In the wake of great tragedy, society will come together with community leaders to share ways to support impacted communities. The current times we are living in are marred by clashes and conflict. It seems like with every passing day, there is a new calamity that is dominating the headlines. Rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine have reached a precipice, with Russian forces invading Ukraine. As global news outlets provide the public with hour-by-hour updates about the conflict, many media outlets and journalists are being called out for racialized language in the way that stories are being reported. In one news segment, a senior foreign correspondent for CBS News stated that Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European…city, where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.” In another news segment for BBC news, the former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine explained that the conflict with Russia and Ukraine was very emotional for him because of the fact there it involved “European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.” Within the media, there are countless examples of how racialized groups are further marginalized through carefully crafted verbiage. This language makes viewers believe that war and conflict is only for “third-world” and “under-developed” countries where Indigenous and Black people reside. Inequities in the reporting of stories contributes to the oppression that racialized people experience.
There are not just innumerable examples of racism in the ways that news is reported. When examining the stories that are deemed as “worthy” of being covered, we see how pervasive racism is. More reports must highlight how African migrants were being turned away while fleeing from Ukraine, but stories like this don’t initially gain as much coverage or traction. There has been a lack of coverage highlighting the conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the forces in the Tigray region. The conflict has persisted since November of 2020 and thousands of people have died while more than 300,000 people are living in famine. In the West African country of Cameroon, there is currently a civil war taking place in the country’s northwest region. The Anglophone crisis has been ongoing since 2016 and has displaced over a million people. It seems that the world only cares about crises when they impact white people.
In December of 2021, 23-year-old Lauren Smith-Fields was found dead in her Bridgeport, Connecticut apartment. Smith-Fields’ family was never notified of her death. Smith-Field had been on a Bumble date before she passed away. Smith-Field’s case did not gain national attention until rapper Cardi B posted about the case on her social media account, which helped the story gain national attention. Black women, girls, and femmes who go missing or are found dead are rarely reported on. This lack of visibility when it comes to their stories was the reason why the #SayHerName campaign was birthed. Misogynoir in the media influences whether these stories are even reported on at all. The missing white woman syndrome equates to media coverage on the atrocities that impact white women while actively disregarding and ignoring the harm that Black, Indigenous, Asian, and other non-white people experience.
Even when analyzing what we deem as worthy entertainment, the white and Eurocentric lens prevails. A new Netflix documentary called The Tinder Swindler has topped Netflix’s most-watched lists in recent weeks. The documentary centers on the story of a man who called himself Simon Leviev, who made his living tricking women into thinking he was a billionaire, while getting them to give him exorbitant amounts of money. Viewers may feel sympathy for the women featured, who share their stories of being lied to and conned. One can’t help but wonder whether this story would get told if it featured Black women experiencing harm while engaging in online dating. If the lack of initial coverage that Lauren Smith-Field’s story received is any indication, then we know what the answer to that would be.
Malcolm X is quoted to have said “the media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Creating a world that is safe, just, and equitable for all requires us to interrogate every system and structure that exists, including our mass media. There is a bias in what gets reported and how the coverage is being reported. Words are powerful and the messages we consume from the media are often overlooked. We must be vigilant about calling out these inequities because of the direct impact that the media has in shaping our perceptions.
This article was originally published in February 2022 in Forbes.
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The Pink Elephant newsletter is a weekly LinkedIn newsletter designed to stimulate critical and relevant dialogue that centers around topics of race and racial equity. The newsletter is curated by Janice Gassam Asare, Ph.D. who is a writer, speaker, consultant, educator, and self-proclaimed foodie. Janice is the host of the Dirty Diversity podcast, where she explores diversity, equity and inclusion in more detail. Dr. Janice’s work is centered around the dismantling of oppressive systems while amplifying the voices and needs of the most marginalized folks. If you are seeking guidance and consultation around diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace, visit the website to learn more about services that can be tailored to your specific needs. If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share with others you feel would gain value from it. Lastly, if you’d like to get free tips on diversity, equity, and inclusion, sign up for Dr.Janice’s free newsletter through her website.
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