Thursday, January 8, 2009

Newspaper Coverage of Melee Trite and Predictable

I love how standardized media coverage of any race-related melee has become.

After the unprovoked shooting of unarmed citizen Oscar Grant by a BART police officer on a Bay Area Rapid Transit subway platform led to no serious investigatory progress in six days, a few dozen people at a protest became frustrated and decided to randomly misdirect their anger by smashing cars and storefronts.

Nothing new there, but look at the standard racialized potrayal by the San Francisco Chronicle, which decided to point out that some of the vandalized businesses were black-owned. Post-April 29, 1992 (if not back to racial uprisings in the 60s), it has been standard practice for media outlets to mindlessly point out the racial background of the owners of any businesses that are burned, in any uprising in reaction to the murder of a black person. Why? Does this imply that if the business was owned by a non-black person that such burning was somehow more justified? Or that black business owners are exempt from the rage of the dispossessed? The key word, of course, being "dispossessed". The way the media routinely presents these matters as if all black people should feel a sense of ownership in any black-owned business is simplistic and patronizing (as it is routinely presented alongside the oft-repeated admonishment about the error of "rioting blacks destroying their *own* community", presuming that rioters even share a sense of ownership in communities where people are disproportionately renters instead of owners and are disproportionately transient or even that black business owners and rioters of any race even live in the same community; many business owners who operate stores in urban areas chose to live in the suburbs).

As long as discussions of race in the mass media remain trite and shallow, we will never make much progress in this field.

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