On 1 January, Michelle Li, who works for KSDK in St Louis, shared what she’d eaten on the first day of the year during a segment about commonly eaten New Year’s foods.
After listing greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread and pork as popular dishes, Li concluded the segment explaining that she ate dumpling soup because “that’s what a lot of Korean people do”.
The anchor’s comment prompted praise from some viewers, with one person writing: “Thank you for mentioning Asian New Year’s traditions. We need to include more discussions that include diverse traditions because youth do ‘see you.’”
However, following the segment, Li shared audio of a phone call from a viewer who criticised her for sharing the details about her own New Year’s Day traditions and claimed that it was not “appropriate”.
The clip, which shows Li reacting to the voicemail, began with the viewer revealing that she was calling because the outlet’s “Asian anchor mentioned something about being Asian and Asian people eat dumplings on New Year’s Day” during the evening news.
“I kind of take offense to that because what if one of your white anchors said: ‘Well, white people eat this on New Year’s Day,’” the anonymous individual continued, adding that she doesn’t think it was “appropriate” for Li to share the information.
The woman then went on to claim that Li was being “very Asian,” before stating that the news anchor can “keep her Korean to herself”.
I’d love to say something back. pic.twitter.com/zrXgiwQbR9
— Michelle (@MichelleLiTV) January 2, 2022
“Alright, sorry. Was annoying,” the woman concluded the voicemail. “Because if a white person would say that, they would get fired.”
On Twitter, where the clip has been viewed more than 3.2m times, Li captioned it: “I’d love to say something back.”
The video has prompted an outpouring of supportive comments on social media, where viewers have taken the opportunity to condemn the “racist” voicemail and to share their support for Li by using the hashtag #VeryAsian, which began trending on Twitter shortly after.
“Imagine being offended because someone decided to celebrate a holiday their own way with their own traditions. #VeryAsian and proud,” one person tweeted.
Another said: “This is disgusting. And she’s all ‘yeah sorry about my racism’ at the end. I cannot.”
— Nikki Muehlhausen (@NikkiKARE11) January 3, 2022
— Lily Zhao (@LilySZhao) January 2, 2022
Boston mayor Michelle Wu also responded to the video on Twitter, where she wrote: “We had dumplings for New Year’s too! Proud to be#VeryAsian,” while fellow news anchor Sharon Yoo joked: “Yo what if I told her we eat dumplings on regular days too.”
— Michelle Wu 吳弭 (@wutrain) January 2, 2022
As for what Li would say to the woman if given the opportunity to confront her, she told a person who asked that she would tell the woman: “Thank you for motivating me to be #ExtraAsian.”
The call also prompted Li to embrace the viewer’s description of her as “very Asian,” as the anchor has since updated her Twitter profile to read: “VERY ASIAN.”
In another tweet, Li shared her gratitude for all the support, writing: “2022 is the year to be VeryAsian - in our mixed house, we like to say: ‘We all Asian!’
“Send noods. Keep the dumplings on the stove. Thank you for the love, let’s make something out of it. Now I’m thinking…”
2022 is the year to be #veryasian -- in our mixed house, we like to say, "We all Asian!"
Send noods. Keep the dumplings on the stove.
Thank you for the love, let's make something out of it. Now I'm thinking... pic.twitter.com/gJIstEroJh
— Michelle (@MichelleLiTV) January 2, 2022
In a separate statement, KSDK expressed its support for its anchor, with the news station stating in a story written by Li about the incident: “KSDK fully supports our excellent award-winning anchor/reporter Michelle Li. A viewer advised Michelle to ‘keep her Korean to herself’ when Michelle ad libbed during a newscast about the Korean tradition of eating dumpling soup for good luck on New Year’s Day. At KSDK, we embrace diversity in the people we hire, the stories we tell, and our local community. We will continue supporting Michelle and celebrating diversity and inclusion.”
The caller left a message saying, "She needs to keep her Korean to herself." https://t.co/jvjkxfibZ1
— KSDK News (@ksdknews) January 2, 2022
The Independent has contacted Li for comment.