After Buffalo, Media and Tech Can't Look Away Any Longer
A church elder. A grandmother. A grandfather. A security guard. A Sunday school teacher. A baker. A civil-rights activist. A jitney driver. A father of three. A young girl, with “a lot of love to give.”
Ruth Whitfield, Celestine Chaney, Andre Mackneil, Aaron Salter, Pearl Young, Geraldine Talley, Katherine Massey, Heyward Patterson, Margus Morrison and Roberta Drury were all undoubtedly much more than that list above can ever capture.
Names of all 10 who died in Saturday's shooting in Buffalo by a white supremacist have been released. Here is what we know about the victims.https://t.co/2y9GKjuY7p— The Buffalo News (@TheBuffaloNews) May 16, 2022
Ten people living their lives and loving their families and going to work or stopping by to pick up a few groceries in Buffalo on a Saturday afternoon. All of them gone — murdered by a white-supremacist terrorist just because they were there and just because they were Black.
Like you, we are looking at their pictures and reading the short paragraphs that can’t really capture the stories of their lives. We didn’t know them, but we are thinking about them and their loved ones and all the people in Buffalo who now must move forward through pain and grief no one should know.
We are thinking too of our Black colleagues showing up to do the work with the weight of this unjust world bearing down.
I'm running out of shit to say about white supremacy culture and the levels of consistent and systemic violence. Too many people resent the conversation more than they do the actual suffering.— Tawana Petty (@Combsthepoet) May 15, 2022
My heart is broken for the families. I'm angry. And I'm tired.
Like you, we are looking at these faces from Buffalo again and again and trying to remember so many others, those of people going to a Bible study in Charleston, or a synagogue in Pittsburgh, or a superstore in El Paso, or out for a run, or to the corner store for some candy. Every time believing after an unthinkable tragedy that something must be different, something must change now, right?
The violence of white supremacy was on full display last weekend. But we know it is around us all the time: in law, in customs, in social norms, in politics — and in our media system, especially in our media system.
As Buffalo News’ columnist Rod Watson wrote after this wave of racist violence reached his city, the shooter’s manifesto "could be a transcript from practically any episode of 'Tucker Carlson Tonight.' "
“I have every confidence the legal system will hold this shooter accountable. What is far less clear is whether this society has what it takes to deal – electorally and financially – with the politicians and media celebrities who create the petri dish in which racism like this can flourish.”
This tragedy could be — it should be — a catalyst to a fundamental reckoning with the media system we’ve created and the danger it poses to Black lives. It could be a moment where we contend with the ways white supremacy and anti-Blackness show up in our media system.
But we know how it goes, from far too much experience. After an initial flurry of round-the-clock coverage and performative hand-wringing, the media move on.
Those peddling racist poison with the biggest platforms deny responsibility and evade accountability. Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page bemoans the spread of the “great replacement theory” in the morning, even as Carlson touts it on Fox in prime time. In his first broadcast after the mass murder, Carlson ducked and dodged, claiming criticism of his complicity in stoking the shooter's racist ideas amounts to censorship.
Mark Zuckerberg has gone before Congress repeatedly to claim that Facebook has beefed up content moderation and tweaked its secret algorithms so that its platforms can’t be used as recruitment places for violent white supremacists, and yet still their hate-filled messages spread across his networks virtually unchecked.
Advertisers get nervous for a minute and tweet out their own platitudes; then they hope no one notices when their pledges to stop funding hatemongers and insurrectionists never materialize. (Racists buy shampoo, too, right?)
You might change the channel, but your cable bill keeps coming every month — and you pay for Fox News (and line the Murdochs’ pockets) whether you watch it or not.
In the wake of yesterday's racist attack in Buffalo, media corporations, elected leaders and the police will attempt to distract from who and what is responsible. We can’t let those who are truly responsible hide:— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) May 15, 2022
It’s easy to get discouraged, hopeless even. But then we see those 10 photos from Buffalo again and think, surely, we can’t be the only ones staring at them today.
There must be people working today at Fox News — maybe not the bold-faced names but the producers, assistants, camera operators, and those folks who got into the business at some point to actually do journalism — who are also looking and asking what their contribution to creating this tragedy has been?
Surely there are engineers at Facebook, Twitch and YouTube up in the middle of the night reading about these victims and worrying about how the thing they’ve made spreads hate and violence and sends teenagers down rabbit-holes of radicalization?
There must be advertisers and ad-buyers out there questioning where their money is going and what they’re compromising for a few more clicks.
There must be congressional staffers seeing these faces and imagining themselves just grabbing a slice of pizza or stopping in to pick up a birthday cake, when someone barges in with body armor and an AR-15 covered in silver-painted slurs and vile messages about reparations.
What if all these people — and all of us, too, who have been complicit in ways large and small in creating it — refused to accept this system any longer? What if they asked themselves: ”Could I do anything to make this less likely to happen again?”
And then did it.
What if people in media, tech and politics stopped just “doing their jobs” and committed to making a change? What if they stopped participating in the production, financing and spread of racist propaganda? What if they put the racists’ megaphones out of business? What if they changed the terms by which the social-media platforms operate? What if they reckoned with our history instead of trying to bury it?
What if, to quote Color Of Change’s Rashad Robinson, the media executives and politicians – and, yes, all of us reading this, too – took “protecting Black people as seriously as they take protecting their profits, protecting themselves and protecting the narrow group of people they have cared about until now?”
What if, this time, they refused to look away?
What kind of world would be possible then?