Anti-Blackness permeates the soul of our society. And while many are actively eradicating and healing from it, the fact remains that it continues to shape every area of our lives. As a writer, I am particularly aware of the ways anti-Blackness manifests in the media. This awareness can give insights on antidotes.
Deeply Damaging Narratives
This topic has come to the center of my attention as I study the mechanisms that contributed to the gentrification of my neighborhood, Montford. When we consider narratives that supported the displacement of Black residents, many were tied to the “War on Drugs.” As Nixon policy advisor John Ehrilichman reflected in 1994, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
As the Equal Justice Initiative writes, “The Nixon Administration’s strategy of using drugs to ‘vilify [African Americans] night after night on the evening news’ fostered a politics of fear and anger that reached frenzied heights in the 1990s.” As I research Montford history, I have found countless articles from the 80s and 90s doing just that, while also celebrating the white people who started moving into the neighborhood to “fix it up.” These narratives have done incomparable damage and perpetuated inequities.
We can look to any phase of history to see anti-Blackness in the media, which is the impetus behind Media 2070, a gorgeous media reparations initiative. Their website includes a plethora of resources to support their call for reparations, including “a 100-page essay examining the history of anti-Black harm in the U.S. media system.”
On their homepage is this fact from 2017, “A Color Of Change and Family Story study finds that Black families represent 59 percent of stories about poverty in news and opinion outlets like CNN and Fox News — even though they make up just 27 percent of poor families in the country.”
The amount of power such media bias has over our perceptions is almost unfathomable. Of course, our local media also displays anti-Blackness. A cursory examination shows many more stories that criminalize and marginalize Black people than those that feature them positively. The lack of coverage of the 40th Anniversary of the YMI’s Goombay Festival – a beautiful, healing, highly successful, historic Black-led event held over Labor Day weekend – speaks volumes, especially when compared to what stories were highlighted instead.
In the section of their website, “How will we know when we are winning?” Media 2070 lists:
- Black people have the social and financial resources needed to tell our own stories from ideation to distribution — and this truth has helped facilitate parallel truths in various Indigenous communities and other communities of color.
- Community members transform media systems and infrastructure toward becoming reparative.
- An abundance of media showcases the possibilities of repair and reconciliation.
- Students are learning about how the media have harmed communities and created racial injustice. Students also engage with possibilities for change.
- Media reparations is an accepted common-sense concept.
- Media-reparations legislative/litigation wins exist.
- Reparations legislation at a local, state and federal level includes media-specific language.
- Media reparations is an issue intersectionally woven into various movements for economic justice, racial justice and human rights.
- Deeper solidarity exists between media-justice organizers/activists and organizers/activists who find political homes in allied movements.
Such a clear path forward, I’m so down to dream with them.
CoThinkk Calls for Responsible Journalism
On August 5, CoThinkk posted this message on their FB page: “Good morning Asheville & Western NC Family…please help me to celebrate the amazing leadership of Tony Shivers! Tony is an amazing leader that is transforming our community and demonstrating every day what it means and looks like to be a servant leader. Please read and share widely this beautiful article by Education NC that highlights his voice as a community leader and CoThinkk Leadership Awardee!
Earlier this week another article was written about Mr. Tony Shivers by the Asheville Citizen-Times. We are asking community: 1. Do not read or circulate the article written by the Asheville Citizen Times, it was not approved by either CoThinkk or Mr. Tony Shivers and is out of alignment with our values, extractive, and exploitative. 2. Share the new article by Education NC with friends and colleagues as a model and demonstration of how journalists and news organizations form positive relationships and responsibly cover BIPOC in journalism and reporting. A special thank you to Mebane Rash for this beautiful article! We appreciate your solidarity and allyship…More to come…..”
Please follow CoThinkk regarding this issue, and definitely read that article about Tony! You can also read this recent interview with members of CoThinkk by East Fork Pottery, and/or watch this video interview.
Local Black Media
Looking over Media 2070’s list of wins, it begins, “Black people have the social and financial resources needed to tell our own stories from ideation to distribution.”
As I have before, I want to lift up Black media outlets in Asheville, starting with the newly revamped WBMU Jamz radio station, which was founded in 1972 and is now operated by the Slay the Mic team, with longtime DJs still on the air, now joined by a new generation.
WRES 100.7 FM marked 20 years on the air this year, and continues on, even with the loss of co-founder John R. Hayes in June. We are grieving his loss and grateful that the vision he, Sophie Dixon, and the other founders had for the station lives on.
The Urban News, a monthly newspaper, was founded in 2005 and, with its focus on the Black community, consistently includes stories that are not covered by outlets.
May these and yet-to-be-created local Black media outlets be fully resourced and expand in scope and impact. Same for outlets owned by Indigenous people and other people of the global majority.
A regional media platform that I highly recommend is Scalawag Magazine. Their mission reads, “Through journalism and storytelling, Scalawag works in solidarity with oppressed communities in the South to disrupt and shift the narratives that keep power and wealth in the hands of the few. Collectively, we pursue a more liberated South.”