Can you imagine that the surrounding white community — any white community — would erupt in the sort of violence we witnessed in Ferguson, Mo.? There was a time, less than a century ago, when riots swept through white neighborhoods and blacks were lynched for petty offences. But now?
Today, most Caucasians are more sophisticated. They are better educated and have developed more dependable self-controls than then. Thus, were looting to break out in a town where they are in the majority, we would be scandalized.
Why wasn’t this the case in Ferguson? Why has the media coverage been so constrained? The answer, I believe, is closet racism; racism that exists, but is not acknowledged.
No, I am not talking about white racism, although it has not completely disappeared. Nor am I talking about black racism, which has become more virulent than its white counterpart. Rather, I am referring to media racism.
Blacks are understandably suspicious of whites. Even Attorney General Eric Holder gave a nod to their sensitivities. Accordingly, African-Americans sometimes see racism where it is absent.
But the media is another matter. How can reporters have been so “even-handed” as to portray the police the same way they did vandals and fire-bombers? Why were cops wearing protective gear accused of fanning the flames of distrust merely because of how they were outfitted?
Many years ago, when I was working for a newspaper in northern New Jersey, I was asked to cover the first Earth Day at Stevens Tech. Once I arrived on the scene, it was apparent nothing was going on. Relatively few students were milling around talking among themselves. That was all.
After I made my presence known, however, things were different. The “activists” suddenly sprang to their feet and began walking around. They also started chanting. In other words, this was a performance put on for my benefit. The objective was to garner media attention.
Does anyone imagine that the Ferguson demonstrations would have lasted as long as they did if they had not attracted sympathetic notice? Would there have been a raucous party in the streets if the marchers were not intent on obtaining their 15 minutes of fame?
To some degree, the media coverage made sense. The public has an insatiable appetite for scandalous details and the press and TV are in the business of attracting eyeballs. But why the nature of the coverage?
Reporters are clearly obsessed with a need to downplay black misconduct. Apparently, the worst thing that can happen is someone might label them racist. Accordingly, they bend over backward to avoid saying negative things about blacks.
Think about this: A black thug — a young man with a criminal record — declares the police officer in question reached out to grab Michael Brown by the throat and drag him into his vehicle. How is this credible? How could a cop, or would a cop, do this to a person twice his size?
And how did the rumor that Brown was shot in the back survive when multiple autopsies showed it was untrue? After all, it came from the same felon.
The media credulity that glosses over these absurdities owes to nothing less than racism. Members of the press do not hold African-Americans to the same standards they apply to others. Rather, they excuse behavior they would never tolerate elsewhere.
Why? Evidently because they do not believe blacks have the same ability to exercise self-control as other Americans. Yet this is racism! In an attempt to protect blacks, journalists assume they are inferior. How ironic is that?
We will never overcome racism in this country until we are honest about race. To this extent, Holder was correct when he said whites are cowards when it comes to these matters.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.