I’m taking a slight break from my April Fool’s Day rampage to open the floor for serious conversation. This post is dedicated to the folks out there who swear privilege doesn’t exist and that we truly live in a “post racial” world.
I was kickin’ it over at the blog So Let’s Talk About It where I read a compelling entry highlighting the subtleties of racial bias. As it appears, an Iowa newspaper The Gazette reported on two separate stories about local burglaries which had taken place, one by white assailants and the other by black assailants. Both were written by the same author. Both stories appeared within a day or each other. But there was one significant difference in the way the stories were reported: the story of the white suspects used their yearbook pictures, while the story of the black suspects used their mugshot photos. To wit:
The same story. The same publication. Different visual representations of the suspects.
The Gazette attempted to – forgive the pun – “whitewash” the entire thing by offering some lame explanation about using mugshot photos versus “professional” pictures. Also, since that time, the Gazette has updated the link to the story of the white suspects to include their mugshots.
But most of us are well-trained to read between the lines. The fact is, this story precisely demonstrates the power of the media in shaping the perception of black crime vs. white crime. We saw this same thing play out in the media’s portrayal of the riots at the Keene Pumpkin Fest vis-a-vis those in Ferguson. As an unfortunate extension of that phenomenon, there is even evidence of the media painting white SUSPECTS more favorably than black VICTIMS.
Whether The Gazette ever owns up to it or not, they have added even more fuel to the proverbial fire of racial assumptions. With a simple editorial maneuver (deliberate or not), they have contributed to the proliferation of skewered racial perceptions — particularly, when it comes to strong associations people make with race and crime. This outlet, like so many others, have used imagery to reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime presenting the black suspects as rough and thug-like and the white suspects (charged with the EXACT same crime) as clean-cut and refined. This, in turn, leads to mainstream support of punitive policies that disproportionately impact people of color.
But, of course, this can’t happen right? After all, we live in a post-racial society now.