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Posts Tagged ‘media’

In response to Katt Williams’ recent anti-Mexican, anti-Latino “comedic” tirade, Colorlines has posted a great roundup of five comedians of color whose commentary on race is more constructive – including one of my long-time favorite comedians, Wanda Sykes, and a new favorite of mine, Elon James White of the smart and hilarious Blacking it Up podcast (which you should all check out!). I’ve posted the clips Colorlines shared from Sykes and Elon James below; the latter has some swearing in it, so probably NSFW.

Wanda Sykes on the i-word:

Elon James White on what to do if you’re stopped by the cops or ICE.

 

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I was planning on posting about my frustration over the response to Dr. Laura’s recent racist rant, but then I saw that Jamelle Boiue at The American Prospect had already said much of what I was thinking on the topic.

That said, of everything in that exchange, Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word was the least offensive — and least racist — element; quoting racial slurs isn’t cool — they’re still racial slurs, with all the historical baggage that includes — but you can imagine scenarios where quoting a racial slur is appropriate to the conversation.

In actuality, it’s the rest of her rant that drips with racial animus. To recap: Dr. Laura immediately dismisses her caller’s problems, uses a racist joke to prove her non-racism, insists that black people voted for Obama over nothing but racial solidarity (as if pre-Obama, African Americans never voted for Democrats), strongly resents the fact that “black guys” can use the N-word but she can’t, and declares that “if you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry outside of your race.” Dr. Laura isn’t known for her sensitivity, but this is an impressive display of raw racial resentment.

I don’t know how common a view this is, but I tend to think the pearl-clutching over people using the n-word is largely a distraction from meaningful and productive conversations about race.  Don’t get me wrong – I would be pissed as hell if a white person called me a nigger to my face (something I’m grateful to say I’ve never experienced).  I don’t think there’s any reason in the world for a non-black person to use the word unless they are quoting – and even then it can be highly questionable.

But there’s something about our response to a public figure saying the word that disturbs me.  It seems as though whether or not someone uses or has used “nigger” has become a lazy shorthand for whether or not someone is a racist, or has racist views, or would act on racist views.  I’m particularly concerned by the subtext of conversations on this topic that suggest that a person doesn’t have racist views so long as they never use “the n-word” or other racial slurs.

There’s no question that Dr. Laura’s use of the word was racist.  But I find everything ELSE she said in her rant much more problematic and offensive than her use of the word nigger – and much more disturbing because millions of Americans share these views about black people.  And I suspect that the national and media conversation will focus far more on the fact that Dr. Laura said nigger 11 times than on having an honest discussion of the implications of her comments.  We live in a world where the same people who act utterly aghast at hearing the word ‘nigger’ are completely comfortable discussing the idea, and even assuming, that the vast majority of black Americans who voted for President Obama did so only because he’s black.  We live in a world where non-black Americans who would never dream of using the word nigger are nevertheless comfortable telling their black coworkers, neighbors, and friends that their offense at racist jokes or questions is merely oversensitivity or lack of humor.

These attitudes are racist and privileged, period.  But instead of having a candid discussion in which the views of African Americans on these much more subtle expressions of racism are taken seriously, we instead engage in this cyclic obsession with the latest blatant and outrageous manifestation of racism.  The  current offender is turned into a national scapegoat, someone who makes us feel good how we’re not racist like them, and whom we can loudly villify as a demonstration to ourselves and others that we abhor racism.  Frankly, it’s pathetic.

The obsession with “the n-word” disturbs me because it implies that the hard work of anti-racism – the painful process of examining one’s own privilege and prejudice, the difficult work of learning about and fighting institutional racism and rejecting privilege, can be reduced to whether we use a certain word or not.

I suppose it’s obvious from the above that I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to say “nigger.”  To be quite honest, using “the n-word” strikes me as arbitrary and a bit immature.  We all know what’s being said, but seem to think there’s some higher virtue in not saying that particular word (I’ve never understood why, say, slurs against Hispanics are fair game on television, but the word nigger is bleeped out or bowlderized).  There’s nothing particularly anti-racist about never using the word nigger.  And whether or not it’s wrong to use it, in my opinion, really depends on the context, the speaker, the purpose, and the consideration taken for how the use of the word will affect African Americans hearing it (Dr. Laura fails on at least the last two counts, if not all of them).

And personally, I think it would be a huge mistake to eradicate ‘nigger’ entirely from public use.  We need to remember how it was used to demean and dehumanize black people, how it was used in concert with staggering violence to terrorize black communities.  Calling it “the n-word,” to my mind, erases this history and allows people to pretend the word doesn’t have the force and the meaning it does.

