Ever notice the distinctly different ways in which American media covers troubling events involving whites and those in which non-white citizens are featured? Ever wonder why politicians and civic leaders respond with highly-charged condemnation to public disturbances; not all, but some?
If you have not, chances are you are Caucasian. And our public discourse is shaped to protect certain ideas of Caucasian “virtue”, even when unfolding events contradict these ideas. If you are not Caucasian, the likelihood is that you are beyond noticing and long since surpassed wondering. Robert Entman, Professor of Media & Public Affairs at George Washington University, noted the disparities in news coverage and its affects on our ideas about race, particularly in the area of criminal justice. According to Entman,
Media stereotypes consist of recurring messages that associate persons of color with traits, behaviors, and values generally considered undesirable, inferior, or dangerous. In the context of crime coverage, there is considerable evidence that media portray blacks and Latinos as criminal and violent. These images matter because they are a central component in a circular process by which racial and ethnic misunderstanding and antagonism are reproduced, and thus become predictable influences in the criminal-justice process.
What amounts to nominal coverage of lawlessness by whites becomes stern commentary about “law and order” when similar events involve non-whites – especially African Americans. Stories that leave politicians and prosecutors pounding their fists on press conference podiums are not worthy to attract the slightest comments from government officials when Caucasians are at the center of activity.
I became keenly aware of this during my undergraduate days at The Ohio State University, where High Street after a Buckeyes/Wolverines game turned into outright mayhem. And all an accepted annual ritual in Columbus, Ohio.
Take the case of events that occurred last night after the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team suffered a stunning loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in March Madness. Angry mobs of predominantly white fans stormed into the street, hurling objects at police and damaging private property. Police, in full riot armor, were forced to shoot pepper spray and beanbags at the irate bottle-throwing fans. The lawlessness came not as a result of an unjust police shooting, beating, or choking. Not in response to abject poverty conditions facing our nation’s most vulnerable. Not in the aftermath of a fraudulent election. And certainly not prompted by matters of war or drone attacks. But rather, over a basketball game did overwhelmingly white mobs engage in riotous destruction of property.
As for the coverage and morning after condemnation, you the reader, are left to surf the Internet for bold pronouncements and commitments to punish the offenders to the absolute fullest extent of the law. Find stories laced with the colorful language so often used to denigrate blacks and Hispanic-Latinos as a group. Look into the news accounts, not simply for what happened, but more so look for the adjectives and adverbs to describe the crowds and their actions. Find the commentaries that accompany the coverage as is often the case for reporting events where people of color are found. Identity bold declarations about these “out of control” kids and the decline of traditional values.
Prior to publishing this article, I searched. And yes, I found the story at major outlets such as The New York Daily News. I failed, however, to find stories filled with embellishments that create inflated imagery that leads to stereotypes of people of color. The coverage of last night’s riot rightfully guides the readers to the context of a few hundred people, without hyperbolic language that indicts an entire race. Likewise, should coverage of unfortunate events involving African Americans and Hispanic-Latinos avoid unnecessary language that subtly indicts an entire race.
Race Matters presents an ongoing series of articles that underscores issues that lead to racial injustices in America and abroad. The reader is invited to suggest topics and provide participate in conversations. More articles can be found under the Community menu.
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