by guest contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said
Why was Don Imus vilified and fired for calling a group of young, black athletes “nappy headed hoes,” but able to return to the airwaves months later provoking barely a stir? Why is Michael Richards’ racist tirade in a Los Angeles nightclub all but forgotten? Why have these incidents, and others like the Duke University case, failed to generate any long-lasting, helpful dialogue on race in America? The Washington Post attempts to answer these questions in a thoughtful, though conservative-leaning, article entitled “Reduced to the Small Screen: Incident, Reaction, Forget, Repeat–Formulaic Entertainment Replaces Serious Discussion on Race.”
And with each episode in the long-running Saga of Race in America, a string of characters lines up to react to the latest eruption. The media records them as they take up positions in the Great Race Debate. The media stokes the discussion as self-proclaimed black leaders scream outrage while opponents — often white, sometimes black — scream counter-outrage. The “colorblind” wonder why we all just can’t get along. And the rest of us watch from ringside, rooting for one camp or another, sometimes in silence.
Then inevitably, the media turns away. The outrage fades. The talking heads go silent. The curtain falls, and the debate recedes to wherever it goes until the next eruption.
Which raises the question: Has the debate over race become a melodrama? A bad television soap opera? A theatrical stage play with complex issues boiled down to a script? Entertaining words thrown around simply to satisfy the 24-hour news cycle, the blogosphere?
Are we doomed to debate racism over and over — stuck in purgatory, a cycle of skirmishes, of shock and awe, with nothing gained, nothing learned?
Or is there a way to change the ritual, to go deeper into our national consciousness and get off this merry-go-round?
I have asked myself that question often and I believe the answer is complex. The Washington Post article does a good job of tackling many of the reasons the race debate has become so superficial. Two factors that I believe play a key role in defining talk of race are 1) the way most Americans consume media and 2) the limited number of voices invited to participate in the mainstream racial discussion.
I’m a media junkie. I consume a variety of media, both mainstream (local and national TV news; local and national newspapers; political, news and cultural magazines) and alternative (blogs; progressive radio, and even though it makes my blood pressure rise, right wing radio). It helps that, as a public relations professional, I am paid to pay attention to the media.
Most people I encounter on a daily basis don’t have the time or inclination to do what I do. Most people I encounter get their information from limited sources, including a mainstream media owned by a narrow group of people–a mainstream media that is no longer The Fourth Estate, but a series of corporations operating with profit as their main mission. It is a media that courts controversy and, more than ever, believes “if it bleeds, it leads.” It is a media that traffics in stereotypes and narrows race to black and white. It is a media that doesn’t have time for nuanced and in-depth discussion about anything–not war, not healthcare, not poverty and not race. So, it is no wonder that the authors of the Washington Post article write: Read the Post Beyond superficial debate: How can we change the way the media frames racial issues?