Racism is a complex subject to discuss in America. Yes, race matters. We are beginning to see Black varied perspectives on national news shows. When President Barack Obama occupied the White House, new faces offered political analysis. Yet during a change in the national landscape, a white reporter from the Washington Post said we lived in a “post-racial society.” Really now?
How is the media racist?
Example 1: The New York Times, the nation’s top paper delivering all the news that’s fit to print, just began to capitalize the “B” in Black on July 5, 2020. By their admission, they didn’t capitalize the “N” in Negro until W.E.B. Du Bois wrote letters to mainstream media requesting the capitalization, pointing out the insult. His effort took four years. Not capitalizing the “B” in Black was a disrespectful gesture.
Example 2: If you need evidence of the drastic difference between white reporting and Black reporting, here’s a brief history lesson. Take a look at what white papers wrote about the killings of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. White media portrayed the panthers as a notorious gang that was a public threat.
Chicago police killed them in their sleep with 80 bullets on a cold December day in 1968. Read the account in the white papers, Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. Then read the Chicago Defender and The Chicago Crusader. It is a lesson on a racist narrative, a real contrast on viewpoint, whereas we have since come to learn the murder was likely ordered by J. Edgar Hoover, the then-FBI chief.
Example 3: When the Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for President of the United States in the 1980s, the story from white columnists was, “Why is Jesse Jackson running? What does he want for real?” This was a typical interview question.
Black pundits wrote another story: “Run Jesse run” was the sentiment as he forcefully explained the demographics of the South and Democratic voting patterns. Black reporters presented another perspective. The white male columnists were curiously disrespectful and thought the impossible was evident and, in some instances, painted Jackson as an egotistical maniac who was out of control. He answered patiently every question demonstrating how a unified Black America could elect a president.
Example 4: A Black female TV reporter here in Chicago was told she was too dark for television. The Black community was incensed at the idea and organized protest led by the late Rev. Willie Barrow and Black radio station WVON. Her contract was renewed. This is an example of colorization racism.
Example 5: Finally, here’s what the mayor didn’t say. There is a different standard and attitude when white reporters cover Black politicians. The game played is “gotcha” or attack for Black politicos. Think of Todd Stroger when he was president of the County Board. The white press attacked him unmercifully and viciously. His was the only municipal budget, at that time, to be balanced. He was criticized every step of the way rather than applauded. His political career ended.
So now where are we as the mayor recognizes and calls out the racism in the media? How about, fix it. Do the right thing. In this midterm time, the mayor has her hands full in dealing with Chicago problems like the pandemic, the reopening of the city, union votes of no confidence, crime in the streets, reopening the schools and her big ideas of a casino located in Chicago proper and the rebuild of downtown Chicago. Not to mention an investment plan for the south and west sides of the cities. Don’t get mad at her as she tells the truth and speaks to a problem long overdue for genuine discussion and new practices.
Hermene Hartman is publisher of N’Digo and founder of The Hartman Group, a Chicago-based public relations firm.