On Tuesday, I was riding home from the class I teach at Life Pacific College. On my ride, I like catching up on the news of the day, at least the news that KNX, the am radio wing of CBS which broadcasts pretty straight down the middle news has to say. What would the news be on this day? Well, a lot of coverage of the Ferguson story, or the boiling protests and bubbling anger within the black community.
What made me more than a little frustrated was not a sense of reporting, but a sense of exploiting I picked up from the news. And this is not the sensationalistic, splashy, frenzied Fox News or MSNBC. No, this is the straight-laced, professional, broadcast news. They had multiple reporters on the scene covering the several hundred protesters marching around South Los Angeles through much of the city. On Monday, these protesters marched for three hours. On Tuesday, they were prepared for the same thing.
But our attention spans are so limited, we don’t have time to have our news actually listen to both sides and have a conversation. We don’t have time to listen to the concerns of what people are feeling. We get sound bites. We get the most loud, bombastic, and impassioned people to talk for a moment. We don’t get the news asking the black families what has them so scared, angry and disenfranchised. Why is this case in Ferguson creating a spark that spreads from Time Square to Martin Luther King Jr. boulevard in LA? Why is a nationwide movement taking place. Nope, we don’t have time to ask those questions or to connect the dots. But we do have time to be on the scene in case things go south. We’ll be there for the big story, the ratings, the gossip.
We get the news in there to play their part in drawing out the extremes on both ends. The extreme finger pointing on both ends. The most divisive on both ends. We have the news ready to report when the story gets juicy enough, but not there to give us the back story, to share the depth of pain that people feel over this story which is just one more in a long line of injustice, or at least perceived injustice. And perception is reality.
But we have the news on the scene.
These reporters kept talking about how polite the protesters were, how civil. It was almost disappointing to the reporters as if they were hoping for a better story, more drama, something that would bring ratings.
This quickly made me relate in my mind the awful nature of our news which is more about ratings—if it bleeds, it leads. We are an exploitive society. And that saddens me. It was like we had cameras and microphones as close to these hurting people simply waiting for a match to be lit and a firestorm to start. I thought of the humanitarian organizations that take pictures of children in slum communities to raise money for the organization. The poor children get splashed across the internet, social media, and into fund-raising newsletters in order to bring in more money.
To me this smells of one word. Exploit.
And all we are doing is perpetuating a problem. The black community feels not only hopeless and stuck, but without a voice into the process. They are not simply poor, but have little power to affect change. They feel like they are getting the short end of the stick once again. They have so much pain and frustration, and yet all we can do as journalists is to escalate a difficult situation into a worse story. We as the American media racing to keep up with so many channels and an oversaturated sense of content and information to tell a bigger and more dramatic story. Yet, the powerless and hurting people in the inner-city continue to be disenfranchised and have the faces played across our television sets.
At the same time, those that have not walked in their shoes shake their heads with disbelief. They ask, what is the big deal? Why are there so many angry black people?
I was talking to one of my friends, who pastors a church in the inner city. He said, he just doesn’t understand why people don’t get what they don’t get.
This makes me sad. We have a segment of our society that doesn’t get it and another that is simply hurting and wishing they could make it clear. Now, we end up having a lot of seething, white hot anger over this situation. We can get camera’s onto the most outspoken on either side to show how divided, how far apart we are from solutions. It simply saddens me.
We have a tragic story, a story that should not have happened. And now what is lost in the middle is the actual truth. No one will accept a real story. Now, we have perceptions, misperceptions, and lots of emotion. Rather than truly being heartbroken as a nation over a tragic story, a loss of life, a precious life no matter what is said. We as Christians should know that more than anyone. Every life matters to God, and his redemptive nature is always working to make something beautiful out of our story.
But rather than a nation moved to tears, we are moved to anger.
If you have a friend who comes from the black community, simply listen to their story. Ask them what they hear from all this noise. Ask them what they see. Listen. Cry with them.
I know I am, and my heart breaks for a community that has been looked at with prejudice for far too long. I pray that we do not simply keep an endless cycle of sensational stories that remind us of the divide. I pray that the next time something tragic happens, we can find healing in the waters of misunderstandings. I pray that we can be proactive and go across racial and socio-economic lines to befriend one another. I pray that rather than extending the divide with story after story, we can find ways to reconcile.
For me, I will start by listening more? I want to know what they see, what they feel, what hurts them? I want to feel their pain more. I want to empathize. I want to see the humanity in their story, their life.
I feel hopeless at times, but I know there is hope. I know we can do better.
What are some of your thoughts from this overly public story?