I grew up in the 1990s, at a time when the world still felt large, and the internet was mostly boring. News came either by way of the mass media or the few alternative outlets that occupied space on public access channels and local independent newspapers. If one felt inclined to seek information beyond this, they had to take time to talk to people, visit libraries and bookstores, and most importantly, study.
With the advent of social media, access to information has been made much easier. It has both its advantages and pitfalls. The main drawback is that people are more willing to trade full stories for sound bites, and paragraphs for catchy memes. However, the upside that it brings is exceedingly grand and infinitely important: it has made the world smaller, thus, making America even smaller. The traditional media is no longer needed in order to tell stories that a cell phone camera and a Facebook or Twitter account is capable of telling – unedited, uncensored, and arguably, with the capacity to reach more people.
This new media landscape has been especially vital when it comes to exposing and decimating black life and black thought. We essentially have a 24 hour watchdog at our fingertips – creating a sort of constant Rodney King effect for all to see and deliberate over. Traditional media channels can no longer feed us their narrative without us questioning it, whether it be liberal or conservative. This doesn’t stop them from doing it anyway, but people have been given the ultimate power to make up their own minds by searching elsewhere for the truth.
This information autonomy has brought with it some troubling aspects when in regards to black lives. The world on the other side of the tracks is now in everybody’s living room and it is not pretty. I can use myself as example. I grew up in predominantly white suburban areas, so I had no idea what life in a black neighborhood was like outside of its representation in cinema or when watching 6 o’clock news coverage of another shooting. Eventually I made my way out of suburbia and into the inner city, but how was I going to go door to door to bring that news back? The answer is that I don’t have to do it anymore because now it is here for everyone to see. And one of the tragic recurring themes of this “Black America” is the murder and harassment of black people at the hands of police.
Black people may not have been as shocked by these scenes of police brutality as whites – they had lived (and still live) this experience every day. Though it sounds macabre, police brutality and harassment have always been an integral part of the black experience. Back in the pre-internet days, each time that there was some outrage in America after a police slaying of an unarmed black person, followed by a well intentioned protest, meant that it was also one more time that a black life eventually became an afterthought as the news cycle moved on. Soon the media consensus was that these were merely tragic but isolated incidents, especially as we charged further away from the civil rights struggle and into an era of a happy racially harmonious America. Unfortunately for media heads and their devout followers, instead of going away, these incidents became more and more prevalent and visible. This created a problem of contradiction, so if the racially harmonious narrative was to be kept, these incidents could not be taken at face value. And how does the white power structure operate at times like this – in the same fashion that they always have, with subversiveness and spin control.
The first victim was Barack Obama, whose rise to power perfectly coincided with social media finally coming into its own. More important than being America’s first black president, he in essence became our first social media president. And with each new viral video of a black kid being shot or a black woman being beaten, and the rage that ensued, he turned into an easy target for Facebook and Twitter attacks. I am no big fan of the man, but it’s pretty clear how the media was playing him. If the man spoke on black issues, he was being an agitator and trying to create separatism – after all, “We are all Americans!” If he remained mute on a black issue, he was not doing enough to bridge the racial gap and unite blacks and whites. He became the obligatory pot stirrer for a racial divide in a country that had, in the narrator’s eyes, been healing or already healed from its racial wounds.
Once depicting Obama as a scapegoat became old, trite, and transparently clear, the new spin was not to prove how he had created a schism in the very fabric of American society, but how these victims of police brutality were not actually victims. This was a multipronged process which involved some tried and true media devices. They are as follows:
- Finding images of the victim in which they appear to look dangerous or menacing to an audience who has little exposure to black people on a daily basis.
- Using wording which, once connected to these images, emits fear to this audience. Examples are describing black victims as coming from “the inner city,” or calling them “thugs,” or even “terrorists.”
- Digging up anything which can paint a picture of criminality – if someone had skipped school, had a prior criminal record, had any problems with drugs, or even smoked a joint before, they were condemned in the court of public opinion and their murder or beating was, without putting it in direct terms, justified.
In cases where no reasonable “negative thug clause” can be found, you will notice that the media attention given to the stories is much less. However, if they can latch onto one key “shady” element, “selling cigarettes illegally” for example, then it’s open season for the nightly news round up – and the victim will ultimately transform into the dangerous aggressor.
As many people began to notice the obvious bias surrounding most of this reporting, news media had to take it one step further. It was no longer good enough to vilify the victims, but the time had come to vilify the people who began to speak out and start movements against this brutality. Black Lives Matter, being the most visible of these movement, received the brunt of the abuse. Since they were not involved in any sort of criminal activity, the only possible spin was to classify them as a hate group, and its members as racist. For those in America who live in a world completely removed from the black experience this was a storyline that they could follow – finally mainstream news is saying what before they could only murmur to their closest friends. “These same blacks to whom we gave freedom never managed to get their act together, and now that they have grown and turned against us. Now they hate us and say our lives don’t matter!”
This irrational fear is reminiscent to how the Egyptians felt about the Hebrews in their lands. Exodus 1:10-12 “Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” 11So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel.… ” We have managed to free ourselves of the yolk of slavery in America, but each time black voices are raised concerning the issues which still afflict us, there is a very concerted effort by a white power structure to stifle those voices immediately. One wonders if they also fear an uprising in their lands.
The latest attack target for the vilifying narrative is Beyoncé, an artist I don’t care much for, but for whatever her motives decided to honour the Black Panthers during her Super Bowl performance. Her accompanying video for the song Formation is also filled with images of black lives, both beautiful and tragic. There is a lot to decipher about the video’s message and even the song’s lyric’s lack of correlation with the heavy tone of the clip. But has the response been an open dialogue about the black experience in America? Of course not – we are way past that point.
Beyoncé skipped her moment in the reverse racism line and was immediately branded a full out racist and cop hater. This is a big push by the media and their hordes, as before they mainly targeted black groups, and not black people, as racist – and certainly not someone who is also so beloved in the white community. As a consolation gift, the Black Panthers, who were by no means a perfect organization, were put in the same class as the Ku Klux Klan. Groups like The White Panthers, The Young Patriots Organization, The Young Lords, along with many other non-blacks who stood with the Black Panthers would probably argue that position, but who has time to debate the rewriting of history in such soundbitten times?
Ironically, in 2016, blacks have reached the pinnacle of their power – and not because Barack Obama was the first black president. No, today in America blacks can now join the ranks of racist oppressors. What I wonder is how exactly the groups of white people who feel oppressed are going to go about fighting to get their equal rights back. That is a very real and serious issue that we need to consider. The white power structure of America is teetering on a ledge and struggling for survival, and they know it. The percentage of whites in America has hit an all-time low, and as this power structure sees the face of their country becoming something other than what their parents remember, thus the push back is getting stronger. The white power structure cannot be completely open when expressing their alarm, so they will always speak of equality, but it will be through their lenses and on their terms. The less black people and their allies accept this, for they live the reality far removed from the the narrative, the more the racial schism will widen. All we can hope for is that there are still more people who want to unite voices than silence them.
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