Saturday, September 10, 2005
Is it all about race? I'm not naive. I know that there are people like Louisiana's David Duke and Fallbrook's own Tom Metzger who have a darkness and hatred in their own hearts that makes all skin color pale in comparison.
But are we still at the point that everything is always about race?
I'm not a big fan of the hip-hop scene, but when you look at the fashions nowadays, it's nearly impossible to classify the styles young people are wearing by their race.
Professional sports? Tiger Woods continues to take golf by storm. Donovan McNabb is on the cover of the video game Madden Football 06. When was the last time a white guy was on the cover of an NBA basketball video game? (Larry Bird?)
The most popular daytime talk show for more than a decade has belonged to Oprah Winfrey.
Do individual incidents of racism still occur in America? Certainly.
Is racism systemic in America? Hardly.
Yet, when Hurricane Katrina hit a major city where the majority of the citizens are black (and lots of other cities where they're white). When the local and state governments fail to serve their citizens by not implementing their emergency evacuation plans. When a federal bureaucracy is slow to respond (this is a surprise?). When all these things happen, the professional grievance mongers seek not to unite Americans, but to divide.
Rapper Kanye West gets on TV and tells America that President George W. Bush doesn't care about black people. Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, who has previously called Republicans "evil", says that Bush doesn't care about all Americans.
The mainstream media -- not exactly a hotbed of racism (or conservatism, which many on the left see as one in the same) -- has not only reported these criticisms, but has reacted to them too. The backlash against the media began with the dueling captions which described a black person as a "looter" and a white couple as having "found" food. The charges of racism turned out to have no basis in fact, but I can guarantee you that the media has felt the increased scrutiny.
As lawlessness raged in New Orleans, the images of looting filled television screens and, to a lesser extent, news pages. In a majority black city it should come as little surprise that the majority of the looters were black. A majority of the victims of the hurricane and subsequent flooding were also black -- poor too.
This has presented newspapers (TV media doesn't seem to worry about this quite as much) with a problem. Two of the most longstanding stereotypes of black Americans are that they are poor and more likely to be criminals -- and just about every picture coming out of New Orleans reinforces one or both of those preconceptions.
I've seen firsthand this week the impact these concerns have had on news reporting -- and it's not just one of the few conservatives in the newsroom who has been angered by the conscious effort to shape the coverage at the expense of the truth. It's not a question of if the newspaper is going to print five photos of looting or only one -- at a certain point that too becomes a distortion of the truth -- but whether a good photo is going to be spiked because there may exist some sort of hidden meaning in the image. It becomes the journalistic equivalent of a heckler's veto, only you have the journalists not waiting for the heckler, but inventing a sort of worst-case critic or demogogue and substituting that for their own good judgment.
It's not all about race, and when we buy in to the idea that it somehow is, then we do our readers -- and the truth -- a disservice.