This is a guest post for swpd by Michael Gibson, an artist and humorist who lives in Youngstown, Ohio. He describes himself as a "Short Fat black Guy and Fledgling Writer of sorts, and a married father of four." (You can read more about him below this post.)
Very rarely do our local, white-framed media report on the fact that black people are doing good, charitable deeds in their communities, just as white people are. When they do report on a black person's good work, they frame the piece as if it were the exception to the rule. There’s always a negative taint about the report.
The mindset of the local news media is located where our news anchors hail from—the suburbs. You can easily perceive who the news is targeted to when it airs at 6:00 p.m. every day. Black people clearly don't matter much to the people who write and produce the news, and when we experience tragedy, there is very little sympathy or empathy expressed from whites.
We are portrayed as thugs and criminals, unworthy of equal consideration as people. For the most part, whites frame and report news about blacks in ways that fit their narrow definition of blacks. We are mere stereotypes, bits of statistical data whereby whites judge our worthiness to be amongst them. We are judged on our appearance -- Doo Rags, Saggy pants, Black Male Swagger -- and on our speech, whether we be safe Negro or no. (This in light of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid commenting that, Obama, as a black candidate, could be successful thanks, in part, to his "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.")
However, if the perpetrator is white, then the story is that there must be something wrong with him mentally, because good white people just don’t do things like that. The lawbreaker suffers for his crime as an individual, hence the totality of the white race is not blamed for his misdeeds. This is why I don't watch the local news anymore, for it has little to offer in the way of content for a community that’s 40 percent black.
You would think sometimes when you watch the news that black people are invisible. However, whites sometimes remind other whites that we are indeed visible, especially when we do something wrong. Then our picture is splattered on the front page of every local newspaper, with the local reporter using our image as the lead-in. We become relevant either when we offend white sensibilities or violate white decorum.
I really hope white people can come to understand why black people are mad so often. I also hope whites can come to understand (and I know it’s hard) during those times when black anger is turned inward, and we inexorably take that frustration out on ourselves or others. I hope that we can be given the same leeway -- the same consideration that privilege bestows upon them -- to search for the historical and other mitigating factors as to why a person, any person, acts the way they do.
A friend of mine who is an esteemed Pastor and Professor at the local college spoke to me of her experience. She’s been married to a white man (my Pastor) for over 33 years now. Their 23-year-old son was involved in an incident where he rescued four children from a burning house that ultimately burned to the ground; in the process, he sustained 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree burns to his upper back, the side of his face, and his neck, ear, and arms. The only reason the local news covered the event was because they bowed to pressure from family and friends and those who know them in the community. These were people who wondered why it took so long for anything related to the incident to appear on the local news.
When one station finally got around to reporting this young man’s heroism (4 days after the fact), they made it their last segment. Another station didn't even appear to be interested in this story of a black hero until after the first stations aired it, and the local paper reported it (5 days after the fact). The station that had been pressured into being interested reported first on local taxes, charitable things some whites were doing, local political fights, etc. They waited until the last minute (and that’s how long the segment took, about a minute) to air it.
This heroic deed happened on the south side, in the inner city. This gallant, selfless act took place where the “bad” black people live, so I'm sure it raised a few flags with the white news director. Aside from Will Smith, there aren't too many black action heroes in the media. So it’s hard for whites to see black men as anything other than thugs, rappers or athletes.
It’s to the point where black people aren't noticed until we do something that fits the stereotypical view whites have about us. Then it gives them a framework to fashion their story around. When Michael Vick was busted for his participation in a dog-fighting ring, whites looked to examine the black mindset that motivates some black men (if not all, in their view) who do terrible things like this. White media outlets held panel discussions; experts on human behavior were interviewed at length. Consequently, when black men commit acts as in the case of Michael Vick, some whites respond with a, “well there you go,” and “well what did you expect?”
I remember a young black female news reporter who was hired by one of the local stations; there was a piece about her in the paper. While explaining how excited she was to be working in Youngstown, she lamented that as a black journalist, she was not allowed to tell the stories from the community that she knew the viewers there would be interested in. She would have to toe the party line so to speak, and do stories that appealed to a broader audience. Namely — but not explicitly — whites.
It used to amaze me how white reporters could brave the dark and dangerous streets of the inner city to give white viewers a feel of the gritty underbelly of mainstream society. But then, why couldn’t they just as easily scour the streets to bring us positive representations of blacks as well? Why is it so hard for these same news outlets to view us through the same non-discriminatory lens as they view their own? You can really get ticked off when the news anchor looks you in the eye and says something like, “Bringing you the news that affects our valley! Fair and objective news reporting!” You want to put your foot through the television, because you know that’s a lie.
About himself, author Michael Gibson writes,
I was always considered shy and withdrawn as a child. I was drawn to Art at a very early age, owing the spark of my obsession to two young artists in my school named Al Lewis and Bobby Crochet. Both took me under their wings and showed me all they knew. I made my home at the school library, always coming home with a bounty of knowledge under my arms, seldom playing outside with the other children, opting instead to feed from the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael. My gift gave me a sense of purpose, doing a lot to lift my esteem.
Considered eccentric by some, and a loner by others, I was cursed with a young face that didn't help matters much. Being black you are expected to look like you just got out of prison. People always think they have me figured out, sometimes even talking down to me, for they think me to be their junior, rather than their peer or senior. I worked in mental Health for over 19 yrs before going on disability.
I have garnered a host of prestigious awards in such notable shows as the 60th Artist Annual at The Butler Institute of American Art, where I was awarded the Inaugural Margaret Kaulback Best in Show award, for my piece entitled, Dancer at Dusk. I was subsequently awarded a One Man Show in the follow-up event, the 61rst Artist Annual. I have been married to a wonderful woman Karen for 29 yrs now, being the Father of 4 grown children; 3 daughters and a son. I am also the grandfather of 4 beautiful girls.