The news media are a journal of our lives – a macro version, if you will. An individual is identified in stories depending on his or her impact or importance in the general spectrum of events. Some are for the good, some are for the “not-so-good” and some because they are evil.
The individual is also mentioned because the media need to personalize the subject to make the story human. The unfortunate consequence, in some cases, is that media, like individuals, have a tendency to make some things generic; in others words, they tend to stereotype.
As much as reporters claim to be objective, everyone forms opinions based on their circumstances – or as sociologists may put it: their social location. Thus, a reporter may imply certain traits to a group of people that, in turn, generate certain opinions among his or her readership.
It is therefore laudable when, from time to time, some facet of the media – in this case, a newspaper – makes an effort to report on situations, through investigation, in an attempt to verify or ferret out the truth and inform the public of its findings.
In 2002, the Toronto Star published a series of reports that brought racial profiling by the police to the public’s attention. This has been a problem for many years, but no one seemed to give it much attention until the Star’s series.
Not only did the Star identify the high incidents of stops among people of African descent, the series also pointed to a justice system that treated Black people more harshly than White people with similar charges and comparable histories. Of course, the police, led by then Chief Julian Fantino, denied these allegations, blaming a “few bad apples” for these incidents.
More recently, the Star published a series that brought to light a system of “carding”, particularly as it related to young people – primarily young Black males. This, frankly, amounted to giving a record to these young people who were stopped as “being known to the police”, not that they did anything wrong.
These are clear cases of the violation of the rights of young Black people, and certainly – no matter how you slice it – racially motivated.
I mention these two examples because these are a couple of cases where one of the daily newspapers in the Toronto area has assisted the Black community to bring these matters forward. By its actions, the paper raised some of the issues that the African-Canadian community faced, and still faces, daily, but which largely go unnoticed because few others take our concerns seriously.
Another case that bears mentioning is the attention it devoted to the “ghetto dude” email which brought attention to a rarely identified state of being within the Ontario Public Service. It managed to get some action – at least in a flurry – to calm the troubled waters within the Ontario Public Service (OPS). What needs to happen now is a follow-up “state of the OPS story” to show, as some of my sources have told me, that not much progress has been made. With the urgency to reduce spending within the government, racialized people, and particularly Blacks, are being seriously affected.
Unfortunately, not all of these issues raised by the paper get the attention of the policymakers to the extent that they should, and perhaps we, ourselves, must share the blame for not keeping the pressure up. Nevertheless, giving credit where it’s due, no other Toronto daily has raised these issues, thus adding, as it were, legitimacy to the African Canadian community’s concern.
Having said all that, the Star has not been without its faults. Sometimes its headlines portray an image that demonstrates its lack of understanding or appreciation of the issues that our community faces. Its opposition of an Africentric school, for example, with an editorial headlined: “No segregated schools” in 2007, jumped to, and passed on, a conclusion that was unfair. Of course, the Premier, and many members of our community who should also know better, shared that opinion.
The Star published an ambiguous political cartoon in the wake of the Danzig events that many found offensive. The paper issued an apology for its handling of the issue.
I think I am safe in saying that, for the most part, the Toronto Star, of the four major dailies, displays more understanding of some of the challenges that our community faces. The other three major dailies either do not deal with our issues or passes on an interpretation that can kindly be described as subscribing to the popular myth that we are trouble.
In most cases, the good that members of our community do go unnoticed. A White organization may collect donations and send packages to the Caribbean or Africa and is lauded in the media. Rarely, such as following a disaster, does that happen if it is a Black organization.
The work that many organizations do, in support of our community, very often goes unnoticed, even within our community. And they do it overcoming significant challenges. In the end, what they do is not news as defined by the mainstream media.
By PATRICK HUNTER