All The Media’s Stereotypes

April 21, 2013

Dzhokhar & Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Boston Marathon crowd moments before bomb blasts, April 15, 2013. (http://www.mirror.co.uk)

Dzhokhar & Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Boston Marathon crowd moments before bomb blasts, April 15, 2013. (http://www.mirror.co.uk)

The mainstream American media was just one big, almost unbelievable fail this past week. Between the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent hunt for brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the ricin letters to Mississippi GOP politicians and President Obama and the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. In the last case, the one that killed and injured more people than two dumb asses in Boston. Yet, somehow, in a world in which the best answer should be “I don’t know” or “We don’t know yet,” media folks and their experts have been tweeting and reporting at the level of gossip for the past five or six days.

Usually a fairly careful journalist/columnist, Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post tweeting three hours after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, “April 19: Anniversary of storming of Branch Davidian compound & the Okla. City bombing.” At that point, we didn’t even know the number of people killed, maimed or injured. Nor did we know the number of bombs that had exploded in Copley Square. Think, man, think!

The more famous comments of the week came out of CNN’s shop, though. John King had breaking news Wednesday afternoon that law enforcement officials had identified a “dark-skinned male” suspect. Being a White guy working in mainstream media means that you never have to say “I’m sorry,” apparently. Especially when all of his “breaking news” reporting turned out to be completely wrong.

Let’s not really analyze the so-called reporting of FOX News or the New York Post. You’d get more truth from a psychic doing a Vulcan mind-meld with Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s brain right now than you could from Murdoch’s news media world in a year.

Let’s also not forget many of the so-called terrorism experts whom guessed wrong about race, immigrant status and so many other details this past week. Not to mention reports whom apparently couldn’t find Chechnya on a map if the republic were blown up to 100x normal map size and they put a floodlight on it.

But the most disturbing — yet not very surprising — thing about the past seven days has been how the US media has engaged in a near-endless campaign of racial stereotypes, immigrant stereotypes, terrorism stereotypes, religious stereotypes, patriotism stereotypes, and hyperbole that attempts to defy history. A simple list should help:

  • Terrorist(s) = Arab Muslims
  • Males from the Caucasus = Caucasians, but not White
  • Muslims who commit a violent act = terrorists
  • Violent criminals = anyone not White (especially Blacks & Latinos)
  • Violent mass-murdering Whites = mentally disturbed (i.e., NOT terrorists)
  • Arab Muslims = immigrants, NOT US citizens
  • Indo-Europeans who are White (phenotypically) & citizens but not born in US = Immigrants
  • Boston = city terrorized like no city ever before

On this last one, I must put on my academic historian hat. As in — are you kidding me? Anyone ever hear of Boston in the years before and during the American Revolution? Or, in more recent times, the Oklahoma City bombing in ’95, 9/11 and Lower Manhattan, the DC sniper rampage in ’02? Or, if the idea here is that terrorism should only be viewed through the prism of those who feel terrorized, what about poor Blacks on the South Side of Chicago, in SE Washington, DC, or poor Latinos in cities like Albuquerque and Phoenix? Or, for that matter, innocent civilians in Yemen and Pakistan attempting to avoid being among the “collateral damage” caused by our drone wars for terrorist scalps?

And then, there was the need for release, for yelps of relief and cheers of joy over the successful capture of Dzhokhar Tsarneav late Friday evening, with chants of “USA! USA! USA!” included. Of course people should feel relief for the end of a tense situation. But let’s not get carried away with the tide here.

Stereotype quote taken from Annie Murphy Paul article (May 1998) in Psychology Today, January 16, 2011. (http://nwso.net/). In public domain.

Stereotype quote taken from Annie Murphy Paul article (May 1998) in Psychology Today, January 16, 2011. (http://nwso.net/). In public domain.

