Just days following the horrific killing of nine unarmed African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, aired a video on gun violence featuring only African Americans. Watching his segment, one could draw the conclusion that African Americans are the sole perpetrators of gun violence. All the while, white Americans are twice as likely as Black Americans to have a gun in their home according to Pew Research Center. Notwithstanding the unbalanced coverage of gun violence, there were several problems with Sunday’s Meet the Press segment.
First, the video contributed to harmful portrayals of African Americans. Such portrayals have been known to foster racist ideology which can spur violence. Prior to killing Rev. Clementa Pinckley and his parishioners, Dylann Roof allegedly said black people were raping white women and taking over the country. Clearly he spent his life bathing in a cesspool of mistruths and distortions. While Roof should receive stiff punishment for the atrocities he committed, media hosts and commentators must take a closer look at their coverage to ensure they are not stoking racial animus.
That the video was shown on Father’s Day was also troublesome, as African-American men have long been assailed as absentee. In the same way African Americans are not the only perpetrators of gun violence, there are plenty positive examples of African American men closely involved in the lives of their children. We have to be careful about the images we send that suggest otherwise.
My other problem with the video is this; by design or not, the piece shifted the debate away from the hate crime in Charleston — where African Americans were victims — to crimes committed by African-American perpetrators. Our nation should be able to mourn the loss of innocent lives without subliminal messages that reinforce negative perceptions about people of color. The media has to do better about recognizing the vulnerability of African Americans, rather than exclusively seeing, and covering us, as criminals.
Finally, Todd couched his introduction to the video by saying gun violence is “colorblind.” Telling viewers an issue is “color-blind” and then showing a video with one group identified as aggressors is counterproductive. Moreover, we do not live in a colorblind society. Just ask African Americans in Ferguson, Mo., where the Department of Justice found that “…over the past two years, African Americans accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of citations, 93 percent of arrests and 88 percent of cases in which the police used force.” Ask the families of the nine congregants who were killed in Charleston last week as they prayed and worshipped together. Or, engage the families of the countless unarmed African-American men and women, boys and girls, who have been racially profiled and killed by police or White citizens. They too will tell you, very few issues in America are colorblind.
Todd has said his intent was not to demonize African Americans. However, intent does not excuse impact. The media must do a better job covering African Americans, in particular, and people of color generally. Were it not for the public outcry following the segment, Todd and his team may have found it reasonable to air, what he termed a “powerful” video.
While we were unable to stop Dylann Storm Roof from pulling the trigger, we can control the narratives we postulate about one another. In the same way the Federal Communications Commission monitors phone, radio and TV content for inappropriate language and content, we should review media coverage from the lens of whether it fosters hate. The truth of the matter is we all have a role to play in keeping our communities safe.