The media’s silencing of Black voices emboldens this alienation and makes it easier for news outlets to prioritize stories that benefit social elites over stories that benefit Black communities. These stories then become national — and in some cases, global — narratives.
This often causes non-Black people — and sometimes even Black people — to internalize what’s said about Black communities, true or not. When Black communities and organizations speak about their realities, it shines light on what’s really going on, oftentimes adding necessary context to (or completely dispelling) rhetoric that’s spread quite the distance.
That’s why Free Press’ News Voices: Colorado project, in collaboration with the Colorado Media Project and the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab), launched the Black Voices Working Group in February. The group, filled with journalists, community organizers and community leaders, came together to suggest action steps for communities, newsrooms and funders to enact as an intervention against the silencing and alienation Black communities have been subjected to for so long.
Over the course of six weeks, the group explored how Colorado newsrooms and those that fund them can better serve and reflect the needs, realities and concerns of Black community members. And today we’re releasing a comprehensive report with our recommendations.
We’re also holding a series of events this week:
Tues., Sept. 21, 5:30–7:30 p.m. MST: ‘The Time Is Right Now’: A Community Conversation with Black Voices. Four working-group members will discuss the recommendations in depth; this will be followed by a conversation about how communities, newsrooms and funders can put these guidelines into immediate action.
Wed., Sept. 22, 12:30 p.m. MST: Free Press will host a Facebook Live conversation with Diamond Hardiman about the Black Voices project. Tune in here.
Fri., Sept. 24: Community spotlights and a call to action: Follow Free Press’ Twitter page to learn how Black-serving and -led community organizations are answering the working group’s calls to action — and how you can join the effort.
Acknowledging harm is a critical first step toward repair
The working group focused on many themes — and chief on the list was naming and acknowledging how Colorado newsrooms have historically harmed Black communities … and continue to today.
The uprisings of 2020 — although not a surprise to many Black community members — were a stark reminder that white supremacy has been nurtured in almost every arena, including the media.
Our Black Voices Working Group members felt it necessary to first name and acknowledge harm because there can be no reconciliation, no collaboration and no restoration without a true assessment and understanding of exactly how Black voices have been silenced, Black stories have been demonized, Black needs have gone unheard and Black creativity has been stolen. Then and only then can Black communities begin considering what kind of repair is possible and what new dreams for the future of local news are available to us, whether it’s the redistribution of resources or the shifting of power.
We recognize that repairing generations of harm, unwinding longstanding practices and cultures within the journalism industry, and building new structures will take time. It is both possible and necessary to move with intention and urgency. Those who have the power and capacity to change harmful systems within the news media must commit to taking action. As one working-group member said, “The time is right now.”
Resistance to white-supremacist narratives
Since the first enslaved Africans were trafficked to these shores in 1619, the media have peddled propaganda that has criminalized Black people and described them as deserving of death.
This became the national narrative about Black victims of lynchings and other forms of white-supremacist terrorism like the Tulsa Race Massacre. Ida B. Wells and other trailblazing journalists worked vigorously to expose the truth of these acts of violence. Black people were not being attacked and killed because of their “criminality”; they were being killed so Black people would remain a permanent underclass, with no political or economic power.
Mistruths like the ones Ida B. Wells and others dispelled have continued to resurface. Other common mistruths that Black community members and organizations have disputed include: “Black activists are ungrateful troublemakers,” “victims of state-sanctioned violence are deserving of that violence” and “Black-on-Black crime is an issue / Black people are ignoring intra-community violence.”
When lies spread about Black people, our communities are left subject to two dangers: the dangers of explicit white violence, and the dangers of white saviorism. Both of these harm Black people, either by direct harm, or by state-promoted neglect.
Aside from debunking mistruths or adding proper context to popular narratives, Black folks have used our journalism to share information about political organizing, mutual aid and local events. This has helped organizations collaborate and recruit, this has helped people get meals, this has helped people get their bills paid. It builds Black power, which builds a collective movement toward both safety and liberation.
Across Colorado, there’s a variety of Black organizations serving a variety of Black communities. There’s a variety of Black people who are experiencing, creating and discovering things day by day. Colorado’s population is constantly growing, and within that growth is a burgeoning Black population. Longstanding and new Black residents alike are looking for community, resources, support and authentic stories about ourselves.
Respecting the agency of Black voices — while amplifying those voices with their consent — is a proper step toward true media equity. We can learn more about how Black people are navigating and supporting each other through this pandemic. We can learn more about how Black people are providing education, financial support and other resources for one another. But this can be done only with actual intent. Black American voices, Black immigrant voices, Black LGBTQIA+ voices, Black non-Christian voices, Disabled Black people’s voices, Poor Black voices, and Incarcerated Black voices must all be amplified in Colorado media.
Journalists of all races and publications of all kinds must be receptive to this information. The media’s role in the spread of information is an extremely crucial one. Members of various Black-centered organizations are making a demand for information-sharing systems that affirm Black lives, Black joy and Black voices. Although our report began as the product of our working group, our demands belong to Black voices continuing the long legacy of resistance and narrative reclamation.
Tashan Montgomery, who is an instructor with Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism, is a member of the Black Voices Working Group.
Diamond Hardiman works as a manager for Free Press’ News Voices: Colorado project and served as a facilitator and member of the Black Voices Working Group.