Recognize that Race is Implicit to our Society
Last week, we introduced the topic of how there is frequent evidence of racial bias in how violence is portrayed in the media. We said that we would be asking faculty members to respond with their ideas for how we, as consumers of news or members of the media, can “do better” at recognizing and overcoming this prejudice.
Our first response is from Professor David Sloane, who has written extensively about neighborhood-level institutions and activities, especially related to food systems, public health, street gangs, and public memory.
Bedrosian Center: What’s one thing we can do better to address biases in how the media portrays race and violence?
Sloane: The most important starting point is that we have to realize the idea of a colorblind society is a fiction. As much progress as we have made over the last 75 years – and President Obama is one symbol of that amazing change – we are still a society deeply divided by race and ethnicity (as well as class and gender). Simply acknowledging that reality will not change anything, but it will make other changes possible. The media seems to swing from recognizing race as a social problematic to viewing events through a race-neutral lens. In doing so, the media is complicit in a broader national policy consensus. Two examples:
First, in research I have conducted with Professor LaVonna Lewis, we have shown – as have many other researchers – that where we are born, where we live, matters. Since the US is a very racially segregated place, when we say that place matters, we are implicitly saying that race and ethnicity matter. And the differences can be sad. According to the City of Los Angeles’ Health Atlas, residents of the wealthy, highly white neighborhoods of Bel Air-Brentwood-Pacific Palisades live on average 12 years longer than the residents of the poor, heavily minority neighborhoods of Watts. We are talking about life and death, watching one’s children marry and grow up, seeing grandchildren graduate from high school and college. We need policy and urban planning improvements that will create healthier places for all.
Second, in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, she notes how law enforcement, the criminal justice apparatus, and the courts, especially the Supreme Court, repeatedly have made decisions over the last two generations from a position of colorblindness that have led to a tragic number of African American and Latino men being imprisoned. If we didn’t presume that race no longer matters, but instead that race [is] an implicit as well as an explicit aspect of our society, we could make better public policy, better law, and hopefully reduce our prison population, diminish discrimination in employment and schooling, and increase the likelihood of all Americans living in liveable, safe neighborhoods.
This post is part of our series on Race and Violence in the Media. To view the series, click here. Check back next week for our next response.