From Rodney King to Ferguson: Covering US Racism as an Event

Video footage of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angelese police officers in 1991 sparked widespread public outrage, but did it really lead to a deeper and more complete understanding of how race operates in modern society? (Image: Public domain)

Christian Christensen

While following events in Ferguson on Twitter, I noticed a small-but-steady stream of tweets from African-Americans irritated by users who were suggesting that, because there was police militarization and the use of excessive (and deadly) force against citizens and journalists, Ferguson was now like Gaza, Iraq or other international trouble-spots. These citizens were not irritated because they found the comparisons to be unfair, they were irritated because they felt these comparisons suggested that the use of excessive force was somehow new or unusual. For these users, the US had not become this way…it has always been this way. To suggest otherwise was to view the events in Ferguson in a social and historical vacuum, divorced from the everyday realities facing African-Americans resulting from generations of structural discrimination.

These were powerful observations.

Our view of the politics of everyday life is often obscured by an excessive media focus on events and individuals rather than on structures and long-term social processes. This is a broad statement, I know, but I think it holds. Events and individuals are media-friendly. They are easily packaged, built up, sexed up and torn down. Events and individuals are also excellent when searching for explanations, excuses, scapegoats or heroes. Life becomes simple this way. Wars are battles between good and Evil. Poverty is the result of individual failure. Crime is a question of individual responsibility. Politics is a battle of individual will. Racism is personal prejudice. Looting is a breakdown of law and order.

Context, history and structure would only muddy these unnaturally clear waters.

Unfortunately, events and individuals are often our only touchstones for understanding much larger, complex, long-term structural issues. And this is a problem. I can no more understand the true functioning of US politics by watching coverage of a Presidential debate (or even an entire election) than I can understand structural racism in the US by watching coverage of the 1991 beating of Rodney King or the 2014 killing of Michael Brownin Ferguson. Of course, I can bear witness to the results of structural prejudice and inequality by watching these events, and I can get a sense of how that prejudice and inequality is a viscous circle.

What is lost in sporadic event-based coverage, however, is the everydayness of racism in the US (or anywhere, for that matter), and this is the point made by the Twitter users I mentioned at the start of this piece. A full accounting of how such prejudice permeates society requires constant attention and explanation, and a focus upon the things that make everyday life difficult for many citizens in the US: housing discriminationjob discrimination, subtle racism in the form of looks and comments, and overt racism in the form of police harassment or media invisibility – things that white Americans rarely experience. And, not to forget the long-term implications of practices such as the death penalty and “3 Strikes” laws upon how minorities in the US have little trust that their system of justice is blind.

This isn’t a critique of all of the journalism coming out of Ferguson – some of which is excellent – but it is rather a critique of journalism in general.

Take Iraq as another case. Prior to 9/11, what did people know about US relations with Iraq and Afghanistan? Or about US politics in the region? Very little. Then, starting in 2003 we were absolutely saturated with media coverage from Iraq and Afghanistan, and there were good journalists doing good reporting during the invasion and occupation. But, after the countless television hours and acres of paper used, can we honestly say that people in the US have even a basic grasp of the social, political and economic implications of an operation that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians? Or why the US even went to war to begin with?

In the same way, if race and racism are only discussed in relation to widely-mediated stories such as Ferguson, the Los Angeles riots or the O.J. Simpson trial, then they also become isolated. When an issue as fundamental to society as racism is routinely addressed only during periodic upheaval, then we weaken the links between that upheaval and everyday history, making it an event we just cover…and then move on.

This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license.

  • trigon400

    Ferguson is about racism?
    Had a white 18 year old 275 lb criminal attacked a Black cop, the Black cop would have every right to do shoot the bastard.
    The only groups who mention racism are those who want more racial payouts, shakedowns & the disarming of white America.
    ‘Aint gonna happen.

  • trigon400

    Ferguson is about racism?
    Had a white 18 year old 275 lb criminal attacked a Black cop, the Black cop would have every right to shoot the bastard.
    The only groups who mention racism are those who want more racial payouts, shakedowns & the disarming of white America.
    ‘Aint gonna happen

    • WorldWideWeird

      Ferguson is the culmination of racism. If you dont understand that then you best stop talking because you sound completely ignorant.