So what do you guys think?  Is “the n-word” discussion a distraction?  Is it better to use “the n-word” or are there contexts where the use of “nigger” is appropriate or even necessary?

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Lou Dobbs has resigned from CNN.

“Lou Dobbs, more than any other media personality, is responsible for spreading myths and misinformation about immigrants and Latinos.”

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This post originally appeared on Moms in the Lobby.  Reposted here with permission.

Newsweek recently featured a web exclusive on How the Media Treat Murder. The article’s focus is on the underreported story of a possible serial killer in the small town of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Ten women have been found slain or have been declared missing in Rocky Mount, N.C., in recent years. But the rest of the country hasn’t heard about a possible serial killer stalking the young women in this Southern town of 60,000. The latest victim, Elizabeth Jane Smallwood, was identified on Oct. 12. Why have the Rocky Mount homicides been largely ignored?

“When you think about the famous missing-person cases over the last few years it’s Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, and Laci Peterson,” notes Sam Sommers, associate professor of psychology at Tufts University. All these women had a few things in common—they were white, educated, and came from middle-class families. The victims in Rocky Mount—which residents describe as a “typical Southern town,” and is about 40 percent white and more than 50 percent black—were different. They were all African-American, many were poor, and some had criminal histories including drug abuse and prostitution.

Unfortunately, this level of blindness is an all-too-common characteristic of the media when it comes to crimes against people of color. The article goes on to suggest that national media may be the worst about selecting for race when reporting on crime:

‘Nancy Grace called and wanted to have some of us on her show, but before it aired there was a white woman from Georgia that went missing. The Nancy Grace show was canceled,’ [city-council member and president of the local NAACP chapter, Andre] Knight says. HLN network, which broadcasts Nancy Grace, confirmed that Knight was booked for the show, which was ultimately canceled to profile the disappearance of Kristi Cornwell, a white woman from Blairsville, Ga., who went missing during an evening walk. Representatives from Nancy Grace told NEWSWEEK, ‘The booking was changed due to news that was breaking that day,’ and emphasized the change had nothing to do with the race of the victim. On Aug. 12, Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees covered the story.

I’m no fan of Nancy Grace and this story is partly why. Despite her best attempts to portray what she does as an important service for the social good, her tactics and her focus on certain sensationalized cases suggest she’s mostly out for attention (and perhaps media martyrdom, swoon).

Many times I’ve wondered where are all the missing black kids? or Latino kids? or Asian kids (up until and perhaps beyond the case of Annie Le)? A trip to the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shows racially-proportional and accurate alerts to the abductions and disappearances of our nation’s children. According to studies done by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Department of Justice, non-white children make up 42% of the total number of missing children, while they only comprise 36% of the U.S. population. Yet we rarely see these kids’ cases on the national news.

Much of this has to do with the media’s desire to present a compelling narrative, rather than an accurate report of crime incidents in the community. One MSNBC reporter, Alex Johnson, writing on the subject calls this “Catnip for TV types.” Johnson cites Roy Peter Clark, vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., talking about the way journalists choose a story:

‘The example of a bad murder would be the murder of an African-American person from a poor neighborhood,’ he said. ‘The definition of a good murder is a socialite killed by her jealous husband, the debutante murdered by her angry boyfriend.’When it comes to police stories, Clark said, there is ‘this perverted, racist view of the world. White is good; black is bad. Blonde is good; dark is bad. Young is good; old is bad. And I think we can find versions of this story going back to the tabloid wars of more than a hundred years ago.’

Even more frightening is what advocates on the ground experience trying to get media attention for the sake of finding victims or delivering justice for their families:

‘We can’t get a young girl who may be suffering substance abuse and may be prostituting on the national news because they feel she’s not worth the time,’ said Kym Pasqualini, president of the National Center for Missing Adults in Phoenix. ‘But these individuals are no less important to their families, and their families are entitled to the same help’ in getting their cases before the public. ‘We have found that it’s far easier for our agency to obtain national coverage on an individual who society, I think, identifies with,’ she said.

While all of this is alarming and deeply disturbing, it isn’t all that unexpected. When one considers that our justice system has its own virulent strains of prejudice and inherent inconsistencies, it’s not terribly off-base that elements of the media covering crime would more than mirror, even magnify, the problem. Most executions (80%) are carried out against defendants with white victims, even though half of all homicide victims are black. Juries, studies show, are more likely to exact the ultimate penalty against a defendant whose victim is white.

These crimes, particularly the crimes against children, are terrifying realities for any mom. I cannot imagine the pain of a mother denied justice not only by the actual justice system, but again by members of the media who are more intent on selling a story to white America than on reporting the important details about a crime to all of us in this country.

It’s tragic enough when our children are lost. That tragedy is only compounded when our compassion and our attention is likewise missing.

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