This Week in UGH: Week of March 18-24, 2018

This week is going to be a bit different than past weeks. If it were any other week, I’d be writing to you about the ever-revolving door in the Trump administration (again) with John Bolton’s appointment. I’d also be writing about how the politicians we’ve elected to office have been letting us down because we still have no protections for DREAMers. I’d also be writing about how Transphobic policies for the military. These are important things. These are enraging things. We should be working to fix by electing better qualified people to make laws and policy. We should also be holding elected officials accountable for their lack of empathy.

Now that we got those terrible things out of the way, let’s talk about the other poison this week: the media coverage of white crime. I know I’m not the first person to broach the topic. I won’t be the last. This week, two white young men committed acts that have been explained away in headlines with an empathetic nod towards their humanity and feelings, a privilege not afforded to people of color.

The Poison

  1. Maryland Shooter Media Coverage: The headline written by TIME regarding the school shooter this week read “Maryland High School Shooter Was Lovesick Teen, Police Say.” This headline reveals a couple of interesting layers. First, that police approach these types of tragedies and crimes from a different viewpoint than if it they were acts perpetrated by people of color (no surprise there if you’ve been following police brutality nationwide). Second, that media outlets are still biased towards the authority of police and the whitewashing of these kinds of crimes. The lead-in to the article was the following, “Tuesday’s school shooting in southern Maryland that left the shooter dead and two students wounded increasingly appears to be the action of a lovesick teenager.” Let’s not kid ourselves here. We’ve all been lovesick teenagers at one point in our lives. Most of us didn’t bring a weapon to school to end the lives of the people who broke our hearts. To place the blame on others for not catering to the whims and feelings of unstable white men is absurd. This is an effect of the patriarchy and the toxic masculinity it engenders. One of the students, Jaelynn Willey, later died when she was taken off life support. This crime was committed by a young white man who felt entitled to own Jaelynn – a symptom of the disease that is domestic and dating violence. We have to stop treating domestic and dating violence as situations as something we should ignore. Even in an article discussing Jaelynn’s death, the following nugget about the shooter emerges, “Friends and neighbors described him as a friendly, happy teenager who liked to play ball, skateboard and hang out with friends.” Ask yourself if you can imagine a line like that, which was followed by many others discussing the bright promise of the young white perpetrator if this was a person of color.
  2. Austin Bomber Media Coverage: The Austin bomber targeted prominent black families. When he was caught this week by police and killed himself by detonating a bomb in his car, the following headlines ensued to much of our collective outrage: “Austin bomber was frustrated with his life, authorities say” (Washington Post) and “Austin bombing suspect's family speaks out about his 'darkness' (ABC News). Like the Maryland shooter, the descriptions of the bomber are sympathetic to the point of enragement. While the actions of the Maryland shooter were born out of dating violence and white entitlement over women’s bodies, the Austin bomber is a terrorist motivated by racism. He targeted prominent black families in the Austin area and keeps getting a pass in the coverage with insights as to how supposedly troubled he was and how no one saw this coming, “‘The family is a normal Christian family. There was nothing going on with Mark when I knew him, I knew him as a teenager. He reminded me of every teenage boy, it was hard to get a smile out of him,’ the friend said.” Read that sentence and substitute Christian for Muslim. Would this get the same kind of compassionate coverage? No. The police are waffling whether to call this man a terrorist or not, but would they be so slow to label a person of color a terrorist for the same actions?

The Antidote

  1. Call out outlets when they display bias. Be a conscious reader. We all have bias; let’s fight against it.
  2. Today, millions of people attended the Washington, DC and sibling marches for March for Our Lives in the hopes that we can have sensible gun reform. Let’s keep the ball rolling.
  3. BONUS: Read a good book. Drink tea. Be kind.
Adriana WilsonComment