AAJA Philadelphia demands accountability and transparency from SAG-AFTRA’s Philadelphia Local for allowing a local board member to remain in his position after he posted and repeatedly defended racist imagery. The board member, John Mitchell, only stepped down after his racist post began to draw wider attention — more than a week after SAG-AFTRA acknowledged the issue but failed to take appropriate public action.
Mitchell posted a derogatory, yellowface caricature of President Joe Biden next to the words “Introducing Our 46th President, Sum Dum Fuk,” to his Facebook page on Jan. 25. He repeatedly defended the image after multiple people commented that it was racist. AAJA Philly strongly condemns the post and Mitchell’s assertion that it was merely “satire.”
A brief statement dated Feb. 9 from Philadelphia Local President Sam Clover made a vague reference to complaints about the post and said board members “value diversity and inclusion.” But it did not identify Mitchell, the content of his Facebook post or any consequences he would face. The opaque statement kept SAG-AFTRA Philadelphia members in the dark, and they had to rely on word of mouth to learn the truth.
In fact, it was not until after AAJA Philly and local SAG-AFTRA member Denise Nakano publicized Mitchell’s racist post and questioned the union’s lack of accountability on Feb. 16 — a week after the tepid statement and three weeks after the image was posted — that Mitchell finally resigned from the board.
AAJA Philly includes Asian American radio and television journalists, some of whom are also SAG-AFTRA members. We are calling for transparency and accountability over the handling of this incident.
We expect a union to fight for fair and equal opportunities for all of its members. When a union leader posts and defends this kind of racist content online, whether in a personal capacity or not, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) members and other members of color lose faith in the union’s ability to adequately advocate for them.
This issue is made even more pressing by the recent Los Angeles Times report alleging a pattern of racism, sexism and homophobia at CBS local television stations, including CBS3, where staff are represented by SAG-AFTRA. If a union lets its own board members get away with racism, why shouldn’t we expect that it will let station or network management get away with racism, too?
AAJA Philly is calling for SAG-AFTRA Philadelphia to ensure that its board members do not promote racist vitriol. We urge them to promote diversity, equity and inclusion both among members and on behalf of them. We also hope the local will urgently recognize that it needs to regain the trust of its AAPI members and other members of color. In the meantime, we appreciate that the local board has filled Mitchell’s position with an Asian American member.
AAJA Philly, along with the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, have also sought a meeting with local and national SAG-AFTRA leadership. We hope this will begin productive conversations about how to ensure a more inclusive organization. Our members, who are SAG-AFTRA’s members, deserve nothing short of that.
AAJA Philly board:
Tim Tai, president
Hannah Chinn, secretary
Jess Bond, vice president for student engagement
Bethany Ao, national board representative
*Note: Treasurer Juliana Reyes recused herself from this statement because she has reported on this incident.