There has been some activity on social media about the differences in how the shoot-out coverage in Waco, TX has been different from the how the riots in Baltimore were covered earlier this spring. Observations on why in Texas, motorcycle gang members were sitting, un-cuffed on the curb using their smart phones while police in basic uniform casually strolled through the crowd while coverage of the riots in Baltimore showed police in full riot gear, gas masks and rioters sitting shirtless on the curb with their hands zip-tied behind their backs and others using bottled water to clear pepper spray from their eyes.
Others have brought up the fact that protesters in Baltimore were publicly and immediately labeled as thugs* while the people involved in the Waco shooting are being referred to by their proper club name (Banditos & Cossacks) and the super-cute acronym OMG (as in “ohmygawd, Becky, look at her butt”).
To those who have brought up these issues, I say: I see where you’re coming from. And…
I wonder if we’re examining the issue critically enough. A photograph in public media is subjective to what the photographer thought was relevant to that moment. Words like thug can be buzzwords – someone, somewhere used it and suddenly everyone is using the same word to describe the incident. We are, after all, sheep. Some people are just too sensitive.
I’d like to dive a little deeper (buzzword!) and offer the following on why the coverage of the Baltimore Riots is systematically and inherently racist in ways that we (white folk) don’t even realize.
First, I’d like to offer the definition that I use for racism. It’s based on an academic definition used in multicultural counseling. Others will have different definitions and that’s fine.
Here is my working definition of racism:
Racism is an act that disproportionately damages members of an ethnic or racial group whether intentional or unintentional.
Accepting that definition for the purposes of this post, you can see how the pictures of the Baltimore Riots would damage (though unintentionally) black people by perpetuating them as inherently dangerous people impacting job prospects, the likelihood of interaction with police not to mention the physiological impacts of racism on people of color. Just evaluate positive media images of black people in general media coverage and you’ll see that we haven’t come very far since the early twentieth century portrayed black men in film as minstrels, “happy Negros” or murderers of white men and rapists white women.
But let’s dig even deeper.
In response to the Waco shooting, I’ve heard four separate stories (I heard one story twice) about the history of motorcycle gangs in America this week. If I’ve got the facts right, the very first Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs** (OMGs) started when veterans from World War II came home. The stories I’ve heard suggest that PTSD may have played a role, as well as a need to regain the brotherhood that they had in the service.
How many stories did we hear giving an eighty-year history explaining the Baltimore Riots?Many consider the Ferguson and Baltimore Riots symptoms of the unfinished business of racism. Put in the larger context of racism in the US, might we have viewed the riots differently?
And did anyone – politician, media outlet, anyone. – work so hard to differentiate between the people who were exercising their rights to peaceably assemble from the people who were looting? Or include the military and mental health histories of anyone running with a television.
I’d like to introduce a term that I did not coin, but wish I had. White ‘splaining. Isn’t this coverage just a patronizing pat on the hand to the American public on why we shouldn’t worry too much about biker gangs? They are just misunderstood, war-damaged fellas just looking for a place to fit in.
Those thugs in Baltimore, though…
* Some suggest that thug is the new n-word. Next time you hear the word, make a mental note of the race of the subject.
** OMGs are thought to constitute about 1% of people in motorcycle culture.