#Word choice and detail focus Indicate core beliefs values and #prejudice. What we highlight shows perspective
The words regularly chosen to express ideas, report facts, and share stories are an important indicator of a society’s values and perceptions. The old phrase, “Mighty white of you” said something about what was expected of and valued about white people at another point in our history. White was a synonym for “decent.” Do you agree that reviving that phrase for common use today might be a bad idea? I don’t know when people stopped saying things like “That was mighty white of you, Old Bean,” but I am so, so glad that most people have in fact stopped. Unfortunately, however, phrases that standardize and trivialize prejudice are still being regularly used, and they are insidious in the harm they continue to cause.
The widespread racial labeling used by news outlets-including those which present themselves as progressive alternatives- demonstrates our continuing failure as a nation to get beyond using race as a predictor for levels of achievement, ability, and joy.
We use “poor” and “minority” as synonyms, and we teach children this language. We use “African American” as a synonym for “victim of slavery.” We use “White” as a synonym for “Lucky and privileged.” We teach this language in our schools, and so the cycle can’t help but continue to repeat.
Recently, I listened to a podcast of a news summary on NPR. It was a very short, commentary with a positive tone about how President Obama made a call into a radio show hosted by the Mayor of Boston. It was pointed out in the summary that the president made the call because the two men were old friends. So far so good, but then, out of the blue, the reporter informed the listener that Patrick Deval was the first black mayor of Boston.
My question is, why was the race of Deval relevant in this context? Was the racial information meant to somehow explain away the phone call? Was that what the call was about? We were not told the reason for this random bit of racial statistics. When no reason is given for random racial comments, it feels to me that the person making such comments assumes knowledge or understanding on the part of the audience that makes explanation unnecessary.
If we point out every time a black person does something that no other black person has done, are we not remaking the same tired point that black people achieve less on average than people of other races and any black person who achieves should be extra proud because success for black people is so rare? Self fulfilling prophecy much? If a listener is interested in knowing the race of a candidate or a doctor or a Nobel Lauriet, isn’t that their issue, and wouldn’t it be easy enough for that person to figure it out without it being news.
If I tell you that three black men were arrested for attacking three Hispanic men and neglect to explain why I am giving you the racial information, mightn’t you assume that the crime was racially motivated? Isn’t that a bad a assumption for us to keep making in 2015?
Now, let’s talk about “hate crime.” How is any form of unprovoked physical assault not a hate crime? How is any murder not a hate crime?
When we penalize hate, we make hatred a legal issue which makes it ridiculous and seems to give logic to acts that are not logical. It implies an excuse for inexcusable behavior.
It is always wrong to initiate unprovoked violence. It is always wrong to make someone’s workplace miserable for them. Beyond issues such as self defense and pre-motivation, the reason for breaking the law should not matter in the court room.
Is there ever a situation a or a sentence ender that would make “I beat him bloody and spit on him because…” Or “I ran over him twice with my car because…” okay?
No that is just crazy! Hate crime statutes are another way of keeping us divided. We protect “them” from “us” and “us” from “them” differently than we protect “Us from Us” and “them from them” We are purposefully drawing lines that legally separate people based on race, sexual preference, religion etc. We are formalizing prejudice and giving it power.
Why are the people we depend on for news continuing to paint the facts with a racially charged brush? What does this choice say to listeners (here and abroad) about public perspective and values?
Frankie Valinda Ghee