How Newsrooms Help Destroy Black Lives


“The pen is mightier than the sword.” It’s true. Every day I watch as journalists’ pens cut down Black lives.

Source: Watson

Last week in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Aaron Tucker skipped the job interview he was traveling to and instead jumped from a city bus to save a stranger from a burning car — only to be referred to as an “ex-con” in a CBS News headline.

Did this headline commit any factual errors? No. What it committed was worse: the perpetuation of toxic racial bias. References like “ex-con” reduce Black folks’ humanity in a way that White subjects rarely experience. Aaron Tucker could have been referred to as “resident,” “young father,” “community hero” or simply “man” to the exact same effect.

I know what you’re about to say: You Googled this story and felt Tucker’s incarceration was relevant. Maybe the headline writer’s goal was to paint a contrast, to show that an “ex-con” still has enough humanity to save a life.

Now ask yourself: Why on earth would we need to prove the humanity of a human being?

The answer is that our system of mass criminalization robs Black folks of their humanity long before they enter a prison cell. Before we’re even able to talk, America’s system of media, education, and culture teaches us that Black people are allegedly predisposed to criminal activity. That’s why it’s not hard to shoot them on sight or to let extrajudicial killings of Blacks go unpunished. This miseducation is why most Americans have no issue with the fact that there are currently more African American men in prison than there were enslaved in 1850.

In other words, imagine if we didn’t need to prove the “humanity” of someone like Aaron Tucker.

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