The Cherry Creek School District and the Asian Chamber of Commerce are calling for an apology from The Villager newspaper in Greenwood Village after it published an April Fools’ Day story that played on racist stereotypes of Chinese people.
The article, published on April 1 under the headline “America’s Largest Amusement Park Heads to Greenwood Village,” appears to be an attempt at satire — and is being widely condemned.
The article makes jokes about Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected, uses Asian stereotypes such as chopsticks, and features jokes about Chinese people overrunning the school district and housing market. It also makes jokes about gun violence.
The article, written under the byline “Loof Lirpa,” which is April Fool spelled backward, includes fake quotes from local public officials, although with altered name spellings.
Chris Smith, the incoming Cherry Creek Schools superintendent, was one of those quoted, and in a statement sent to district families on Thursday night wrote, “The racist and xenophobic language used in this article is harmful to the Asian American community and it is offensive to all of us. In Cherry Creek Schools, I am committed to continuing and expanding our racial equity work and ensuring that our schools are places where all students feel valued, respected and safe. It is incumbent on all of us to stand up and say something when we see discrimination or racism in our community. I call on the Villager to reflect on its article and issue an apology to the community for printing it.”
The school district’s letter to students and parents was signed by retiring Superintendent Scott Siegfried, who noted that just a couple of weeks ago his weekly newsletter addressed discrimination and harassment toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Siegfried condemned the article and also demanded an apology from the newspaper.
Susan Sweeney Lanam, who is listed as the paper’s creative marketing director but said she wasn’t a spokesperson for the newspaper, emailed a statement to The Denver Post that said, “The Villager Newspaper’s April Fool’s spoof article published on April 1st with a winking eye emoji at the end and April Fools spelled backwards as the writer was by no means intended to insult or offend anyone, especially the Asian community.”
The email noted past articles that have featured Asian residents and business owners and concluded by saying,”The Villager will continue to support all ethnicities. In light of recent events and attacks on Asians, the paper sincerely regrets any insensitivities in the April Fools spoof.”
Harry Budisidharta, executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center in Aurora, said the article is racist and not funny.
“These are exactly the kind of words that have been used by elected officials and public figures to dehumanize the Asian community throughout the country,” he said.
The article was published 16 days after shootings outside Atlanta-area spas, where six of the eight people killed were Asian. People of Asian descent who live in the United States have reported increased attacks since the novel coronavirus caused a global pandemic and blame the rise on former President Trump, who referred to it as the “Chinese virus” and with other derogatory terms.
Leaders in Colorado’s Asian community say they plan to lead boycotts of the newspaper and will call on advertisers to withdraw support. Fran Campbell, president and chief executive officer of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, said no one has been able to get in touch with the Villager’s editor and publisher.
“We are demanding an apology to the Asian community,” Campbell said “We strongly suggest diversity training and hiring.”
Doug Tisdale, who represents Greenwood Village on the RTD board of directors and who also had a fake quote attributed to him, said he will take up the story with RTD staff and discuss how the board will respond.
“I was surprised by the article and surprised to see my altered name — Tisdilly, a dilly of a name,” he said. “I was certainly unaware of the piece and I didn’t realize they were going to write it.”
But he did not immediately condemn the article or demand an apology.
“I think the Villager is a fine newspaper and certainly attempts of humor that might cause offense to people during troubling times is something that should be considered very closely,” he said.
The practice of posting April Fools’ Day stories in newspapers and on news websites is not supported by journalism ethics experts, including the Society of Professional Journalists.
“Not only does this article provide completely fabricated information that could easily be confused as truth, it contains racist stereotypes about a population that has been subject to a wave of hate crimes over the past year,” said Danielle McLean, chair of SPJ’s ethics committee. “According to SPJ’s Code of Ethics, journalists have a responsibility to label advocacy and commentary, avoid stereotyping, never deliberately distort facts and minimize harm. This article, satire or not, failed in all of those respects.”
In 2008, a column published by the University of Colorado Boulder’s student newspaper used similar racist stereotypes against Asians, leading to protests that ultimately led the university to separate itself from the student publication, which became known as the CU Independent. That column, and the story published in the Villager, are examples of poor judgment and racist sentiments in the name of journalism, said Gil Asakawa, a journalist and former CU Independent adviser.
“Asians by and large have been invisible in mainstream media unless something happens,” Asakawa said. “The fact this kind of thing can happen tells me there’s still a lot work to do.”
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