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Dear News Media, Stop Using Pictures of Asians in Your Stories About White People Getting Coronavirus

Just, Don't Do It!!!

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 25: A woman, wearing a respiratory mask, walks in the streets on February 25, 2020 in Milan, Italy. Italy is the last country to be hit hard by the virus with 7 dead and more than 283 infected as of today. The spread marks Europe’s biggest outbreak, prompting the Italian Government to issue draconian safety measures. (Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

The national and international picture when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 is constantly evolving. There are, as of this writing, 108 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the US. Six people have died from the disease here, all in Washington state. In Italy, 79 people have died, and there have been deaths in other countries like France and Iran.

The thing these countries and the United States of America have in common: they are not in Asia. The people dying from this disease are of all races across the world. So why are news outlets still using pictures of Asian people in masks in relation to stories about the coronavirus in the US?

Look at this nonsense. A tweet and story from the Wall Street Journal about safe practices while flying … witch a picture of Asian people on a train.

We don’t expect a lot of the NY Post but this is a particularly glaring example of this unfortunate “phenomenon.”

The Hill also used a picture of a man on the Metro in Hong Kong—a completely different part of China than Wuhan!—for a sensationalist tweet and no one was having it.

It’s true: it’s incredibly damaging and dangerous to use these inaccurate pictures, just because the virus was first detected and spread in China. It is now a global issue, with patients and victims of all races and it is ignorant, harmful, and yes, racist to just use pictures of Asians in masks when discussing the epidemic.

As journalists we often have to use the images available to us on sites like Getty or from other sources, and it’s easy to just grab a picture of someone in a mask and post it (yes, we know we’ve done this too), but we need to be more responsible as this crisis grows and shifts, and do our part not to perpetuate harmful prejudices on top of the rising panic about this virus.

Be honest with your reporting and images. It matters. Just today, the LA Times reports that there is immense anti-Asian bigotry growing in America in response to the virus, which is completely unacceptable as well as utterly misguided.

“We’ve also seen a rise in racism toward Asian Americans because the virus is associated with China,” [Senator Dianne Feinstein] said. “This is unconscionable and it’s not the American way. People of all ages, races and ethnicities are susceptible to this disease. Bigotry toward any one group for a virus they have nothing to do with makes no sense.”

This is a global crisis and should be treated as such.

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.