Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

The Media Race Card by Janaye Ingram

Mar 30, 2012

I was part of a panel discussion this past week about whether we live in a “post-racial” society and what that even means.  Everyone was in agreement that “post-racial” was as real as the Easter Bunny.  I’ve not talked to many people who believe that we live in a post-racial society, but the topic has been a hot issue since the announcement that Barack Obama would become the 44th President of the United States of America and increasingly mentioned in the past month.  Since 2008, the “post-racial” nonsense has been an ideology that some have adopted to explain how it is that a black man was able to become the leader of the free world.

I remember one day last year, my sister called me up and told me about a conversation that she had with one of her professors about that very topic.  He was adamant that we did live in a post racial society because President Obama was elected, so that had to mean that we were now beyond judging someone on the basis of race.  That just goes to prove even professors get it wrong. Recently though, I think that the professor would come to understand why my sister disputed his position that a “post racial America” exists when we hear stories like that of Trayvon Martin, the racial controversy over black actors in the movie the Hunger Games, or even the way people have referred to the President, his wife, or his daughters since 2008.  Anyone who can’t see race elements in any of these instances makes a conscious decision not to.

Recently, I was in a dialogue with a twitter follower about race and the Trayvon Martin case.  The man insisted that race wasn’t part of the case, but that the media was responsible for introducing it.  Another conversation I had just yesterday with another man was that if the races of the two men were reversed (a black shooter and a white victim) that the shooter would have been arrested immediately.  Both of these men were white, and yet, they stood on opposite sides of the race debate in the Trayvon Martin case.  The fact that they could be so far apart on this issue shows that we have a long way to go before we reach a “post-racial” anything.  One of the things that we will examine at National Action Network’s National Convention in Washington, DC in two weeks is the role that the media plays in the race discussion, particularly as it relates to politics and the 2012 election.

The question that the Trayvon Martin case brings up a lot is whether the media was responsible for introducing race into the equation.  However, race crops up most times crimes are reported, so why would we expect this situation to be any different?  In fact, because race is still very much an issue in our society, whether the media ever mentioned it or not, people would notice and discuss it.  It’s hard to pinpoint in that case where race was first introduced, but at the point we are now, the media is reporting on what people are outraged about.  The fact that George Zimmerman himself used a racial slur in one of the 911 calls makes race even more of an issue.

But beyond Trayvon, we’ve seen race as a factor when it comes to the President (re-nig bumper sticker, anyone?), and we’ve also seen race as an issue when it comes to the Presidential candidate (we see you Gingrich and Santorum).  But the question is what role do the media play in the race game?  And more importantly, what role will race play in the politics of 2012?   Should media be held responsible for making race more of an issue or are they simply reporting what is already happening in communities?  Ultimately, because we don’t live in a “post-racial” society, the media, in doing its job, must talk about race, but should use care in how issues of race are reported.  There are some who aren’t even aware of their own bias and it shows through their reporting.

With the 2012 election year underway, there is no doubt that race will continue to play some part in the upcoming election.  Under the shadow of the Trayvon case, race has become even more of a discussion and in the fall, race will take center stage again as the Supreme Court takes on the issue of Affirmative Action.  All of these things will be placed in both racial and political contexts.  Journalists have a responsibility to focus on those and other aspects of the story if it is related.  In the same way that there are some people who claim that blacks play the race card when it comes to certain issues that are related to race, the media is put under the same scrutiny when they are doing their jobs.  Ultimately, race still makes some people very uncomfortable.  Their own discomfort makes them want to ignore race, turn a blind eye to it and pretend that it isn’t an influencing factor.  But instead of saying someone is playing the race card, they must realize that this is reality and imagining that we live in a post racial society doesn’t make it true.

To hear journalists like David Gregory of Meet the Press, Nia Malika Henderson of The Washington Post and others discuss the role of race in the media, join us at the 14th Annual National Action Network National Convention in Washington, DC.  It is free to attend, but you must register.  Visit