This morning I opened my email to receive a link to and Alternet article by David Edwards and John Byrne about the recent tasering of a pregnant Latina at her children’s baptism party (read my post for more details here). I was shocked to see the tag line for the article whose play on words demeaned the true violence of the incident:
A child’s Virginia baptism ended up being a real shocker.
I am sure that the authors thought this was a fun play on words that would bring in readers and that some of you will no doubt weigh in calling me the PC police. But I do not think we can underestimate what the difference between tag lines like the one above and the horrified tone of immigration advocates and women of color bloggers who first brought this story to the internet tells us about the different ways we understand and/or respond to acts of police brutality.
Contrast this coverage with alternet’s articles on the tasering of a white male student in California and you can begin to see the very specific connections of gender, race, and class in the coverage of tasering incidents by supposedly alternative media.
Sylvia, Problem Chylde, on twitter made the connection in a different case involving to 7 year old boys who stole their family’s cars and tried to outrun police:
7 year old black child steals family car
7 year old white child steals family car
There are some major differences in these two cases: the black child actually caused property damage while the white child got lucky. In both cases, the police officers treated the children relatively kindly. No police brutality occurred nor were the police racist in the clips provided. And yet, the covering of the two stories is radically different. The newscaster covering the black child’s car theft condemns him as a horrible criminal who should be punished. The newscasters covering the white child’s car theft cannot stop laughing and think he is cute. (The judgmental voice over you hear in the second video is incidentally done by a black newscaster re-casting the story to make a point about the child’s age and innocence.)
Our perceptions of the world are not only experiential they are also cleverly cultivated by hegemonic processes designed to render inequality natural. The media is one such devise through which stories of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. are shaped, consumed, and then understood. They reflect prevailing societal norms as much as they help create them.
One of the reasons that the blogging boom began was to provide an alternative to a media increasingly controlled by corporate interests and censoring itself in a time of war. Altnerative media became a mode through which individuals and alternative journalists could tell the stories of the people traditionally ignored by the mainstream. When combined, alternative media and the blogosphere ensured that important stories about our world reached us.
Alternet, promises to aggregate these stories by cultivating a list of alternative journalists and bloggers and yet, the coverage of the taser story seems to vary little from the way such stories would be covered by the mainstream media. Not only does the article begin with the quote above but it privileges the police report over that of the party goers, including them only after the narrative of criminality has been established.
Now that mainstream interests, corporations, academics, news channels etc. have become major players on the internet, and people are increasingly seeing blogging as a route to writing careers and fame, it is hard to find the revolutionary power the internet once represented. Made harder still by people hiding behind the “alternative” or “liberal” label.
Many of my colleagues have left blogging behind. They tweet and they write formerly for corporate owned blogging conglomerates with liberal cred like The Root, Salon, and HuffPo. The thinking is simple: if people are going to make money and ideas off of their work no matter what, they might as well too.
Gil Scott Heron once said the “revolution would not be televised.” I updated that a year or so ago in a phone conversation a fellow blogger turned into a blog post and then a conference without crediting me, by saying “the revolution will not be digitized.” As I look at the ways “altervative network,” alternet, innocous morning shows, and academic newspapers are all implicated in the prison industrial complex, I cannot help but say it again: The Revolution Will Not be Digitized.