“The mass media play a crucial role in defining the problems and issues of public concern. They are the main channels of public discourse in our segregated society”.
Earlier this week, The Center for Media Justice & Free Press, together with MAG-Net members, Main Street Project, Waite House and Headwaters Foundation for Justice welcomed author Joseph Torres to the Twin Cities to promote his book, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media co-written with Juan González.
Over the course of two days, Joseph spoke to college classes at the University of MN and Minneapolis Community and Technical College as well as one breakfast for MN Digital Justice Coalition members and another for Community leaders. In just over 48 hours Joseph’s visit to MN brought the story of Race and the American media to over 200 individuals in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The high point of his visit was an evening community event. Speaking to an audience of over 70 (majority people of color) Joseph unpacked the legacy of racial segregation in the media and the ways in which it distorted news coverage, and impacted the health, safety and wellbeing of communities of color. Using a mixture of images, storytelling and facts, Joe walked the room through over 100 years of history that we never learned in school.
The timing for the MN book tour couldn’t have been more perfect. Set against MN’s recent day of action for Trayvon Martin, the conversation explored the ways in which the Media not only entertains and offers “news” to people, but also transfers the stereotypes, beliefs and values of the society to reproduce the existing social order. The largely black and brown audience clearly understood this, and it was evident that people not only agreed with what Joseph was sharing—most had experienced it first hand. Though we may not all have the vocabulary to describe it, as people of color we understand that the media creates a landscape that shapes how society views and responds to our communities. Did I mention this was only a couple days after the One Million Hoodies March in Minneapolis? Now, more than ever, it’s clear the media has a huge role to play in the legitimization of racial hierarchy.
The presentation and subsequent discussion ultimately demonstrated that the way the public looks at issues – and whether or not the public is even aware of certain issues– like racism- is directly related to the way these issues are covered by media. The way the media covers these issues is directly related to who is employed by the media – which is directly related to who owns the media. While this affects everyone— the ways it shapes public opinion, public policy, the responses of public officials, and the actions of the state—it disproportionately affects communities of color.