I haven’t been blogging that regularly since the holidays because I’ve been working on some longer form essays and works in progress, along with working on work work and doing other things. But I wanted to take a bit of time to reflect on the 50th anniversary of The Kerner Report and its meaning for Dame Magazine.
The Kerner Report marked the first time in modern U.S. history that government officials acknowledged media bias that favored white narratives and disadvantaged blacks to the detriment of all of American society by underscoring how lazy, biased journalists in unrepresentative newsrooms took the word of “beleaguered” officials in American cities to publish inaccurate figures that gave distorted impressions about the impact of riots on cities, leading to more damage.
There are, unfortunately, too many examples in modern media to provide a comprehensive account of the ways that we have devolved since the Kerner Report. One example is the failure of media to accurately contextualize the rise in domestic extremist terrorism at the hands of white supremacist mass shooters like Dylann Roof, who in 2015 murdered nine at Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina, as a serious threat to national security on the same scale as an external threat posed by foreign nationals, Black or Brown people. In a January 2018 report, the Anti-Defamation League reported that between 2008 and 2017, white supremacists were responsible for 71 percent of all domestic terrorism-linked deaths.
Another example of this lack of progress is the way that Black victims of police-involved shootings are often criminalized in death. Immediately after Michael Brown’s death, the New York Times inserted a line in a story about him high in the story saying that “he was no angel,” as if that would explain why police left the boy’s body uncovered in the street after he’d been shot to traumatize the city of Ferguson, Missouri, even further.
The secondary finding of the Kerner Report was more far-reaching and resonant, and is the finding that all media still have not appropriately dealt with.
By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their black and white audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions. The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world. The ills of the ghetto, the difficulties of life there, the Negro’s burning sense of grievance, are seldom conveyed. Slights and indignities are part of the Negro’s daily life, and many of them come from what he now calls ‘the white press’—a press that repeatedly, if unconsciously, reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America. This may be understandable, but it is not excusable in an institution that has the mission to inform and educate the whole of our society.
This rings true today in what stories make front page news and what stories are completely ignored or never break through.
You can read the whole piece here.