The News Beyond Black and White


When lots of white people in the United States were posting videos of themselves on social media dumping ice water over their heads as part of the ALS challenge, many black people were frustrated with the behavior. They recognized that ALS is a worthy cause, and there’s no harm in having a little fun while helping others. However, they were frustrated because this activity was “trending” in the middle of a resurgence of the black Civil Rights movement—protests were mounting in Ferguson, Mo.  Many in the black community felt a profound sense of personal and communal grief over the deaths of black men and boys at the hands of police officers.  The act of pouring water over one’s head, even for charity, presented our nation with silliness when what so many needed was a recognition of that grief.   Actor Orlando Jones captured this frustration in a video in which he dumped a bucket of bullets over his head. I first saw the video on Twitter, and followed a link to an article on The Root. A couple of days later, I saw the video show up in Yahoo! News. Most white people probably hadn’t heard of it until it hit the “mainstream” news—Yahoo!, The Huffington Post, and the like. And that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because it means our news is segregated, and many white people are not aware of the news in communities of color as it is happening—or of the perspectives, needs, and concerns that inform that news. Sure, some news that deeply affects people of color is covered in the mainstream news. But this news is often written or presented from a white perspective, without the context that publications written by and for people of color give. In addition, I’ve seen more than one Twitter conversation in which women of color are pushing back against plagiarism—white writers are reading their work and then presenting it as their own for the mainstream media.

Check out these publications for breaking news that concerns people of color, set within a historical context:

You should also check out Black Twitter: the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #ICan’tBreathe have become flashpoints in the conversation about police violence, and feminists of color consistently challenge the white power structure on Twitter. Black Twitter isn’t only about politics, but it has definitely become a political force.

Moving these publications—and the voices that create them—into the mainstream is vital to change. When you spend time with these articles, when you read the voices within their context, you understand the big questions of journalism—what, why, when, where, and how—in a completely different way. That shift in perspective is about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and how a segregated media reinforces the status quo.

One thought on “The News Beyond Black and White

  1. Shelley says:

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s valid to compare the popularity of the ALS ice bucket challenge phenomenon with the failure to pay attention to the early protests in Ferguson. The reason why the ice bucket challenge went viral is the narcissistic element of posting the video on social media, and the voyeuristic enjoyment of watching others do so — clearly, that’s fun. (There’s a reason, after all, cameramen always jockey for the shot of the coach getting doused by a water cooler after a big win). Those things are absent from news stories of any stripe.

    It’s a more reasonable comparison to juxtapose the level of interest in, say, the latest doings of the Kardashians (or Duggars or whatever celebrity) vs. the early protests. But even then, that comparison is yet another example of a pretty well-known phenomenon.

    That is certainly not to say that mainstream news does a good job of reporting on news of special interest to people of color — agree with you totally there, but I think it’s a different question altogether.


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