Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Politics of the Day: Institutionalized Racism Edition


A nice example of how the media creates and then promotes the view that all brown people are terrorists:

"...HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The media and the Mideast. As the death toll rises in Israel and Lebanon, are journalists being fair to both sides? How do they verify Hezbollah's claims that civilians are being indiscriminately killed?"

Bolding's mine. The rather obvious point is that it's not exactly Hezbollah who's claiming of civilian deaths on a massive scale - it's also uhhh....the Lebanese government, the UN, numerous reporters on the ground, etc.

Now, Kurtz is trying a simple tactic here. By telling us that it's only Hezbollah claims alone claims this, he cleverly creates a deeply racist implication that the reader almost unwittingly accepts: that the claims of organizations made up of brown people, whether Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, Al-Jazeera, etc, should never be taken seriously; and that in fact, they are on equivalent ground in terms of credibility, authority, etc.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

This is nothing more - and nothing less - than institutional racism. As a brown person, I find it enormously troubling. But I've grown up having to read this kind of drivel in every American newspaper under the sun - and at the most respected institutions in the land.

Consider Niall Ferguson, who argues that Muslims are "colonizing" Europe.

How beautiful is that - did you get the Rovian-ness of it? It's that, of course, Europe was the great colonial force of history.

But more to the point: wouldn't it be racist of me to say something like about anyone else - ie the Chinese, the Jews, the Africans, the Germans, are "colonizing" a place? Wouldn't it be racist of me to say that the Romanians and Bulgarians wish to "colonize" the EU?

Of course it would. But we give a free pass to racism against brown people - and especially muslims - every single day. It's wrong, and I don't enjoy doing it, because it is certain to cost me more than it benefits me, but the time has come that I feel that I have to speak up against it.

So here's a simple example. Imho, this is one of the biggest reasons America can't seem to get along with the world - unlike in most other civilized countries, American media is chock full of morons, idiots, generally odious people, and...racists.

-- umair // 1:05 PM // 12 comments


Comments:

As a white person, living in America, I completely agree with and support what you're saying here.
// Blogger Jonathan Dean // 5:59 PM
 

You said �Kurtz is trying a simple tactic here.� Actually this is very sophisticated rhetoric intended to control your audience�s perception of both the immediate question and the context surrounding it (a little ad hominem, subtlety placed within a rhetorical question that cleverly delivers its trojan horse in the subordinate clause, all structured to make you assume that the claims are false).

Almost by definition institutional racism generalizes�it�s a rather blunt instrument. However Kurtz�s rhetoric is pointed, deliberated and sophisticated. This suggests it is entirely political and driven by purpose rather than racial.

Or rather than political is could just be old fashioned economics. Make every one suspicious of everyone else, and they�ll consume more �news� to keep tabs on each other, and then sell more advertising at higher rates.

Could such a cynical play be a final desperate strategy to bolster traditional media�s relevance? Manufacture relevance by selling hate?
// Anonymous niblettes // 6:20 PM
 

This thread seems a bit, well, hyperbolic. Kurtz asked the question at the show's opening as a way to introduce the questions that the segment would then answer. (Kurtz also asked in the same opening, "And is Israel's military censorship having an impact on the coverage?") A CNN correspondent subsequently answered Kurtz's question about verifying Hezbollah's claims thusly:

"KAYE: Well, if you take a look behind me, I do have the support of a very large and very talented and very supportive international desk here at CNN, but it's a matter of just -- we watch our own wires, the CNN wires, which is information that we've been able to confirm through our own sources.

"We also watch about 10 or 12 different television networks coming in to us here at the international desk from the Middle East including Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, LBC, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation.

We also watch Reuters and the Associated Press and all the other wires, but many times we'll have to attribute to them before we can confirm the information on our own if we haven't already."

Taken in the context of the show--the question seems like a reasonable way to introduce the show's topics, no?

PS: I'm coming 'round to Umair's views here. He sees around corners.
// Blogger Anderson // 7:48 PM
 

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
// Blogger Anderson // 7:53 PM
 

If one really wants to split hairs one might say that with respect to Israel Kurtz asks an existential question (is?) and with respect to Hezbollah he asks a question of procedure (how?). That seems weak. That the show went on to explain how the media relates to both combatants is most salient.
// Blogger Anderson // 7:55 PM
 

Hey Niblettes,

That is a really insightful comment. In fact, your point about hate selling is spot on. I am going to tell a very interesting Fox News encounter I had soon.

Hey Anderson,

I'm not talking about Israel at all; I'm talking about America and the media, so I think your second comment is irrelevant.

But if I wanted to answer it, I would say the entire point is that Kurtz conveniently, and very likely deliberately, ignores the obvious fact that...uhh...there is a third player here, who is bearing the brunt of the costs of war: Lebanon.

And that, at best, means Kurtz is retarded, at worst, that he is racist.

But your real point is hyperbole. I take your point. That's part of the problem in discussing racism. Certainly, each of these tiny brutalities can by themselves can certainly be easily dismissed.