We know nothing of motive, but we do know that the police will return to its regularly scheduled racial and socioeconomic profiling in the coming days. We can’t wrap our collective heads around the idea that two assimilated White American immigrants decided to kill runners at the Boston Marathon. Yet we also somehow decided to culturally and legally un-Americanize them — something we didn’t do with Timothy McVeigh. Chants patriotic might be a way to show solidarity, but we refuse to come to grips with the racial/xenophobic and anti-Muslim psychology that comes with these impromptu outbreaks of so-called unity.

Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” remains just as relevant now as his tune about the American news media was three decades ago. Still, the completely centrist and biased, always-concerned-about-the-bottom-line media is a mere reflection of our narcissistic and imperialistic selves.


Maybe They’ve Won After All

September 10, 2010

There's a Hole in the Bucket (Still) at Ground Zero. Source: http://unambig.com

I wrote this four days after 9-11, after spending three days stuck in Atlanta and a day on a Greyhound bus from Atlanta to DC, after defending a Sikh man against a hostile White male and Black guy because he looked like one of “them.”

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With much of this week’s focus on the atrocities at the former World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and the airline crash south of Pittsburgh, there is a disturbing and growing backlash against Americans of Arab descent throughout the nation.  The nation should be outraged because of the wanton destruction of property and life at the hands of suicidal terrorists.  But this in no way should justify the fire bombings of mosques in Texas and marching against Arab communities in Chicago.  This, of course, is among other incidents of hatred and revenge directed at folks who in some cases have been in America for several generations.  And like many Americans, Americans of Arab descent migrated to our multicultural society to escape religious extremism, government persecution, and yes, terrorism.  The backlash against Arab Americans since the attacks on Tuesday sicken me as much as the frightening attacks themselves.

I am a African American male, and I have thought about what the nation’s response might have been if a suicidal group of African American terrorists had done this horrible thing.  Would we be in the midst of race riots in America’s major cities, in which groups of Whites armed with American flags and poles, rocks, guns and whatever else they could find to beat and possibly kill Blacks just because they’re Black?  Would law enforcement agencies search every allegedly suspicious-looking brown-skinned person with kinky hair because they might connect them to an African American terrorist group?

Or what if an Irish terrorist group had hijacked the planes flown into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon?  Would non-Irish Americans then be so quick to lash out at any “Mic” they could find? Would they intimidate Americans of Irish descent to the point where they would be scared out of going to school or attending a prayer vigil with their fellow Americans?  Would we be so willing to engage in the language of bloodlust toward a group of Irish Americans as we have done to our Arab American brothers and sisters?

We can say that the majority of Americans have not engaged in this bigoted and racist behavior.  But our silence is not good enough.  Mainstream journalism acts as if a few prominent Arab Americans denouncing both the terrorist attack and the expected backlash against Arabs by other Americans ends their responsibility.  It does not.  The press must do a better job of discussing this smouldering problem with all Americans, including representatives of the Arab American community.  It also must do better in explaining the differences between the tenets of Islam and the unspeakable acts of terrorists clinging to a warped version of Islam.  It’s not at all much different from the barbaric actions of the Ku Klux Klan, who claim that they act in defense of White Christians.

If we as Americans continue to commit and condone through our silence acts of hatred against Arab Americans, are we much better than the tortured souls who flew four Boeing jets as weapons of mass destruction, all in the name of Allah?  If we are to defeat terrorism as a nation and a world, we must also defeat its roots, fear and hatred.  If we are to be one undivided and multicultural nation united against terrorism, we can no longer tolerate incidents of terrorism against one another, no matter how much we hurt.

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Needless to say, The Washington Post was engaged in blind, raging patriotism for the next couple of years, so my two cents was ignored. Unfortunately, between the racism and religious hatred directed at the proposed Islamic Center near, but not on, Ground Zero in New York City, and the idiot Terry Jones wanting to burn Qur’ans in Florida, it looks like the nineteen suicidal morons from Saudi Arabia have won after all. We still have a big hole in the ground where the Twin Towers once stood. So much for standing together on the platform of America the brave and the free.


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