Koenig’s attempt to slot Adnan Syed into a classic racialized trope is indicative of how she treats her subjects’ racial and ethnic identities. As Jay Caspian Kang has pointed out at The Awl, Serial suffers from what Kang calls the “definition of white privilege in journalism” — a white interpreter “stomping through communities that she does not understand” and presenting her simplistic conclusions as journalistic truth. Koenig otherizes and fetishizes immigrant cultures while failing to draw any distinctions between Hae’s experience as a first-generation Korean immigrant and Adnan’s second-generation life in a Pakistani-American family. For many people of color, I imagine listening to Koenig talk about what it means to have “immigrant parents” is akin to the experience of the Chinese students in the audience when Mark Zuckerberg spoke Mandarin for 30 minutes last month. It’s nice that you made the effort, but that doesn’t mean you’re making any sense.
I do think it’s obvious that Adnan was convicted without sufficient evidence, and I hope that Koenig’s coverage of his case results in something closer to justice. But Serial is as much about the construction of a narrative as it is about Hae, Adnan, and Jay, and the narrative Koenig is building is a harmful one. By flattening Hae and Adnan into stereotypical model minorities, and by using Jay as their “thuggish” black foil, Serial is feeding its listeners a steady dose of racist tropes. When aiming for Shakespeare, it’s best to avoid the vile stereotypes of The Merchant of Venice. Everyone involved in this story deserves better.
One other paragraph that I think is important:
The problem with the model minority myth — besides the fact that it stereotypes and dehumanizes millions of people — is that by its very nature it requires a “bad” minority to balance the scales. Asians in the U.S. didn’t go from being “The Heathen Chinese” to “The Asian-American Whiz Kids” because white Americans suddenly realized we were good at math. Instead, championing Asian-Americans (including South Asians like Adnan) has been a useful way to denigrate black Americans and deny the continuing existence and impact of racism. If Asians can succeed, the myth’s champions insist, that proves racism is over and black people are responsible for their own failure to thrive. It’s an insidious and dismayingly persistent narrative, one that remains a linchpin of ongoing anti-black racism among whites and non-black people of color.