The fifth part in a seven week series of Worcester's Community Discussions on Race took place last night at Worcester Technical High School. The focus of this series was the role that media and online social networks play in perpetuating or dismantling racism.
Prior to the event, at the entrance of Worcester Tech, several members of the Progressive Labor Party were already outside holding signs that read "End White Supremacy" and "Stop Racist Terrorism," and handing out flyers on Symptoms of Structural Racism in social media.
The flyers were filled with remarks against local blogger Turtleboy Sports and used several examples accusing Turtleboy and alter-ego Clarence Woods Emerson of racism and hatred. One such example even accused Turtleboy Sports of stealing a social security number and posting it on Facebook. The same flyer addressed negative comments and on-line harassment on several sites including a city newspaper, and a Worcester city councilor's Facebook page.
Lively Discussion in Groups
However, the community discussion itself told a different story. Although there were flyers handed out by the Progressive Labor Party that accused the city manager of "maliciously prosecuting protesters," and calling the Worcester Police Department's complaint system a "joke," the conversation was lively and the discussion allowed a good back and forth between participants, media, and elected officials.
The topic that gained the most traction of the speakers and in many of the groups was the unfortunate incident and the media coverage of the South Carolina shootings. "This has been a brutal week for the country. We've seen a lot of darkness, but we've seen the most amazing love." said City Manager Ed Augustus in his opening remarks.
“This is important stuff we are doing. The events in Charleston are proof that we still have some race issues and we need to address them. I think we are making good progress here," said Mayor Joe Petty. Augustus added, “When we wrap these discussions up and when we go back out to live together in this community, where we work together, go to school together and live together, I don’t think it would hurt if there was a little more love, a little more forgiveness and a little more understanding," "This is the first one (community discussion) that I've been to," said Jesse Leidel of Worcester. "I'm here as a father to learn something so I can, in turn, teach my children. I'm just trying to be a better dad."
Groups Focus on Media's Reporting Nationally and Locally
As the previous four meetings went, participants were asked to break into groups to discuss amongst each other the role media and social media play to perpetuate or dismantle racism. In one group, one participant asked, "We have seen Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and the Trayvon Martin story. I wonder, as challenging as the media is, by bringing attention to terrible tragedies will we finally get to the point where we will want to put an end to it?"
The groups had several suggestions of the ways that media perpetuates racism. Some of the remarks include that the media uses selective reporting and images, focuses too much on crime, slants the news, always makes mention of race for people of color, and doesn't report on terrorist attacks by white supremacists groups.
One woman said that she was "excited to hear that a Worcester police officer was indicted," but then was disappointed to find out he was a minority. She did add, however, "not that he didn't deserve it."
Groups Share Their Ideas
There was plenty of discussion within the groups about Turtleboy Sports and negative commenting on social media news posts and blogs, but when the groups reported to everyone, not one person specifically discussed any media site.
One presenter said, "Our newspapers have not been locally owned for a while. So a story here should be more transparent and more fact checking needs to be going on."
Another presenter suggested that the focus of the media isn't on the story, but the value of the story. "The money is the bottom line," said the presenter. "The media should post with transparency, give honest and true reporting, and newspaper reporters should reflect the community."
Other groups believed that racism was perpetuated in the news due to sensationalism, negative reporting in the inner-city versus positive reporting in the suburbs, and that media highlights the negative. One example brought up was local coverage of North High over this past school year.
A presenter did add that young people in her group believe that on-line posting is more liberal and that there are a lot of anti-racist discussions happening. However, her group was wary of "Facebook-thugging" and cyber-bullying.
As one woman participant said, "This conversation is so vital. As a country, we start as a community and then become a country. How do we grow if we are still in the bin of hate? Why aren't we moving all communities to be the best community we can be?"