Let’s talk about the media and journalism for a second.
Originally, I was going to wait, but with all that I’ve seen in the media lately, I recognize it should probably be addressed now.
Before we get into this though, I want you keep in mind what Martin Luther King (whom is the white moderate’s flag of Black respectability) said about the white moderate:
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
The white moderate has grown since Dr. King wrote this. They are now in every major position of power in our society, speaking on our behalf as social others. They are our presidential candidates, our teachers, our lawyers, our doctors and our journalists. While we have now infiltrated those industries previously closed or segregated, our voices are still not given the same credence as the white moderate. This is not a question of conjecture and opinion; it is an undeniable fact. If you feel the need to debate it, then you should know where they stand.
But what I most specifically wanted to address this morning is the white moderate–those who are predominantly passively participating in structures of oppression; who say they support oppressed peoples but only so far that their comfort and privilege remains intact.
These well-meaning benevolent white savior folk are terrible, because, among other things, they think they are experts on the experiences of othered peoples–continually, systematically ignoring, harming and erasing the experiences and the needs of the same people they say they are trying to aid. (I wrote a post about this on my other blog if you want to read more about this.)
When this phenomenon manifests in the media, it’s most easily recognized as a young Black kid murdered by police called a “thug” in the coverage. It’s in the way a story about a successful person of color is more often than not framed as that person transcending their race to be more than just a Black or indigenous or gender fluid or queer or otherized being.
For me, in my story and the way it was reported, the journalist told my story as if I was a formerly angry and violent child with “18 years of hardship” that has now been reformed and transcended the mold of the angry black girl. So much is wrong with this.
But before we even get into the story itself, let’s talk about how perception vs. reality in expectations of how it was to be shaped. The majority of my interview was explaining how language is important, how you tell a story is important, and you need to understand how oppression influences your subject(s) in order to accurately and fairly tell their story(s).
Basically, don’t use the tools of the master when you’re telling the story of the people they’ve brutalized.
My story turned out to be far different than what I expected, and hoped. As people of color and especially as activists we are often weary of white journalists and/or white-owned media for this exact reason. Our story is distorted and becomes a disingenuous portrayal of either the benevolence of whites or the stereotyped stories of transcendence.
When our stories are told thus, we become nothing more than an anecdote to entertain the predominantly white market. When our experiences–our trials and struggles, our joys and triumphs–are told incorrectly, it invalidates us. It erases the beauty, the impact, the enormity of who we are and how we came to be. It diminishes us to a repeat of the same caricatures we have always been, and keeps those oppressive structures of privilege and power in place.
For me, I stay in the caricature of the “angry, violent Black child,” reaffirming the Black beast mentality repeated in media since slavery. This mentality aims to depreciate Black people to lesser-developed human beings who cannot help their violence, promiscuity and ignorance. It must be understood that this caricature and others are racist, they are oppressive, and they still permeate the American psyche. Telling our stories by using them hinders the conversation, rather than helps it. So to the well-meaning white moderate, this is what you must understand:
This is a problem. It needs to be addressed. It needs to be changed. We need to do something about it. And the time for this is past due. Listen when we say you must understand our oppression before you can tell our stories.
Educate yourselves from the resources written by oppressed groups rather than the easily-reached white masses. Heed us when we tell you to change the pronouns you use in our stories; to not include the racist caricatures of white supremacy; to avoid the passively sexist benevolent language of the patriarchy.
We’re expecting you to put up or shut up and either way, make room for us to tell our stories in the meantime.