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Posts Tagged ‘Black’


Trayvon Martin Shooting Death: Evaluating and Improving Crime Reporting

Photo Courtesy: Paul Weiskel

Once again we find ourselves caught short. Why did it take news media across the country a couple of weeks to notice that a black teenager had been shot by a vigilante in a gated community? In our sometimes clumsy efforts to catch up (see NBC’s hideous editing error), some accuse the media of hyping the racial element.

That’s absurd, and here’s why. When three-quarters of black people surveyed consider racial bias a factor in the killing and in the non-arrest of the shooter, you’d better believe race is important to this story. It’s no secret that black parents fear for their children, knowing that suspicion routinely follows young males with black skin, wherever they are.  In a study of unconscious racial reactions, experimental psychologists found people of all backgrounds more likely to “see” a weapon in a black person’s hand when it’s actually a harmless object like a can of soda.

Distressingly, our own work is part of the reason why.  Decades ago, communication theorist George Gerbner first described the “Mean World Syndrome.” In his studies, he discovered that people exposed to heavy doses of violence on television developed an overblown sense of danger and fear about the world around them. Despite our best intentions, we’re part of that picture.

In the crime stories so favored by the local news, multiple studies have found that race plays a predictable but inaccurate role. White people disproportionately play the victim. People with darker skin disproportionately flash on the screen as suspects. News audiences have become so conditioned that even when no suspect is shown at all, viewers assume one — and he is black.

In one influential study, Frank Gilliam of UCLA and Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University altered the suspect’s race in crime news clips that they showed to about 2,300 participants. In the test group whose clip included no suspect at all, 44 percent recalled seeing a black perpetrator. Regular news watching also increased audiences’ support for punitive remedies to crime.

Separately, researcher Travis Dixon, now also at UCLA, found that African Americans are consistently overrepresented as perpetrators in local crime news. Not surprisingly, he also found that regular crime news watchers tended to perceive black people as violent.

Photo Courtesy: Paul Weiskel

In this moment, it’s important for the news media to step up to our responsibility to cover and spur conversation about America’s racial climate. Let’s also use this moment to consider hard questions about how we help to create it.

Digging Deeper into a Story

Some things you can do, based on experimental psychology research and other sources:

  • Avoid snap judgments in your reporting; that’s when reactive biases are most likely to emerge.
  • Form anti-bias strategies, like consciously pursuing stories about young African American men who are heroes or protectors of safety.
  • Evaluate crime stories by the level of community impact, and place them in social context of root causes and potential solutions.
  • Cross-check victim/perpetrator ratios by race within your own news reports. Do they reflect actual police statistics?
  • Check your sources. Are you including perspectives across the fault lines of race, gender and age? Who is the affected community? Is there more than one?

Sally Lehrman is a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. She holds Santa Clara University’s Knight Ridder — San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest. Sally is also an author and independent journalist who specializes in covering identity, race relations and gender within the context of medicine and science.

Diversity in the US Census is important

Currently, there are 29 racial or ethnic designations on the U.S. Census form. I have to ask “Why only 29?” And being from a community excluded from the Census, I have to ask again, “Why even have that designation if you can’t include everyone?”

Here’s the list:

White; Hispanic (listed five different ways) Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin, Mexican American, Chicano, (What country does Chicano come from?), Black (listed three different ways) Black, African American, Negro, American Indian or Alaskan Native (they get space to write in their “Tribe”), Asians and listed as Asian, Asian Indian, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Korean, Guamanian or Chamorro, Filipino, Vietnamese, Samoan and “Other Asian” such as Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, and Cambodian. And finally, they have Pacific Islander, Fijian, Tongan.

47 actual words describing ethnicity and race and 313 characters. And they can’t add one more word or 4 more characters to the list.

For the past three decades, American Arabs have been asked by the Federal Government and urged by their leadership (many funded by the U.S. Census through grants and full time jobs) to ignore their exclusion from the list and instead write their name “Arab” on the “Other” line at the bottom of the list.

I think it is wrong. I think diversity loses it’s significance when it is narrowly defined and some ethnicities are excluded for, in my opinion, political reasons.

The whole point of including identities is to encourage individuals to participate and identify themselves. Including their names on the Census form is a form of respect and recognition that encourages their participation. It holds precisely true to then argue that excluding a group from the form discourages that participation. If they are on there, they will participate more. If they are not on there they will, therefore, not participate more.

American Arabs (and Muslims, a religious designation often wrongly interchanged by the mainstream media to designate the larger racial or ethnic group of Arabs), have been center stage in an international drama over war, conflict, terrorism and discrimination. Everyday the issue of Arabs and Muslims is raised and yet society and the mainstream media feel comfortable to argue a dichotomy in conflicting reasoning that 1) Arabs are a potential national threat and therefore should be profiled (counted in a negative manner) and 2) Arabs are “Caucasian” or White and therefore should not be counted in a positive way.

What is a a positive way? Well, counting Arabs officially, would open the door to a vast amount of racial and ethnic protections.

In communities across the country, police departments are required to note the race or ethnicity of motorists that they stop for alleged traffic violations and ticketing. Why? Because communities want to know if certain ethnic groups are being targeted for racial and discriminatory reasons.

Arabs are stopped on a huge scale — American Arab communities suspect — and they are the victims of ongoing discrimination. But not being “recognized” officially by the Federal Government means they are not counted and are blended in to the larger identity of White. The fact is in many communities, racism against Arabs is rampant but we don’t have a way to measure that because the mechanisms for measuring that kind of bigotry by government agencies, including starting with the U.S. Census, does not exist.

American Arab journalists have been lobbying UNITY: Journalists of Color for official recognition, but our requests have been rejected as soundly and as disrespectfully as the White mainstream media has long fought opening the doors of the Fourth Estate to the inclusion of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

That needs to change. American Arabs need to stand up and protest and say that the process of excluding an ethnic and racial group from the U.S. Census for the past three decades (at least since 1980 when American Arabs were first pushed to “write in” their race “Arab”) must end. The mainstream media which claims to care about issues of diversity needs to also take a second look at the selfishness of the diversity process so far. Just having “their” representatives at the mainstream news media table is not the proper response for the need for diversity in the media. It is not “true diversity” if the groups represented in UNITY and on the US Census are only certain groups represented and others are excluded. We do not have true diversity.

— Ray Hanania

www.RadioChicagoland.com

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