    • Tucker

      In fact, for a few hours the other day – CNN was running a headline story that asked the question: “Why are Whites running a town that has a majority black population?”

      So, these self-hating, self-loathing, nauseating white liberals (and the jews) on the left) are openly acknowledging that blacks prefer to be governed by their fellow blacks and policed by their fellow blacks and that there is something unnatural about a tiny minority of Whites ruling over a town that is majority black. But, on the other hand – Whites who express the very same kind of opposition to being ruled by a half-black Communist Marxist – they are supposed to be ‘evil’ racists?

      What precisely is the difference? All races prefer to be governed and policed by members of their own racial group.

      Frankly, it amazes me how liberals can be able to spew such hypocrisy without choking on their own bile.

      Thomas Jefferson was right. The two races, equally free, cannot live together under the same system of government. It is time to address that reality and negotiate a peaceful and permanent geographical separation.

  • Strayhorse

    This has nothing to do with racism. The Ferguson issue has to do with violation of the Supreme Law of the Land by those who feel they no longer are required to honor their oaths to defend, protect and preserve the U.S. Constitution. Its about money, dangerous war related weapons converted from military use to be used on American civilians, and the attempt to make the American citizen submissive to a totalitarian regime that was once the three branches of a constitutional republic. Folks, God is angry at our leaders. He wants His nation back and He is siding with the civilian Constitutionalists. I don’t care how rich, connected, powerful, smart, or evil you think you are – God will have His day in your existence. Hey bad guys, ya best leave America alone or leave America. You can’t win.

    • Tucker

      I beg to disagree. Perhaps it isn’t actually ‘racism’, but race itself.

      Look, people. We are now several hundred years into this social experiment whereby a nation that was founded and created by White Europeans and which reflects the genius and talents of White Europeans, and where by our laws and customs and traditions are all based on ideas and principles that originated from the brains of White men and women have been forced down upon the various non-White minorities who reside inside our nation.

      Well, it should be fairly obvious after all these centuries that blacks are not all that enamored with the idea of living by the rules and laws that were put into place by White men. In fact, they seem to reject those rules and large portions of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights – as we can see by the lawless behavior of the Mulatto In Chief, who routinely ignores laws that he doesn’t like and selectively enforces the laws he does like in order to punish and persecute anyone who opposes his evil agenda to destroy what remains of the traditional America.

      So, is it not painfully obvious to even the lowest IQ cursed among us that Whites and blacks are incompatible and cannot peacefully coexist within the same geographic territory and under the same system of government?

      I mean, come on here. Whites tend to be strong supporters of law and order and do not like to coddle criminals, unless of course, they are one of these nauseating, bleeding heart, egg sucking dog, self-hating, self-loathing, disgusting White liberals – but, even these despicable hypocrites are never willing to move into a majority black neighborhood, because even these brainless, race realism denying idiots understand that such places are crime infested, dangerous hell-holes.

      So, this isn’t really about ‘racism’. Its about the differences between how Whites and blacks and other non-whites prefer a society to be structured.
      Blacks do not like being forced to behave and conduct themselves according to white standards, which is perfectly understandable since they are a different species. However, when they are living alongside Whites, their dysfunctional behaviors impact the safety and well being of Whites, and this is where the conflict arises. The answer to this conflict is so simple that only a complete moron would have difficulty in figuring it out.

      Geographic, permanent separation of the races. That will solve any problems that blacks like to call ‘racism’, because they will be on their own, inside their own piece of territory and they will at long last be completely free of the White man and his rules and laws. And, Whites will be able to have their orderly, safe and relatively crime free piece of territory and have strict laws on the books to deal with any White criminals that decide to stir up trouble.

      Its time for a Divorce, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. As much as you two clowns spew hatred of White people – I’m sure you both would be just as happy as I will be to go our separate ways, right?

      Oh, by the way. The White race will be taking their paychecks with them when they depart, so I’d advise you both to start boning up on the financial system that you’ll need for your new ethnostate.