Scrutinizing the media’s treatment of race

Dear Dad,

Happy MLK Day!

I’ve been reading a book on gender discrimination in sports lately, and one of the things that struck me about it was the declaration that social scientists strive to “make the familiar strange,” that is, make us question the things we take for granted, things that often maintain systems of inequality.

So today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I’d like to talk about media treatment of race.

We live in a country in which media narrative reinforces that some people are more innocent than others, or that some lives are more valuable then others. For instance, comparison of treatment of black victims versus white suspects and murderers shows that white people are treated sympathetically, hailed as “brilliant” or “polite.”


Black people who have been killed, on the other hand, have any prior run-ins with the law dragged out, as if they deserved it. Trayvon Martin’s school suspensions were even under scrutiny.


Similarly, a recent bombing outside an NAACP office in Colorado Springs went almost unreported by the media until Twitter brought it to attention. Charlie Hebdo was grabbing all the headlines, while a terrorist attack on US soil that mercifully didn’t hurt anyone goes unnoticed. But with the racial tension in the country right now, this story should have been reported.

Days after the Paris massacre, Boko Haram killed 2,000 people in Nigeria, destroying an entire village, and yet newspapers are still running in-depth profiles of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists on their front page and relegating Africa to a small spot inside.

It’s important to be aware of world events, and just as important to be aware of which events the media is choosing to focus on, Dad. Coverage sends a message about whose lives matter most, and that message is unmistakably that white lives and US- and Eurocentric stories matter more than other narratives.

I’m thankful that in this age, we have a tool that allows us to connect directly to others and reach out and be more fully informed and critical of the stories we read. And I’m hoping a critical readership can help elevate the state of the news.


P.S. I’m just one white woman trying to raise awareness. For a great resource on race and the media, check out This Week in Blackness.


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