It is time to call out all the media for inaccurate storytelling. As a region we are also guilty of racial stereotyping in news and opinion. And stereotyping takes lives. We’ve seen that recently in our community.
I am not calling anyone racist. I am saying that it is time to look at the quiet and insidious nature of the racial stereotype and how it has stealthily entered our lives and news — regardless of our race.
A stereotype is a preconceived notion or set of characteristics we believe represent a group. The stereotype is the enemy of research. It’s a shortcut to conclusion without doing the work of studying. Therefore, this kind of labeling is insidious.
I’ve heard there is a kernel of truth in every stereotype. I disagree. The kernel is a lie. Not coincidentally, the kernel is the part of the popcorn not fit for consumption. Our habit is to throw the kernel that is not transformed with heat away.
Let’s transform this kernel of racial misrepresentation with thorough examination. We’ll use the magnifying glass of research. Maybe the result will be something we can mentally ingest.
At the end of 2017, a national study was conducted by the University of Illinois. The researchers reviewed over 800 local and national news pieces published or aired between January 2015 and December 2016, sampling major television networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.
They also sampled newspapers such as; The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. Conservative websites such as Breitbart, Christian news sources, and regional newspapers and Christian were included as well.
The data in the report showed that news outlets of all types regularly portrayed black families as unstable and criminal while white families were depicted as stable and law abiding.
Fifty-nine percent of the time on the news and in editorials, black families are portrayed as poor. However, only 21% of Black families nationally live in poverty. In the Pikes Peak region, only 16% of black families live in poverty.
To watch or read the news locally, one would think at least half of black people who live in the Pikes Peak region are in poverty. Maybe you think that.
In this same study nationally, Black people were 37% of criminals in the news but constitute only 26% of those arrested or convicted. In our home state of Colorado that number (including convictions) is only 18%.
To watch or read the news locally, one would think at least half of black people who live in the Pikes Peak region are criminals. Maybe you think that.
Why doesn’t our perception of our black communities match the data?
Easy answer. We are not using data to reach our conclusions.
The census data from 2017 is out. Crime statistics are on a statewide website and El Paso County has its own page. You can study this yourself.
Eighty-four percent of blacks in the Pikes Peak region are middle class (i.e. do not fit the federal guidelines for poverty) and 82% of blacks who live in the Pikes Peak region are law abiding. If you don’t believe the data, you are stereotyping.
I’m not sure that makes you racist. It makes you wrong though. And facts are more important than your feelings.
If you are black and believe the racial misrepresentation you may suffer from inferiority thinking which is a mental imbalance.
If you are of another race and believe racial stereotypes you may be suffering from superiority thinking which is also a mental imbalance. Those beliefs can have deadly results in a cross-racial conflict.
If you are of any race and work in law enforcement, belief in those stereotypes can have deadly results when having to apprehend criminals who happen to be black.
It is time for all media in the Pikes Peak region to correctly represent all communities. People want the truth. Look at CNN and The Denver Post. Staff layoffs happen with news outlets that lose followers due to loss of community trust.
In media the stories we tell affect everyone. Use that power wisely.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.