The contrast in media narratives about Baltimore and Waco are undeniable—but many white Americans are blind to them
By Chauncey DeVega
As writers such as Salon’s own Jenny Kutner keenly observed:
Of course, the deadly shootout in Texas was exactly that: A shootout. The rival gangs were not engaged in a demonstration or protest and they were predominantly white, which means that—despite the fact that dozens of people engaged in acts of obscene violence—they did not “riot,” as far as much of the media is concerned. “Riots” are reserved for communities of color in protest, whether they organize violently or not, and the “thuggishness” of those involved is debatable. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Texas.
Racial bias in news reporting has been repeatedly documented by scholars in media studies, critical race theory, political science, and sociology. As anti-racism activist Jane Elliot incisively observed, “People of color can’t even turn on the televisions in their own homes without being exposed to white racism.” The centuries of racism, and resulting stereotypes about the inherent criminality of Black Americans, are central to why the events in Waco and Baltimore have received such divergent news coverage.
The response to the Twin Peaks shootout shows how privilege really works.
By Brittney Cooper
White people, even well-meaning and thoughtful ones, have the privilege of looking at deadly acts of mass violence of this sort as isolated local incidents, particular to one community. They do not look at such incidents as indicative of anything having to do with race or racism. But everything from the difference in law enforcement response to media response tells us what we need to know about how white privilege allows acts of violence by white people to be judged by entirely different standards than those of any other group. If a Black motorcycle gang had engaged in a shootout in a parking lot, any honest white person will admit that the conversation would have sounded incredibly different.
Frequently in conversations that I have observed or participated in with white people about race, the claim is levied that it is Black people “who make everything about race.” But this incident in Waco gives lie to that claim. It turns out that when white privilege is in clear operation, white people are invested in making sure that we don’t see race in operation. Charles Mills, a philosopher of race, has a term which I think applies here: epistemology of white ignorance. By this means, he means that white people have created a whole way of knowing the world that both demands and allows that they remain oblivious to the operations of white supremacy, that white people remain “intent on denying what is before them.” Thus even though three gangs have now attacked each other in broad daylight and killed or injured 27 people, there is no nagging, gnawing sense of fear, no social anxiety about what the world is coming to, no anger at the thugs who made it unsafe for American families to go about their regular daily activities without fear of being clipped by a stray bullet, no posturing from law enforcement about the necessity of using military weapons to put down the lawless band of criminals that turned a parking lot into a war zone in broad daylight. More than that, there is no sense of white shame, no hanging of the head over the members of their race that have been out in the world representing everything that is wrong with America.
That kind of intra-racial shame is reserved primarily for Black people.
Most white citizens will insist that this was just an isolated incident, even though the gangs were already under surveillance for consistent participation in criminal activity. And this studied ignorance, this sense in which people could look at this set of incidents and simply refuse to see all the ways in which white privilege is at play—namely that no worse than arrest befell any the men who showed up hours later with weapons, looking for a fight—returns me to the words of Malcolm X. For many Americans, this is just good ole American fun, sort of like playing Cowboys-and-Indians in real life. As Malcolm reminded us, “whites idolize fighters.” So while I’m sure many Americans are appalled at the senseless loss of life, there is also the sense that this is just “those wild Texans” doing the kind of thing they do.
By David Edwards
According to McKesson, racism was insidious because people tended to think of it as an extreme.
“It’s this idea that like the n-word is the only signifier of racism in America when that’s actually not true,” he said. “Racism is about how power is used to negatively impact people because issues of race. So, what you saw with Waco, you saw this radical humanization of people who actually committed violent crimes, who really did violent crimes in a way you did see that same humanization with people in Baltimore who were breaking curfew.”
“They were treated in ways that criminalized them, really intense ways. In a way that you didn’t see with actual criminals.”