A provocative article at the conservative blog Hot Air comments on a pattern in American coverage of violent interracial crimes. When the perps are white and the victims are black, we can expect the press coverage to be explicit about it, with predictable assumption of racist motivations. On the other hand, when the perps are black and the victims are white, the races of all parties are normally suppressed and no one dares speak the r-word.
If I were a conservative, or a racist, I’d go off on some aggrieved semi-conspiratorial rant here. Instead I’ll observe what Hot Air did not: that the race of violent black criminals is routinely suppressed in news coverage even in the much more common case that their victims are also black. Hot Air is over-focusing here.
That said, Hot Air seems to have a a separate and valid point when it notes that white victims are most likely to have their race suppressed from the reporting when the criminals are black – especially if there was any hint of racist motivation. There is an effective taboo against truthfully reporting incidents in which black criminals yell racial epithets and threats at white victims during the commission of street crimes. If not for webbed security-camera footage we’d have no idea how depressingly common this seems to be – the press certainly won’t cop to it in their print stories.
No conspiracy theory is required to explain the silence here. Reporters and editors are nervous about being thought racist, or (worse) having “anti-racist” pressure groups demonstrating on their doorsteps. The easy route to avoiding this is a bit of suppressio veri – not lying, exactly, but not uttering facts that might be thought racially inflammatory.
The pattern of suppression is neatly explained by the following premises: Any association of black people with criminality is inflammatory. Any suggestion that black criminals are motivated by racism to prey on white victims is super-inflammatory. And above all, we must not inflame. Better to be silent.
I believe this silence is a dangerous mistake with long-term consequences that are bad for everyone, and perhaps worst of all for black people.
Journalistic silence has become a kind of black privilege. The gravamen of the Hot Air article is that gangs of black teenagers and twentysomethings can racially taunt whites and assault both whites and nonwhites confident in the knowledge that media coverage will describe them as neutrally as “youths” (ah, what an anodyne term that is!).
I’m here to say what that article could have but did not: suppressio veri, when performed systematically enough, itself becomes a code that can be read. What the press is teaching Americans to assume, story after story, is that if “youths” commit public violence and they are not specified to be white, or hispanic, or asian — then it’s yet another black street gang on a wilding.
Here is my advice to anti-racists and their media allies: it is in your interests to lift the veil of silence a little. You need to introduce some noise into the correlation – come clean about race in at least some small percentage of these incidents to create reasonable doubt about the implications of silence in others. You do not want your readers trained to assume that “youths” invariably decodes to “thug-life blacks on a casual rampage”. I don’t want this either, and I don’t think anyone should.
I am not mocking or satirizing or being sarcastic when I say this. I don’t like where I think the well-meant suppressio veri is taking us. I think it’s bound to empower people who are genuinely and viciously bigoted by giving them an exclusive on truthful reporting. I don’t think it’s good for anyone of any color for bigots to have that power.
Nor is it any good thing that “youths” now behave as though they think they’re operating with a kind of immunity. We saw this in Ferguson, when Michael Brown apparently believed he could could beat up a Pakistani shopkeeper and then assault a cop without fearing consequences. (“What are you going to do, shoot me?” he sneered, just before he was shot) As he found out, eventually that shit’ll get you killed; it would have been much better for everybody if he hadn’t been encouraged to believe that his skin color gave him a free pass.
I have no doubt that studiously blind press coverage was a significant enabler of that belief. The Michael Browns of the world may not be very bright, but they too can read the code. Every instance of suppressio veri told Brown that if he committed even a violent crime in public a lot of white people in newsrooms and elsewhere would avert their eyes. The press’s attempted canonization of Trayvon Martin only put the cherry on top of this.
It’s not clear to me that this kind of indulgence is any better – even for blacks themselves – than the old racist arrangement in which blacks “knew their place” and were systematically cowed into submission to the law. After all – if it needs pointing out again – the victims of black crime and trash culture are mainly other blacks. Press silence is empowering thugs.
Are we ever going to stop doing this? Anyone looking for a way that the system keeps black people down need look no further than the way we feed them fantasies of victimization and entitlement. For this our press bears much of the blame.
UPDATE: The “What are you going to do, shoot me?” quote is not confirmed. It may derive from confusion with another incident a few days later in the the Louis metro area.