Mainstream news media organizations are making the same mistakes in post-election coverage that they did during the election, and it’s hurting marginalized communities most
You know journalism has hit rock bottom when a world-renowned literary journal that promotes intellectualism and the arts, The Paris Review, publishes an essay by bemoaning the election of Donald Trump without a single mention of racism, white supremacy, white nationalism, misogyny, or even the catchy nickname that downplays its supporters’ genocidal slant — “alt-right.”
This blatant normalization of hatred proves that marginalized people, including people of color, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ people, the poor (white, Native, and of color), Muslims and immigrants have almost as much to fear of mainstream media as they do of the next administration.
It’s not just The Paris Review, it’s much of mainstream media, including U.S. news media. But we’ll use The Paris Review‘s post-election coverage as our first example of how mainstream news media is normalizing the racism that helped put Trump into the White House.
“I have no desire to be that person, who lets politics affect him so deeply he forgets the higher truths,” writes author Jonathan Jeremiah Sullivan. “We’re all confused and error-prone. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t need politics. We have to fight fiercely to respect one another. If we don’t, it’s not even that we’re lost, it’s that there was never a point to any of it.”
Let’s take a moment to unpack the duplicity of these statements. Sullivan equates “politics” with bigotry and discrimination. A person’s ability to live a life of dignity and equality, one can only assume, fails to qualify as what he deems a “higher truth.” And while Sullivan advocates that we fight fiercely to respect one another – he doesn’t seem too concerned about the danger that might befall some people, particularly marginalized people, for reaching out to Trump voters.
This essay, clearly meant for a white audience, normalizes and legitimizes the xenophobic fascist machine that elected Trump at a time when the President-elect selected Neo-Nazi and chairman of Breitbart News Stephen Banner as White House chief strategist, and as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach pressures Trump to deliver on his promise to reinstate a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries and build a wall along the U.S. – Mexico border.
Like many other white U.S. journalists, Sullivan castigates himself and his fellow liberals for dismissing “middle-class and working-class white people who don’t like the same things we do.” Sullivan would have you believe he’s talking about knitting or Italian food, not fascism and a social climate eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany or the U.S.’s internment of the Japanese during World War II. As Kirsten West Savali writes for TheRoot, the “white working class” narrative currently getting bandied about by mainstream media is nothing more than “a racist dog whistle.”
“… instead of focusing on the wealthy white supremacist, xenophobic and misogynist elements of society that rose from their dirty corners and corner offices to vote for (Trump), much of the political punditry and chatter continues to focus on the innocent and frightened ‘white working class,” according to Savali’s accurate analysis.
The claim that journalists “forgot” about the white working class reinforces two very dangerous lines of thinking: One, that people who hurt have a very legitimate reason to hate and harm other entire groups of people and two, that people of color aren’t working class themselves. What’s more, his assessment is inaccurate. The average Trump voter earned a median annual income of $70,000 a year and is college-educated.
Sullivan also tackles climate change. “Forget politics, forget grabbing people by their pussies, and think of your children, or other people’s children. Hell, think of mine.” This absurd plea, an attempt to reel in Trump voters by appealing to issues that also affect them (and Sullivan) prioritizes white survival, and throws marginalized people, especially survivors of sexual assault, under the bus.
As in Sullivan’s essay, class and geography, wholly stripped of race, gender identity, religion, and ability, has dominated post-election narratives. How does Trump’s election affect white people? How will white people cope? How disappointed are white people? How could we have forgotten about poor white people outside of major metropolitan areas? These are just a few headlines and angles from a number of recent news articles and think pieces.
The framing is everywhere. Trump’s diatribe against Muslims, Mexicans, and the disabled is merely “blunt talk according to the Harvard Business Review. He’s playfully referred to as a “homebody” in the New York Times. Post-election dialogue has largely erased the voices of those most at risk over the next four years, and has ignored generations of black Americans who have been writing about and protesting oppression since slavery.
It’s harder to tell the harder story, that “working people” aren’t just white. That they are also black, brown, disabled, Muslim and more.
The rampant regurgitation of exclusively class-based reasons for Trump’s electoral victory will irreparably and disproportionately harm marginalized people. They will recast American history, thwart any inclusive, essential methods for engaging and organizing against bigotry and hatred, and further isolate marginalized people. In essence, such narratives will only serve to further divide U.S. and global communities.
Language of dissent is vital to protest Trump’s rise to power. But its whitewashing and normalizing, particularly by mainstream news media, may very well be our undoing.
Anjali Enjeti is an award-winning essayist, journalist and literary critic. Her work has most recently appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Rewire News, Fusion, Google Play Books, Pacific Standard, NBC, The Guardian, Colorlines, The Literary Hub, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Millions, The Rumpus, Paste, Khabar, ArtsATL, Atlanta Magazine and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her essay “Borderline,” which appeared in Prime Number Magazine, was recently named a notable essay in Best American Essays 2016.