Early Tuesday morning, beloved actor, musician, and activist, Jussie Smollett was attacked at a Chicago Subway by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs along with “This is MAGA country” as they viciously beat him, tied a noose around his neck, and poured bleach over his body.1 As we send prayers and healing toward Jussie and his family, it is clear that for those living at the intersection of Black and LGBTQ identities, discrimination and violence is compounded.
That is why we’re demanding that mainstream media stop the euphemism of this brutal attack. News outlets like Entertainment Tonight and NBC News have refused to be clear and integral in their reporting; instead choosing to soften these vicious acts as “racial” or “racially charged”, instead of calling them for what they are: racist and homophobic.2
Since Donald Trump’s ascent to power, we’ve seen a change in the way racist and sexist violence has been reported by the media. Rather than holding the line as arbiters of truth, some of our most trusted publications have allowed Trump’s normalization of racist and sexist ideals to run the show. Representative Steve King, who infamously asked why the term “white supremacist” was offensive, has enjoyed the benefit of the doubt from the media–often being referred to as a “racialist” even as his government website links to overtly white nationalist websites.3 And who can forget the New York Times characterizing Donald Trump’s calling African nations “sh*thole countries” as “racially tinged?”4 Or ABC News referring to lynching threats against Senator Al Green as “racially charged?”5 The truth is that phrases like “racially-charged” and “racially-tinged” serve a dual function- they allow news outlets to avoid offending their conservative readership while giving people and institutions who propagate systemic race-based discrimination a way to avoid the claim of racism.
In the wake of such a horrific homophobic and racist act, the media must be accountable for their power to dictate the language we use and the ideas that we discuss. But instead, they’ve relished in the sensationalism and ratings bonanzas that the normalization of misogyny and racism have brought them. It’s been reported that during the 2016 election, Donald Trump received an estimated $2 billion of free media.6 And in turn, cable news networks profited, with primetime viewership on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC up 50%.7 With the lives of so many at stake, we cannot allow news to play the middle.
As Jussie Smollett lies in a hospital bed recovering from an attack committed against him because of his race and sexual orientation, news media must be clear and integral in their reporting of racist attacks. They owe it not only to Jussie–but the countless others who fear for their lives in the wake of emboldened white supremacists. They must be clear, direct, and fair in their reporting and stop normalizing a hate-fuelled movement that seeks to harm us.Join with us as we demand that news outlets stop using phrases like “racially-charged” for explicitly racist acts.
Until justice is real,
–Rashad, Arisha, Brandi, Jade, Evan, Johnny, Future, Corina, Chad, Mary, Saréya, Angela, Eesha, and the rest of the Color Of Change team.
NOTE: From pressuring mainstream media to stop using the term “alt-right” to campaigning against Associated Press’s use of the term “chain migration”, Color Of Change has led the fight against biased reporting. Later this year, we will be publishing a media reference guide that will provide news outlets with guidelines and preferred language for equitable and fair coverage. We ask you to join with us in this crucial fight by texting MEDIA to 225568.