one you’re reading now is No. 623. Yes, if my count is accurate, I’ve written that many columns, and I have them all archived on my computer’s hard drive and backed up on external drives. (I know that 25 years doesn’t compare to the 114 years this paper has existed — but it’s a long time to me!)
I had to look in that archive to get that count of 623 columns. It gave me a brief opportunity to revisit them, and I have to say, many of them aren’t too bad. (If I were motivated enough, I could probably repurpose them into a self-published “best of” book or even books — but, I ask myself, who’d want to buy it?)
In case you were wondering, this column was an offshoot of the formation of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, which had formally launched in early 1992.
MANAA was created to be a watchdog group solely dedicated to keeping tabs on depictions and portrayals of Asian Americans and Asians in print, radio and TV news reports, as well as in movies and TV shows and by broadcast personalities.
The concept was for MANAA to speak up and speak out to misrepresentations, and unfair and biased representations of Asian Americans and Asians, as well advocate for inclusion and diversity, in front of and behind the camera. The flipside to that was to also praise an entity that did the right thing.
Another objective was to communicate with existing community groups whenever there was such an incident so that they could inform their own constituencies and respond as they saw fit.
MANAA’s other co-founder and I approached The Rafu Shimpo’s then-English section editor Naomi Hirahara about the idea of us alternating to write a weekly column about these very topics, and she agreed. (As I like to only half-jokingly say, you can blame Naomi for me writing in The Rafu.) Twenty-five years later, I’m still here, writing this column. As for MANAA, however, I ended my formal association with it long ago, and while that other MANAA co-founder is no longer writing, I’ve picked up the slack. I don’t think The Rafu Shimpo has skipped a beat in that regard.
As for what has and hasn’t changed in the past 25 years, looking at my columns was a good way of assessing the situation.
While the news media was occasionally remiss, the bigger problem was most often this thing we call “Hollywood.” Whether it was a movie or TV show, there were those in Hollywood — more through laziness and short-sightedness than malice — who decided to leave out people of Asian heritage in casting or rely on hackneyed stereotypes.
Yellowface — the practice of using non-Asian acting talent to play Asians, usually with prosthetics, makeup and wigs — became less prevalent than in decades gone by (although it still happens); more troubling was whitewashing, the practice of using a white actor when a role or character that common sense would dictate using a person who was of Asian descent. Despite the progress that has occurred in the last 25 years with TV shows like “Master of None,” “Dr. Ken” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” whitewashing is still going strong in 2017, especially in movies.
There are also many, many subjects that deserve to be told in the form of a move or TV show that relate to the Japanese American and Asian American experiences. Maybe that will happen in the next 25 years.
From a production standpoint, I used to write these columns using Microsoft Word. I’d save a column on a floppy disc, put it into an envelope and toss it through the metal pulldown security barrier when The Rafu was located on Los Angeles Street. Somewhere along the line, it became email.
Now, I write my columns in Google Docs, sending it electronically to my Rafu colleagues via the Internet. If there was one thing that stood above everything else in the last 25 years as an agent of change, the Internet would be it.
As for subject matter, things have evolved there, too. There is always some new outrage to write about, like last week’s column on Dr. David Dao, the battered airline passenger. I’ve also, however, made efforts to put the spotlight on people in the community who have done or created something in media, be it a book, fictional or documentary movie, TV show or music recording.
The Rafu Shimpo itself has been column fodder. In my 25 years of association with it, it’s still standing — but in more recent years, while many newspapers died in that time, The Rafu Shimpo has tottered, as have other newspapers, including big-name legacy papers like The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.
I was recently thinking about the problems of a couple well-known retailers that have also had hard times: Radio Shack and Sears. Even if you’re much older than me, those two retailers appear to have “always been around.” Now, they both look to be on their way out.
When — not really “if” — Sears goes under, there will still be places to buy shoes, clothes, appliances, tools and so on. Same thing for Radio Shack with regard to batteries, audio cables, electronic gadgets and so on.
As for The Rafu, however, it’s different. Unlike Radio Shack and Sears, I don’t see much in the way of an alternative for a daily Japanese American newspaper and the type of news The Rafu carries.
I certainly hope that in 25 years, The Rafu Shimpo is still here, plugging away. As for me writing this column 25 years from now — don’t ask!
Seattle Society of Seven Dept.: In my Feb. 23 column, I wrote about concert promoter and musician Gerald Ishibashi, who promoted the Society of Seven’s 50th anniversary concert. (Wow — if they can do 50 years, maybe I can, too!)
He recently told me he has a new concert coming in July that the Sansei generation will really love. There will be more on that soon. But in the meantime, Ishibashi will be filling in temporarily for founding member Tony Ruivivar, who’ll be out medical reasons when SoS plays at the Muckleshoot Casino in Washington state next week, April 25-30.
I know we have Rafu Shimpo readers in Washington; if seeing SoS interests you, the best thing to do is visit the following link: http://tinyurl.com/ko7ydjr.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2017 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.