“Media organizations were complicit in the slave trade and profited off of chattel slavery; a powerful newspaper publisher helped lead the deadly overthrow of a local government in Wilmington, North Carolina, [one of the first cities in US history] where Black people held power; racist journalism has led to countless lynchings…Since the colonial era, U.S. media organizations and institutions have protected a racial-caste system”
– Media Reparations
The history of Kansas City is one that white media has weaponized to produce the dehumanization and social death of Black people.
The violence inflicted upon the Black community by white media has been a lethal weaponization of words.
Kansas City’s white media has supported vicious assaults on the Black community in many ways; it has published police propaganda justifying the murder of Black people. Such as this March 26th FOX4 piece titled “Man Killed in Shootout With Kansas City Police Had History of Violent Offenses.” Not only are his prior offenses completely irrelevant to the situation, but it was later revealed to have been not a shootout but a one-sided racial execution by KCPD.
For weeks the public was told that Malcolm Johnson had engaged in a shootout and shot a police officer. This narrative would have lived as truth like so many other police lies if it were not for leaked video footage which revealed that one KCPD officer accidentally shot another officer at the same time that Malcolm was being detained by four officers making it impossible for him to move let alone unsheathe a weapon.
On the same day of March 26th, KSHB published more lies and disinformation about Malcolm Johnson in an article titled “New Details Emerge About Slain Suspect Who Shot KCPD Officer.”
Time and again white media has lied on the deceased, and centered white voices and police narratives, ultimately enabling the state-sanctioned lynchings of Black people.
Once we are dead, the media amplifies police lies and participates in coverups.
For decades the media has been hard at work, repeatedly imprinting a Black face into the white imagination of “criminal.” White media reporting may be less blatantly racist now, but the damage is done.
At the height of the most widespread Black uprising in US history last year, rather than advocating for people who have for centuries been oppressed and murdered by white supremacy and the state, the Kansas City Star utilized its massive platform to focus on perhaps the most insignificant aspect of the protest: the fact that an inanimate object (which is also a symbol of white supremacy) was spray painted.
The article, which was titled “KCPD Memorial Vandalized by Protesters Friday Night” made no attempt to contextualize the rage and grief of the Black community and why Black people would in fact be quite justified to do far more than paint a statue.
The article only peripherally mentions that the protest took place due to Trump’s administration sending federal agents into Kansas City. The article was another example of so-called objectivity being weaponized to further white supremacy.
With the knowledge of such violent practices still at the core of these institutions, should we be content with a mere apology, a dozen or so stories focused on wrongs committed against Black people, a toothless advisory board and a few diversity hires?
Or should we demand something more?
When we say “the criminal injustice system is not broken it is functioning exactly as intended”, that is because we know the modern judicial system was never created to benefit Black people.
We know that it was created with the explicit purpose of extracting from and inflicting violence upon us, such as the fact that the first police officers in the U.S. were slave patrols. Because of this understanding, we appropriately say these systems cannot be reformed and that they must be abolished and replaced with different institutions with non-white supremacist values or functions.
Why do we not extend this same logic to white media, which was founded on equivalent white supremacist values? Why are we not declaring institutions of white media as irredeemable?
The first newspaper in the history of the United States, The Boston News-Letter, began selling slave ads within their first month of existence in order to fund their paper.
White media in this country is nearly 300 years old and today functions quite similarly to its infant years – except today the enslaved are confined to jails and prisons instead of plantations.
White media is so pervasive and deeply entrenched in our consciousness that we don’t even call it “white media,” (even though only white people own nearly every major media outlet) we just call it “media.” When we call outlets like FOX4, KC Star, or others simply “media” we are perpetuating white supremacy by indicating that whiteness is the norm.
In her essay Objectivity is a Myth Built to Maintain White Supremacy, Anuhya Bobba argues how “because whiteness and white supremacy are the norm, it becomes the basis from which ‘the other side’ is constituted…Objectivity benefits white supremacy because it does not interrogate it.”
In simpler terms, this means that because white supremacy is the status quo in our country, when media outlets claim they have to offer “both sides” (for instance, Black protester vs. conservative, or Black victim vs. cop), this is a myth meant to uphold white supremacy.
Instead of seeking so-called objectivity (which is a white value as it relates to media), we should expect our media to uplift and accurately tell the stories of those most violently oppressed by the state – and employ media as a tool for liberation.
Doing so will require that we as a community challenge our traditional understanding of the role media should play in our society. Do we want our media to simply report that a Black person was killed by the police, or do we want it to indict the white supremacist function of policing (surveillance, control, etc.) in our communities that allowed the murder to take place to begin with?
“Reparations are also necessary to address a broad history of structural racism in the media industry — an industry that has defended our nation’s white-racial hierarchy. Reconciling and repairing the harms that the media have caused the Black community is central to deciphering the future of the field.” – Media Reparations
Kansas City’s media violence and white supremacy is not a story of a distant past or toxic history. The story continues to be played out and local outlets remain the protagonists.
DEMANDS FOR REPARATIONS:
- Eliminate your crime section. Crime is a political category that is rooted in racism, classism, and patriarchy. Crime does not equate to harm (for instance, smoking weed is a crime but does not harm anyone, whereas sweeping houseless camps causes massive harm but is legal) and Black people are disproportionately surveilled and policed leading to higher likelihood of being associated with crime (even though white people do these acts at similar likelihoods as Black people). At one time, Black codes and Jim Crow laws represented “crime,” meaning that by subscribing to the idea of “crime” you are upholding the white supremacist status quo.
- Donate 10% of profits to local independent and BIPOC media to show your commitment to reparations. Since the inception of your organization you have profited off of the death and exploitation of Black, brown and poor people. You have caused murder and you have justified the murder of Black people. You are culprits in why Kansas City is one of the most segregated cities in the country. This harm can never be fully healed, but we demand you do more by committing material resources to the Black community.
- Do not publish “official” police accounts of events. There is nothing “official” or unbiased about them. How can you purport to have journalistic integrity when you repeatedly publish and amplify lies? Only a few months ago the police were caught in a large-scale lie and cover up that you all published. Whether intentional or not, you blatantly lied about a man who was murdered, and that wasn’t the first, second or even third time. Not even the 50th time.
What then, is the role of the modern Black press in Kansas City?
I have my own thoughts but I am eager to hear what you as a community member have to say. I will be following this piece up with another piece where I discuss the future of Black media.