But put together add up to a very great deal: they add up to the feeling that you don't count to your country. Is that how would like to live?

Let me put it another way: together, they add to the very definition of institutionalized racism: racism that is so deeply ingrained in a society that it almost impossible for members of that society to even perceive; racism is that is so pervasive it defines the very culture it is a component of.

Sorry to put it so harshly, but that's the way I (and most brown people I know) feel.

Thx for the comments guys.
// Blogger umair // 11:07 PM
 

This is great. Instead of having a border problem with Mexico, we can just say that we're trying to fight Mexico's colonization of the US!

I feel so refreshed, let me grab that Corona over here...
// Anonymous Rick // 4:07 AM
 

Hi Umair,

>>I'm not talking about Israel at all; I'm talking about America and the media, so I think your second comment is irrelevant.

Yeah, I got that. My second comment above addressed the subtle differences in Kurtz's questions about the media's coverage regarding Hezbollah and Israel: Does Kurtz, an American media member, talk differently about Israel and Hezbollah such that we can find support for institutional racism?

>>the entire point is that Kurtz conveniently, and very likely deliberately, ignores the obvious fact that...uhh...there is a third player here, who is bearing the brunt of the costs of war: Lebanon

It seems that Kurtz--and the entire segment--ignored that point since the navel gazing show's purpose was about the media's role covering the combatants, rather than the innocent Lebanese killed by Israeli attacks. Perhaps, then, the entire show was obtuse and ill-timed suggesting the self-important bubble in which Big Media operates.

While not relevant to that particular episode, nor the American media's coverage at large, former National Security Adviser Brzezinski is coming out hard against Israeli indifference to innocent Lebanese:"Because when you kill 300 people, 400 people, who have nothing to do with the provocations Hezbollah staged, but you do it in effect deliberately by being indifferent to the scale of collateral damage, you're killing hostages in the hope of intimidating those that you want to intimidate."
// Blogger Anderson // 10:12 PM
 

You know, originally I kind of skimmed this post and said 'eh, whatever,' but I was at Inman News' real-estate conference in SF yesterday and the speaker was going on about the miraculous capabilities of the Internet and how a 20-year-old woman in India could look up and find MLS details of any million-dollar home in America.

Then the speaker, in a segue to another point, said "now this 20-year-old woman, I don't know if she's a prospect or a suspect, but.."

I instantly thought of this post.
// Anonymous Greg // 5:45 PM
 

Hey Greg,

Thanks for that. It's a great example of exactly what we're talking about - tiny things, but added up, they make you feel like an alien in your own country.

Hey Anderson,

1) Of course Kurtz does talk differently about Israel/Hezbollah. And, in fact, I don't have a problem with that.

My problem is that He doesn't ask us to evaluate the veracity of anyone's claims but Hezbollah's; which further implies that Hezbollah is the only/most truthful party claiming Lebanese casualties. Like I said before - either racist, or absurd, take your pick.

2) I think you're very right, the show is indicative of the media bubble.

3) I read Brzezinski's comments with interest.

But, to be honest, the point I want to make is not so much about Lebanon/Hezbollah/Israel/etc. Rather, it's about us (Americans/Euros).

I feel that a large chunk of us are becoming inured to brutality (esp against brown people) - the bigger picture I see is Gitmo's black hole, >100 Iraqis killed/day, Afghanistan=Talibanized all over again, a New Orleans that was never rebuilt, the Constitution being ran roughshod over, etc...

All this stuff gets a pass and it shouldn't. It is all brutality, it will all create rifts, and they will be enormous and pervasive.

Thx for the comments guys.
// Blogger umair // 9:01 PM
 

Hi Umair,

>>a large chunk of us are becoming inured to brutality (esp against brown people)

Becoming?

>>All this stuff gets a pass and it shouldn't.

Many people are working hard to stop it; so far they have not been sufficiently numerous nor powerful. So on net, you're right.

>>It is all brutality, it will all create rifts, and they will be enormous and pervasive.

I agree.
// Blogger Anderson // 1:49 AM
 

"Now, Kurtz is trying a simple tactic here. By telling us that it's only Hezbollah claims alone claims this, he cleverly creates a deeply racist implication that the reader almost unwittingly accepts: that the claims of organizations made up of brown people, whether Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, Al-Jazeera, etc, should never be taken seriously; and that in fact, they are on equivalent ground in terms of credibility, authority, etc."

I would interpret this differently. Kurtz doesn't want to lump Hezbollah claims in the minds of his viewers with claims made by the Lebanese govt etc. Kurtz creates a straw man debate by identifying the statement with Hezbollah, an organization that holds less credibility with his viewers than those other entities you have listed. Kurtz caters to his viewership. Take that a step further and the implication is that Kurtz recognizes the validity of Lebanese government claims etc.

So he says instead, "Israel says this, but the Terrorists say that!" Not racist. Just game playing.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:50 AM
 
 

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