Over the past decade, a resurgence of racism in the United States has been stimulated relentlessly by the American press (print and broadcast) through its selected depiction of Black Americans in its coverage of news events.
Racism in America is like an ulcer that bleeds periodically. Under favorable conditions, the ulcer is dormant and scab will form and shut off the bleeding. One may be lulled Into thinking the ulcer may be healing; yet, under hostile conditions, the bleeding may become so profuse that it is a threat to the entire body.
In America, the ulcer of racism starts to bleed when the scab is picked off by the media. The media has arrogantly played casting director in America by assigning particular social roles to particular people — roles based on race and/or ethnicity, and socio-economic economic status. When members of racial or ethnic groups do not follow the rules or play the role according to the rules white American society, they are held up to intensive, negative scrutiny.
For example, Black Americans are too often portrayed as abusers of the welfare system, producers of fatherless children and as criminals. When a suspect is Black, there is nearly always a photograph available. In contrast, there is no end to the documentaries and news features that show how well immigrant groups have fared in this country.
Race and Ethnicity
I define racism as an invalidation of a people because of their apparent membership in a particular race. Scientists define race as a gene pool. The term race is of limited Value in an America where 85 percent or more of the total population is an admixture of the races. Race is useful primarily in a strictly medical context where matching of specific genetic characteristics is important.
Conversely, ethnicity can be a useful concept because it refers to a sense of common origins, history, religion and languages which are the byproducts of human interaction. The media has added to the confusion about the terms “race” and “ethnicity” by using them interchangeably. Ethnicity and race are not synonymous concepts. An ethnic group may be — and is — more than likely composed of people of more than one race.
I would ask, “So what if Black Americans do not perceive or interpret some events through the same perceptual prism that shades the eyes of white America?” Is our perception automatically less accurate than that of other racial or ethnic groups in the country? Typically, people perceive in light of a sense of belonging, or membership in, a core referent group. Moreover, that referent group identity is largely shaped and colored (no pun intended!) by the way in which the group has been, and continues to be, “treated” by the larger society when that referent is in the numeric minority.
I encourage a broader discussion between scholars in the academies and representatives of professional media organizations on the media’s declining (if not altogether absent) professional and ethical standards. I think we need a focused discourse on the media’s collective behavior — rather than continuing to allow its representatives to dodge behind the First and Fourth amendments in public forums.
It is not enough to allow the media to pat themselves on the back for being “liberal” as some critics claim. What those critics call liberal may not be liberal at all, but simply another distorting smoke screen. Where are the guidelines for the media? Who are the “experts” on particular issues and how do we know they are experts? Are experts only white people? How are decisions reached on coverage of national and international political events? When is emotionalism appropriate in covering news events?
The print and electronic media are a privately owned, commercial entity in America and should have the light of intensive scrutiny shone on it by its consumers.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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