October 2009 Archives

The Importance of the Representation of Race in the News

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"...the public is concerned that progress in coverage of minority communities is

leveling off and -- because there are not enough journalists of color on staff
or in leadership positions -- stories are not sufficiently attuned to cultural differences
and nuances in an increasingly diverse society."
 - Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists by Robert J. Haiman

During the 2008-2009 academic year, I lived in the Polish Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, while attending the Community College of Allegheny County.  During my time there, I made friends with many people, including those who lived in impoverished, predominately African-American neighborhoods.  Because of this, I often spent some of my free time in neighborhoods in Pittsburgh such as Homewood, Wilkinsburg, and Lincoln-Larimer.  While it was hardly the first time I ever had "black friends", it was quite different from my experience of growing up in Greensburg.

While the percent of blacks living in Greensburg is lower than the average national percent of the people of African decent living in the United States, it was still large enough that I didn't observe much racism through-out my childhood.  The only two incidents I can recall are from High School, when a girl stated that she "didn't care" for black people in a crowded lunch room, and when a special education student (who lived in a rural area) casually told me that he kept a pistol underneath his pillow "in case one of these niggers try to rob me", gesturing to a few black students who were nearby.  I commonly caught much more flak for being overweight than I observed harassment of black students, although what I experienced was never as serious as the examples I gave.  So it was a shock to me when I recently became aware of how common some of the sentiments about African-Americans are in other predominately white communities.

Starting with a conversation I had earlier this year with a friend of mine from the posh housing developments of Wexford, PA, I learned about a common response that I now far too often receive when I talk to white people from rural or suburban backgrounds about race.  They will say that "there are two types of black people, those we like," and "those we don't" or "niggers".  The first time I heard it, I thought that it was terrible.  Justifying racism by saying you are a bigot, is hardly an adequate or educated response to race issues.  Saying that you only like black people who look act like you in every aspect, except for their physical differences, is inexcusable, and I can't see how it can be so pervasive.  So when I read the quote I used at the beginning of this entry, it made an impact on me.

The people that I have heard use this phrase to describe African-Americans are always very sheltered, and while some who I have heard say it are Seton Hill students from outside of Greensburg, they are never the most educated or cultured people I have encountered.  But from what I can ascertain, this sentiment comes back to fear, often caused (intentionally or not) by the news media.  All of these people know at least a few black people, who of course like most African-Americans, don't fit the harmful, negative stereotypes of blacks in the United States.  But they still hear of drug deals in Larimer, and Homicides in Wilkinsburg in the news, so there still is this fear of "the other", and these negative stereotypes of black people still exist.  So I think that Haiman is correct, and that there should be more done by newspapers and the media to represent the African-American community as fairly as they treat the rest of the world.  There are many people who only see or hear about African-Americans when they are in the news, so it is in everyone's best interest to represent them fairly.

November 2009

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