Racial discrimination in the media

SCSU NEWSStaff Editorials

This past week there have been countless photos circulating of white-presenting teenagers holding their hands to the sky. On one, “DON’T,” on the other, “SHOOT.”

Some of us have explicitly heard people joking about the well-known Black Lives Matter saying “Hands up, don’t shoot” in person and have seen more mockery online when the BLM movement was at its peak a few years ago.

It is extremely disappointing and actually devastating that now that the hands are white instead of black or brown the words seem to bother less people. Now that the hands are white, the message is more digestible. Was anyone listening? People of color were dying too. People of color are still dying too.

Parkland’s inclusion of voices from people of color, especially being majorly led by a person who is visibly of color, has helped provide a platform for students who live in areas that experience this regularly. But, it feels like salt in the wound to see these images, and to know the media did not portray them in the same way.

Were these white teenagers met with SWAT teams? Were they met with tear gas and then criticized on media outlets for breaking into McDonalds — not because they wanted to loot, but because they wanted the relief of milk in their eyes, like the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri?

No, they are walking arm in arm with police officers in safely sanctioned designated protest days for the March For Our Lives.

When a white person commits a crime, they are individualized.

We learned about who Adam Lanza was in an in-depth documentary; Austin Rollins, who shot two students in Maryland was called a “lovesick teenager” by the Associated Press; Nikolas Cruz was said to have a “troubled past.”

When a black person commits a crime, it is portrayed as a stain on the black community.

The New York Times described Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was killed in a confrontation with police, as “no angel.” NBC News ran a story about Trayvon Martin stating just one fact: that Martin had been suspended from school three times.

Austin police treated a victim of the recent bombings, Anthony Stephan House, as a suspect — Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Joseph Chacon said, “We can’t rule out that Mr. House didn’t construct this himself and accidentally detonate it.”

A study in Los Angeles found that 37 percent of the suspects portrayed on television news stories about crime were black, but blacks only made up 21 percent of those arrested in the city, according to The Sentencing Project. It is numbers like these that show a bias in the news media in that particular instance.

In the Slate article, “Racial Blindness: Violent murders in Texas and Maryland show how white killers receive more sympathy than black victims” Jamelle Bouie wrote, “To be white, male, and suspected of a serious crime is, in the eyes of police and much of the media, to still be a full individual entitled to respect and dignity.”

Bouie goes on to write that to be black, or undocumented or Muslim, “is to lose that nuance, even if you’re the victim.”

As journalists, how do we address issues such as these? This problem is integral to ensuring that the public trusts us. They are multi-faceted, sensitive and should be approached in a place from understanding which likely comes from a journalist who is a person of color or is experienced in these rough waters.

In the Asian American Journalist’s Association’s Voices program study “Missed deadline: the delayed promise of newsroom diversity,” student reporters analyzed several news organizations to see how closely they reflection the demographics of the nation. Thirty-one percent of the Washington Post’s newsrooms is minorities; 54 percent of the people in the Washington metropolitan area are minorities. The New York Times newsroom is 22 percent minorities; the New York-Newark-Jersey metro area is 53 percent minorities.

Journalists need to follow their own beliefs before their institution’s party line, difficult as it may be. The rhetoric of describing a white perpetrator of violence as soft-spoken, quitet, polite is deeply problematic, especially when a man like Michael Brown is described by the New York Times as “no angel.” Language such as this is inherently violent.

The news media consistently portrayed black families and individuals as criminal, according to a 2017 study commissioned by the organization Color of Change. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the study that it is a “broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others;” that is a part of this problem.

The news media and journalists should not seek to sway public opinion in one direction or another, they must simply seek the truth and report it. This means inclusive and realistic news coverage that tells all sides and be as impartial as possible. The truth will speak for itself. If citizens want to seek out advocacy journalism or opinions, they are free to do so but when they cannot tell the difference between a straight news piece and something else that is an injustice.

Collier Meyerson wrote for Columbia Journalism Review, “Not only do our racial identities as reporters matter, but so does our understanding of how race functions in the United States. It is everywhere, and in everything. Race is as much a part of our lives as breathing, and its consideration must be integral to our reporting.”

This consideration takes time and effort on the part of all journalists. It requires reading and knowledge on America’s racial history, and knowing the responsibility we have. Putting in the extra work as journalists and even those who want to make change on their own using social media and political platforms must know and be sensitive to the fact that they are dealing with something very serious.

Words are powerful. Journalists know that and must recognize the duty that they have to serve the public to expose injustices and be authentic.


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