eracing spilled ink

Journalists always used to report race in crime stories. To put it more accurately, they always reported when the accused was black, but made no such specification for whites. The trouble was (and is) that people made associations in their mind - black:thief, black:murderer, black:rapist, black:drugs, et cetera. For the writers, race always was assumed to be that of the dominant culture, and if that wasn't true, they pointed it out because it was different to them. The problem being that when race wasn't specified in crime stories, many people just assumed it was another black criminal.

Media stereotypes hit us in the face years after origination. Polls have shown that people are more afraid of black folks. Meanwhile, crime statistics showed more white male criminals than black, and violent crimes were being committed by people the victims knew. But the fear factor was an indicator that the messengers were doing something wrong.

Nowadays, professionals and educators - including the Poynter Institute, a respected organization that sets a lot of standards - have reached consensus: Race
generally shouldn't be mentioned in stories unless it it crucial to the story (race relations, redistricting, hate crimes et cetera). In crime stories, the race of the perpetrator should not be mentioned unless it is a keystone to the crime (hate crimes) or unless there is a description of the perpetrator so complete that anyone could identify the person walking down the street. Thus, a "black man in his 30s, about 5'8" and 200 pounds" describes too many people to be able to clearly identify him. But a "white man in his 30s, about 5'8" and 200 pounds with brown hair, a mustache, a large, diagonal scar across his left cheek and a tattoo of a black heart on his right upper arm" would be specific enough to recognize the guy on the street.

Still, Fox News and the Boston Herald repeatedly indentify race in crime stories with little to no other identifiers aside from gender. In most cases, it's black guys. In one Herald story I did see a suspect labeled as a white male, but that was just once.

Some might argue that with media ownership concentrated in the hands of so few, and those few having a vested interest in retaining power and structures that support their power, it is an intentional but subtle effort to divide the working class along race lines. Or some might argue it's as unintentional as it probably was for a lot of journalists 50 years ago - and that we simply have forgotten history. Neither collective amesia nor the corruption of power is a palatable option.

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