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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Against Oppression Olympics: Prioritizing Coalitional Solidarity in News Coverage of Atrocities

Emergency vehicles outside a massage facility in Atlanta after mass shootings in April 2021

Emergency vehicles outside a massage facility in Atlanta after mass shootings in April 2021

Anita Varma, PhD

Mike Stewart/Associated Press

Anita Varma (@anitawrites) is the assistant director of Journalism & Media Ethics as well as Social Sector Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. She leads the Solidarity Journalism Initiative. Views are her own.


On March 16, a mass shooting in Atlanta that took the lives of six Asian American women prompted many national news outlets to focus on AAPI communities—for a moment. By March 22, Boulder became the lead story. On March 29, coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial began. Immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border was in the spotlight the week of April 5. On April 11, Daunte Wright was killed by police, which brought a resurging focus on Black Lives Matter protests.

Many journalists and editors would push back against the claim that there is a single lead story at any time, and may retort that this is far removed from how much coverage is actually produced across a range of areas.

Ongoing coverage of these issues does exist (sometimes)—if you seek it out intentionally and specifically. Yet audiences rarely report seeing and absorbing this wide range that journalists often point to and say should satisfy public needs just fine.

Part of the problem is that news distribution is not primarily in news organizations’ hands. Social media platforms double as news distribution platforms for millions of people, and regularly bring one issue to the forefront in the form of trending topics, push notifications, and featured “Moments.” These platforms are outside of news organizations’ direct control, and may not surface the stories that represent a wider breadth of issues than today’s lead tragedy.

There is also, however, still a persistent problem with how many stories (written by journalists and disseminated by news outlets) are framed as “isolated incidents” and ignore the shared plight of marginalized communities across Census categories.

It might be tempting to argue that anti-Asian racism is a story being left by the wayside in news organizations and social media platforms alike, despite AAPI communities and AAPI journalists’ best efforts to continue reporting. Instead of competing for attention, though, we need narratives aligned with coalitional solidarity that more accurately accounts for all the groups that are living in acute fear right now.

As Kayla Hui argued in a recent piece for Prism, a “scarcity mindset underpins the lie that we should fight solely for Asian liberation at the expense of others, and ignores an existing history of alliance and successful collaboration between Asian Americans and Black and brown communities.”

Hui makes a compelling call for coalitional solidarity—which does not mean erasing one community in favor of another. Instead, coalitional solidarity means standing together based on our collective experiences of violence and fear—and our shared need for these conditions to end. Hui explains, with admirable clarity, “We must organize together, mobilize together, and stand alongside one another in all spaces, and not just in performative ways.”

Tensions are high and rising in this country, as are the growing possibilities for genuine coalitional solidarity that, in contrast to “oppression Olympics,” would emphasize the ways too many of us live in fear right now—as well as the reality that we are never resigned to this fear becoming our fate. 

Apr 22, 2021