Categorization by race

HURRICANE KATRINA

A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

We as people are innately categorical.  What I mean by this is that as a way of defining, distinguishing and organizing something for our own personal perception of a thing, we place things into categories that we believe they fit in.

For me, hummers go in the douchebag category and beaters go into the poor college student category.

Does this mean than anyone who drives a hummer is a douchebag?  Of course not.  Is everyone who drives a beater a poor college student?  Nope.  Is this true often enough that it’s a stereotype that multiple people come up with?  Absolutely.  That’s why those characterizations or judgements have been made.

What does this have to do with journalism?  Oh just about everything.  It affects what you write, how you say it, how you cover something, who’s going to read your articles, if people are going to agree or disagree with things that you’ve said.

The most controversial place that I’ve seen this affect journalistic writing is when writing about race.  The blunt and outright displays of racism are less commonplace today but the microaggressions of racism still plague us.

The store security guard that follows you around while shopping because of your age, the way you’re dressed or your skin color.  Being complimented by friends or colleagues saying that you’re one of the “special” or “good” ones because you act like a decent human being and not the unfair stereotype where they’ve filed you.

These are all microaggressions that are slowly but surely tearing us apart.

One of the more known examples of racist media framing was back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina terrorized the east coast.  Black people were described as “looting” grocery stores while white people “found” food in abandoned grocery stores.

How can we as journalists keep ourselves out of our stories and be unbiased when we automatically, habitually and innately use words that paint people in such a negative light?

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