By Nakeysha Roberts Washington
We are becoming conditioned to respond. The quality of our responses as well as the integrity of the information that we are responding to is alarmingly questionable at the very least.
In an ever present fight to remain relevant to our followers, we are compromising the basic principles of what it means to be critical. Critical not with the connotation of being negative, but with the air of inquiry– of questioning. We are not being responsible with our own interactions with news and as black grandmothers have said for generations our “slip is showing”.
I can list a plethora of “incidents” where we rush to respond to less than factual information to assert our wokeness, and have been forced to walk back our aggressions and anger only to show ourselves shame faced. In fact people are taking advantage of our group think, our mob mentality, and our genuine concern for people.
It’s the media’s fault. Well, at least some of it is, but where will we, the readers, begin to question, when will we become critical, when will we hold both ourselves responsible as well as the platforms from which our eyes sip news daily for fact checking and truth telling? We should be as careful with what we put in our minds as what we put in our stomachs.
Another thing that is showing is our biases. Globally, we see a polarization of political parties, a new level of tribalism, that highlights the stark contrast of us versus them. I know I am guilty of it. I have been part of the problem, and that upon self-reflection, I know that I have allowed my own biases and emotion to affect my digestion of media. However, being a human in every flawed sense, I see the error of my actions. I am working to be better, and I am taking you with me to the promised land of criticality.
Facts are well… factual. The human brain needs time to digest information. Reflexive responses are based on emotion. When we are reacting from mere emotion, it is less likely that the we are being critical. I am not advising that we become emotionless, but rather proposing that we get to the cause of what it is we are doing, to move forward to responding in more critical ways.
We must acknowledge that there are people and organizations in the world who are literally working to persuade us into confusion. Cue: Russian Trolls. However, they are not the only unknown force working to manipulate us. Our beloved news platforms have biases too. Everything that has a human at the helm has biases, and it is our job as critical readers and citizens of the world to question, think, consider, and question again.
There is an array of examples where we find ourselves having to retract responses. The necessity for an instantaneous response plagues our social media feeds. The likes and comments fill our time. The retweets and shares validate us. We hashtag it up to stay relevant. We construct microcosms and fill them with people who think just like us. The social media platforms use our data to figure out our interests and then spoon feed us ourselves over and over again. We engage in groupthink. We let our biases dominate.
The United States has a polarized divide amongst various demographics including black and white, it was painful to learn from media that a white man, with a beard in a red pickup truck shot into a car that held a black family in Texas killing Jazmine Barnes. The same Texas where Sandra Bland was dragged from her car by a policeman and later ended up void of life. Texas, where Dajerria Becton, a teenager, was beaten by a police officer at a pool party.
There is no end to the policing of black bodies by both police and civilians. Think of the flurry of calls by white people to police to report black people for barbecuing, to report a child walking past a woman unknowingly bumping her with his bookbag, or a woman calling police because a girl was selling water without a permit (insert rolling eye emoji). We don’t have to look far to find macro and micro aggressions against against blacks in media. Recently in the news cycle, Liam Neeson revealed his own hate. He admitted in an interview that he wanted to murder any black man as retribution for a friend who was raped.
Hate is rampant virtually everywhere. There is no shortage of radicalization; for instance, Robert Bowers who murdered Jewish worshippers at a synagogue. Dylan Roof murdered nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bomber Cesar Sayoc sent bombs to various democrats.
Because of a slew of senseless murders that we are inundated with, it was completely plausible that a white man singled out Jazmine Barnes and her family. Because there is no other conceivable reason someone would murder a sweet-faced girl, there is no reason that her mother should be crying in the video, distraught. There is no reason for any of this – except hate. Degrees of hate can shape terrible actions.
The truth of this crime, though, is that it was orchestrated by a black man who targeted the wrong car. As I write this, I am thinking of you reader: How did you react to this situation? Did you post on social media to help bring justice? Did you engage in dialogue about this murder? Many people believed the initial explanation to be true. We believed it was a hate crime. We were wrong. Thankfully, despite the incorrect description of the murderer, he was found. We can be thankful for that.
