Problem People Stories

When we look at the way that people of color are represented in the media, we often see what is referred to as ‘problem people stories”–stories that position people of color as the cause of society’s–and their own–problems.  What does this look like, Guliani, on this week’s Meet the Press is textbook:

Two fun facts: first,  most homicide is perpetrated within race–black people are most likely to kill black people and white people are most like to kill white people, and second, the unrest in Ferguson is because a white Police Officer did the killing.  no amount of focus on black on black crime would have prevented that.

Every life matters, and every killer should be held accountable.  When the killer is retained by the state to act as an authority, they deserve to be held at a higher level of accountability.

Oh, and I have an open seat in class for you, Guliani:  you clearly need to be schooled.

 

 

The Unbearable Whiteness of Singing

When Kanye mounted the stage and took the mic from a shell-shocked Taylor Swift, a nation wept for her embarrassment and heartbreak.

Revenge, best served cold, is Taylor’s.

Five years after Kanye questioned her winning over Queen B, Swift has solidified her name as Pop music’s Queen Dujour, ruling in the kingdom of pop with her princes from One Direction.  No bows down to Beyonce, no calls of hip hop hooray.  Even Pharrell’s ubiquitous “Happy” lost out to Katy Perry.

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Given the list of the AMA’s winners yesterday, I wonder if pop music will continue its trend of decreasing diversity.  Last years biggest records sported a roster of mostly white performers.  Makes sense in a country that is majority white, right?  Well , given the history of music and the massive popularity of hip Hop and rap, the last decade  provided a more diverse cast of artists than recent years.  America itself is increasingly diverse, with nearly 30% of Americans belonging to a minority group.  When it comes to the young ‘uns–kids under 1–over half of them are minorities.  So the future of music looks diverse but…..

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If this year’s AMA’s are any indication, this years top selling songsters this year may again check the same box off on the census.  Is the audience shifting, are results skewed by sophomore social media voters, or are the times a-changing? Weigh in below!

No Justice: Killer Cop Walks, Prosecutor Blames the Media

Tonight in Ferguson Missouri, prosecutor Bob Mc Collough announced that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged for shooting and killing 18 year-old Mike Brown in front of witnesses at 1 in the afternoon  August 9th.  While the prosecutor confirms Darren Wilson was responsible for killing the unarmed teen, the grand jury, led by the prosecutor, did not return an indictment. Darren Wilson is now a free man.    The announcement comes floating on a flood of calls for calm from everyone from the governor and the attorney general to Michael Brown’s father.

Since that night in August when Michael Brown was shot down in a residential neighborhood of Ferguson, protesters have applied steady pressure calling for accountability for his killer–Officer Darren Wilson– and those in the system who protected him.

Mike Borwn's stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.
Mike Brown’s stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.

Thousands of people in dozens of cities have staged legal and peaceful protests seeking justice for Mike Brown, despite a widespread media narrative that has focused on stoking fear of violence and retaliation from the black community both in a Ferguson and across the country. There are two important points to consider about massive coverage of “potential violence.”

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First, focusing on the potential for tension and violence, rather than the reason for the protests and anger positions the black community as ‘problem people’ deserving of repressive measures of control.  In the days leading up to today’s decision state agencies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gear to be used against US citizens protesting injustice by the American government.  That’s enough to make conspiracy theorist sound like they might be on to something.  After the massive show of paramilitary gear in August to deal with protests met with a massive outcry, the authorities’ only lesson seems to be “bring bigger guns.”

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Secondly, media narratives that frame peaceful protesters as blind mobs bent on violence and destruction of personal property, justifying strong armed retaliation of the police, keeps the focus off the injustice at the heart of the Mike Brown case.  While news stories in the days leading up to today’s announcement focus on preparations for a hurricane of violent protest,  Darren Wilson has already negotiated a quiet exit.  Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since August 9th.  Given the lack of an indictment Wilson was eligible to return to work on the force.  That he could negotiate this at all adds insult to injury–he was legally able to return to patrol the same streets that he shot Mike Brown on, despite dozens of eye witnesses to his unlawful use of force and the continued potential of federal civil rights charges. Today’s decision is clear evidence that we have yet to shed a history of racial disparity in our justice system.

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You may say, as many will in the days to come, that if the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to indict, then Darren Wilson remains, legally, innocent, and therefore, no racism occurred.  Let’s be clear: racism is the systemic exercise of power advantaging one racial group over another. The shooting was just the first in a long string of points of tension in Ferguson.

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In the Mike Brown case we have seen authorities exercise power in their own interests over those of Mike Brown, the community or the constituencies to whom they are responsible.  Despite widespread calls for the police chief and the prosecutor to recuse themselves, they have refused.  Calls for independent special prosecutors trusted by both sides were denied.  Information leaks, clouds of tear gas, FAA restrictions on media and hundreds of arrests, including the arrest of many high profile civil rights activists and peaceful protesters, line a trail of racism from Mike Brown’s body to the steps of the Missouri courthouses.

And now after months of peaceful requests for action on behalf of Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, justice is again thwarted.  Don’t get mad, they say.  Don’t act out, they cajole.  James Baldwin once said, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”  

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To be assured that if you are a black man you may be stopped by the police and shot down in the street like a dog.  To look at young black boys innocent before the world paints them as wolves.  To send your husbands and sons–and daughters for that matter–out with the knowledge that they may be targeted by those sworn to protect them–this is the reality, and one well worth your rage.

Now is the moment not to fall apart, but to fall together.   Since Wilson has not been charged, double jeopardy does not apply and another prosecution of Wilson is possible.  Remember, any decision on federal civil rights charges in the case are still pending, so there is still opportunity for national pressure to bring justice in this case. .  Whether black or white or Latino or Asian, we’re all responsible for keeping the American dream of freedom and equality for all alive.

Don’t be distracted by fear mongering and race baiting. Let your anger today be a weapon polished with knowledge and drawn in civil action against those who think you too uncivilized to fight strategically.  Fight with tweets, fight here with words and letters and here with marches.  Fight with your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

After a recent discussion about Ferguson in my college class, a students asked me, “What should I tell my 3 year old son? ”  The very idea that he will need to know about systemic racism when he is Mike Brown’s age breaks my heart.  Despite today’s decision, this cannot persist.   We as a nation must do better.  Nurse your broken heart today, and then lace up your gloves.