1.10.2005

Poynter Online - The Language of Race

The Language of Race

Poynter Online - The Language of Race is a very interesting article I ran into that discusses how journalists use a sort of "shorthand" to describe racial and class indentifiers in news stories. Ex:

White-run news organizations historically used racial identifiers to distinguish the person from white people. If you were not white and you were in the news, your race would be mentioned. It was that simple. An example from the archives of a southern newspaper under the headline, "Harm Escaped by Bed Smoker":

"Ivory Jefferson, Negro, 31, Beaumont, Tex., truck driver, told police he was awakened about 5 a.m. Friday by a combination of heat, smoke, and the clanging of a fire bell." –December 1959

Black people, like American Indians, Asians, and Latinos, were regarded as a "separate society," a retired southern newspaper editor once told me. So it was natural to identify them by race so that white readers would know the story wasn’t about white people. The use of race had nothing to do with the details of how a person looked. All that mattered was that they were not white.


I've often wondered about this. When I was growing up and we'd be watching the news and some heinous crime was being reported, the first thing my parents wanted to know was "Did a black guy do it?" And they'd be disappointed if they had or elated if they hadn't.
I don't subscribe to any notions of being some sort of ambassador for one's ethnic indentity, but when I hear of some brother being an asshole - I still cringe.
I think it's similar to the way one of my coworkers feels when she hears about Neo-Nazi activies in her native Idaho...or something.

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