Speaking of divides, is the “Make America Great Again” hat just a hat? We all saw the video(s) of the incident between Nick Sandmann and Nathan Phillips. Does it matter that the Black Israelites where spewing hateful things? Were Nathan Phillips’ actions helpful? Are the teachers who did not teach their students how to make good decisions at fault? I have a messy drawer full of more questions about this incident. Sometimes there is no clear place to lay blame on one set of shoulders. Things often are not, pun intended, black and white.
The MAGA hat, for many, is synonymous with people who perpetuate racism. It is a proclamation of acceptance and connection to ideologies that are aligned with the oppression of people of color. Because of the stereotypes associated with the hats, there is no surprise that so many people jumped to criticize Nick Sandmann, the MAGA Hat Kid. Myself included. After all, we have seen so many times that exact scenario play out with other actors. It seemed plausible– even factual– emphasis on seemed.
On social media, following the virality of this video, we see Sandmann staring into the distance and other times staring at Phillips, his shoulders square, MAGA hat on, and his peers mocking Indigenous culture. At the angle from which we see this event, in the shorter video, it seems like they have surrounded Phillips. Our biases filled in the rest of the story. Plain and simple. The media coverage fueled our outrage, justified it even.
In the longer video taken by the Black Israelites, we see more. We have more context. It’s all despicable, but not exactly what we thought, is it?
I would tell you what to think about this, but it’s not my place.
Recently, in a report to the police, Jussie Smollett states that he was attacked by white men, who used racist and homophobic slurs, while dousing him with bleach and forcing a noose around his neck. Days before this, I watched Smollett on Politicsnation with Al Sharpton discussing the future of Bennett College, a HBCU. I admit that I do not often watch sitcoms, but learned later that he is on the television show Empire.
Being a gay black man, it is conceivable that an attack could easily occur to Jussie, citing deep divides perpetuated by racism and homophobia. However, the plot of this incident thickens as I type these very words. From the beginning, many in the community rallied around Smollett. We have seen violence against people within the LBGTQ community repeatedly. People allow their self-righteousness to allow them to cross boundaries and feel encouraged to not only tell people how they should live their lives, but force violence against them for not aligning with what the aggressor feels is how people should live. I digress.
Many people rallied around Smollett; however, earlier this week there was a feeling of pause in conversations on social media concerning the case. There were rumors reported on various major news platforms that report proof that Smollett was lying about the attack. Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that the Chicago police suspect that Smollett filed false a police report. I, for one, cringe at the thought of this. I know I am not alone when I use the word cringe. I literally cringe at the thought of the possibility that this attack was contrived. It feels bad because we inherently want to stand up for injustices. We don’t want to pause. We want to act, to protect.
To add to the mayhem, if this attack is all a lie, it is also a major disrespect to people who have been murdered or attacked for their skin color or sexuality. People were actually lynched and hung from trees. That is no terrible fairy tale that we can walk away from after we close the book. People in the LGBTQ community are attacked constantly for their sexuality. People are attacked, victimized and blamed for their own debasement and victimization. It is incensing to have someone utilize the victimization and pain of historically disenfranchised people to further their own twisted agenda. If this attack is contrived and is proven to be so, Smollett will have made a fool of all of us who stand up for injustice by eliciting our support, by providing us with fuel to pour over our fury. I still hope the media is wrong about Smollet’s role in this case. Thursday morning Associated Press reports that Smollett was arrested on felony criminal charges for filing a false police report and disorderly conduct. We will have to keep up with the information on this case to see how it concludes.
Back to this little thing called criticality. We must begin to ask questions. Even more than only asking the questions, we have to ask the questions when it hurts and even when we may receive an answer that pains us. We must insist that our media is as fact based as possible.
We want to believe victims. We want to believe the news. We want to believe our own judgement is correct. We want all of these things and unicorns to exist with rainbow manes too. (Maybe that last part is just me.) However, the need yet remains: We have to be critical in our interactions.last
We have to gauge our responses, check our biases, and know that we are not always hearing or reading the truth.