Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Media Racism Continues Unabated

One would think that recent events would make the press more sensitive to the way they handle race and racism in their reporting. One would be wrong, at least among some more local reporters. One in particular, a columnist for Charleston’s the Daily Mail named Don Surber, decided to offer his perspective on the Mike Brown slaying: “This summer I had an epiphany as I watched packs of racists riot in Ferguson, Missouri, in support of a gigantic thug who was higher than a kite when he attacked Ferguson Police Department Officer Darren Wilson, who unfortunately had to put this animal down.”

Humans are, of course, animals, as Nietzsche reminded us, but connotation matters and the racist coding is quite clear here. After being criticized for his words, he offered the following update: “I made a factual error. Michael Brown is not an animal but a man. Big. Brutal. High. His death was justifiable homicide and not a putting down.” The problems with this statement? Well, let’s see – “Big. Brutal. High.” That describes almost every player in the NFL, black or white. So anyone who mistakenly or purposefully kills any of them should be exonerated for “justifiable homicide?”

In a more general sense, nobody besides the officer knows for sure what happened on that fateful day. What we do know with certainty is that a young man of color without a gun was shot by an officer with a gun, the latest in a long list of such occurrences over the past three decades. To make light of the historical context surrounding this case is to do a disservice to the public trying to make sense of its larger significance. Of course, taking an ahistorical perspective on an event while ignoring any deeper social critique is the norm for the media, so I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.

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