The Journalism of Race Relations

This morning I woke up to something alarming. My interactions feed, on Twitter, was filled with hateful allegations of ‘idiocy’ and ‘racism’ as well as one long essay which ended in a veiled threat of violence. I was confused, wondering if I had somehow managed to sleep tweet. I was further confused when I noticed that all the tweets – not responding to any particular tweet of mine directly – referenced Philadelphia and fireworks. I had made remarks earlier about how so many, on Twitter, had claimed they would celebrate George Zimmerman’s Not Guilty verdict with fireworks, but nothing I said was in reference to Philadelphia. When I tweeted my confusion today, I was sent an article from the Philly Daily News* in which a tweet of mine was misused as though in reference to a fireworks show in Philadelphia the same night as – and completely unrelated to – the Zimmerman verdict. The tweet of mine in question read:

This sarcastic tweet, and a following tweet, were in direct reference to the flood of tweets that erupted following the Zimmerman verdict. They had nothing to do with Philadelphia – a city that rarely (I’m sorry to disappoint Philly Daily News) crosses my mind. In fact, the tweet which was used in the article was made more than two hours prior to when the fireworks show, that I apparently ‘rained’ on, took place. I contacted both the writer of the article as well as the paper to request a removal of my name, affiliation (irrelevant in the article as my views certainly do not represent anyone other than myself) and the tweet and have yet to receive any response.

I work for islawmix, a project – incubated at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society – dedicated to adding ‘nuance and clarity to Islamic law in US news.’ My job, as my interest, is to work to help create responsible, nuanced journalism on issues of minorities and religion. At islawmix, we focus specifically on how Islamic law – ‘sharia’ – is discussed in the United States media. What we find, unsurprisingly, is that the coverage of issues relating to Islamic law is often times, if not always, quite grossly irresponsible. Coverage of Islamic law and thus, by extension, Muslims, creates a caricature of an entire legal system and of an entire segment (1/7th) of the world’s population. What you may read in passing as a mention of ‘sharia law’ in terms of harmless is, in fact, part and parcel of a bigger cog in the wheel of how discourses are created on people, religion, race and ethnicity.

The article in the Philly Daily News, by reporter Dana DiFilippo, misused a tweet of mine in order to fulfill a sensationalist angle on a story about a belated fireworks show. Instead of actually finding -any- tweet that somehow mistook a pre-planned fireworks show for a communal celebration of Zimmerman’s acquittal, my tweet (one of several commenting on other tweets of celebration and fireworks over the verdict) was used to paint some sort of ‘knee-jerk’ and ‘over-zealous’ reading of how some engage with race-relations in the United States. I wish this reporting was an isolated example – it is, however, anything but. Race relations, race, minority identity, minority-majority relations and religion are still issues about which we cannot have honest, non-privileged conversations, representations and depictions. That, of course, isn’t news itself. It is a daily reality that meets you whenever you open your morning paper, scroll down your RSS and social media news feeds, turn on your television.

The example of the Philly Daily News article is worth highlighting simply for how painfully far they had to reach to somehow make a dull local news topic ‘sexy’ and ‘relevant’ to national outrage over a case that reminded the country of that very reality faced by millions of its citizens daily. In creating an unnecessary and unfounded connection (after all, the only evidence of the reporter’s claim was my tweet), the Philly Daily News showed exactly how we do talk about race, in particular, in the United States: as misplaced, mistaken outrage, ‘raining on everyone’s parade.’

*Update: The piece has been amended, twice (second time to include a clarification) but still bizarrely mentions my tweet. Below is a screenshot of the original piece.

Picture 1

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