BIASED COVERAGE: The newspaper has skewed its portrayal of black males
NEWS COVERAGE of the horrific events in Woolwich, south London, have again brought into focus mainstream media’s portrayal of black males.
Across every front page, of every daily newspaper, the image of Michael Adebolajo– cutlass in hand – was seared into the collective consciousness of the British public.
However, this merely dovetailed into a larger narrative that has existed for years, namely that black men are dangerous – armed and extremely dangerous.
Delivering a media literacy class to a group of black students at a south London secondary school, several years ago, one boy asked a brutally frank question.
He said: “Sir, if all the images of black males shown to me are negative, therefore my perceptions of black males are negative, how am I supposed to succeed?” I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head and replied: “That’s entirely up to you, son.” I had lied. The odds are heavily stacked against him.
Last week, after another heated discussion with my wife (who calls me a ‘reverse racist’ because I point out subtle, yet profound, incidences of racism), I decided I’d had enough. It was time to put up or shut up. So using the Friday, May 31, edition of London’s Evening Standard I carried out a piece of analysis based purely upon face recognition.
The paper comprised 78 pages, 50 per cent of which was advertising, and what is left? Headlines, photos and text.
As pictures tell a thousand words, I decided it best to count the faces shown on the Standard’s pages and apply a simplistic, but effective, formula based upon the criteria of gender and colour: i.e. male, female, black, white, Asian, mixed-race etc and tally them up.
The results were both stunning and depressing, especially for citizens of the greatest city on Earth.
The scores between men and women were neck and neck right down to the start of the sports pages where the victorious white males romped away to win comfortably over the white females.
Final score: 85 pictures against 65.
However, the real devil lives in the detail.
And upon closer scrutiny, these figures reveal a very disturbing vision of our city by the folks at the Standard.
According to the Census, almost 40 per cent of London’s eight million plus population is non-white. That is approximately 3.5 million people. This group is bigger than the UK’s second largest city.
Does London’s only paper reflect the reality of London life in 2013?
Sadly, no. That 40 per cent of ethnic Londoners are crudely white washed out of its view of our city is a terrible indictment.
People of colour did not feature on any page as fully formed characters as often as we should but, in fact, if we all packed up and left, London would grind to a juddering halt. We are integral to this city’s smooth functioning.
But let us get back to the numbers, because numbers never lie.
There was a grand total of four non-white women across the entire paper. Four!
Alicia Keys appeared twice-once on the front page-followed by a double page spread of Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez under the headline Battle of the Booty’. Finally, there was a review of US rapper Eve’s latest album. (Should I add, coincidentally, all the women shown were light-skinned American singers?)
Not one, solitary, image of a UK based woman of colour.
No African, Asian or Caribbean females made it past the Standard’s gatekeepers on that particular day. None.
Asian males fared slightly better with three faces making it to print; one doctor and two purveyors of – I kid you not – curry.
As for black males? My team managed two images, I think.
Someone not paying council tax and a black teenager killed from stab wounds as a result of gang violence. He was the same as age as my former student.
I looked at the picture for a moment and recalled the words of the young pupil. At that moment I decided to draw the line.
I, for one, will no longer touch – let alone read – a copy of a paper that refuses to acknowledge the humanity, diversity and richness of its own reality.
85 pictures of white males, plus 65 of white females makes a total of 150. If there was some degree of proportionality, or fairness, London’s non-white 40 per cent would have more than a derisory 8 non white faces in the Standard’s pages.
A truer figure would be nearer 60, so there is a very long way to go.
I expect to be attacked for mentioning quotas and ‘race’ while the unbearable whiteness of the Standard’s output skips along unchallenged. Not a peep from the advertisers, not a holla from editorial, but maybe a murmur from the readers.
However, the ultimate irony is the Evening Standard is reliant upon dedicated teams of non-white Londoners, who stand outside of train stations, in all weathers, in order for the paper to be distributed. Deep.