How racism infects the American mainstream news media
Racism dominates the mainstream American news media and there are examples of this everyday in news stories that the media promotes. The real tragedy is that most Arab Americans don’t care and do nothing about it. Instead, they prefer to be led by their noses against populist issues like the president, or Israel or Muslims who are mostly non-Arab. A recent story in Chicago is a perfect example of that media racism
By Ray Hanania
This week, one of the biggest news stories is being championed by the mainstream news media in the Chicagoland area involving racism against African American students at a school district in Elgin.
According to the Chicago Tribune, and other news media, Elgin School District U46 has a student body population that is only 6 percent Black. Yet, the percentage of punishments — referrals, expulsions and detentions against Black students is more than 51 percent of the student body.
The lead story of the Tribune begins, “Black students at School District U46 are disciplined at a disproportionately higher rate than other racial or ethnic groups, new data shows. African-American students make up about 6 percent of U46’s 39,000-plus enrollment but received about 26 percent of all out-of-school suspensions in the 2016-17 school year, according to statistics presented to the U46 school board Monday.”
The data immediately suggests a problem exists in Elgin’s school district. The question is, are Black students rougher and more prone undisciplined behavior that violates school code and conduct? Or, is the administration of the school district driven by racism, targeting Black students while giving White students a pass, less punishment?
You can’t even begin to address these serious questions without having the data. Even more important is that these questions can’t be addressed if the mainstream American news media refuses to write the news story.
In other words, although the racism may or may not exist, it won’t matter if the mainstream news media, like the Chicago Tribune, doesn’t write the story.
This is exactly the problem that faces Arabs in America. We are the victims of racism and discrimination every day at every level of society. In schools. In business. In government. And the mainstream American news media is not covering that story.
The only time Arabs are “covered” by the news media is when the Arabs are involved in violence, crimes or terrorism. The “terrorism” coverage perpetuates the myth that Arabs are “terrorists” and feeds American public fears. Those fears, in turn, drives Americans to dislike and even hate Arabs. And that hatred of Arabs drives the policies of America’s governments, local, national and even international policies.
Arabs are denied the same privileges that are given to other ethnic groups in America because of this media bias. State governments, for example, give grant funding to support cultural programs, advertising in ethnic newspapers, scholarships for educational study and more. Arabs are excluded.
Arab Americans are excluded by the U.S. Government Census. If you are not included in the U.S. Census, you basically don’t exist in the eyes of society. You are assimilated into the larger community, even though you don’t get the same benefits of the larger community. You are “vanished.” Made t disappear. You become irrelevant.
Arab Americans are excluded from mainstream news media coverage. And no one complains. Most Americans only see Arabs as terrorists, so why should they think that they are model citizens who pay their taxes, are successes in business and other fields and careers, or are patriotic having served in the U.S. Military?
Arab Americans are made to look “foreign,” unfriendly, as a “threat” to the mainstream. And, they become easy targets of racism. They can easily be discriminated against. Anyone can discriminate against Arab Americans without consequences or punishment. Arab Americans become “easy victims.”
Acts of discrimination against Arabs happen often in America, but they just as often go unreported. Unnoticed. Undocumented. The main reason is that the public doesn’t care so there i no pressure to explore the acts of racism. The mainstream news media doesn’t care and doesn’t cover the acts of racism. Without media coverage, and without the concern of the public, the racism will go unnoticed and unpunished. Arabs are victimized, injured and suffer without redress.
But the biggest problem is that the Arab community is not vigilant. Instead, their attention has been redirected to “bigger” Middle East issues. They focus their activism and anger on protesting President Donald Trump, for example, rather than protesting local incidents of racism.
The Arab community overall becomes irritated, angry and dysfunctional. Their response to their anger becomes wild and unfocussed, and thereby weak. The world immediately around them becomes hostile, and all they can do is express themselves against issues more than 9,000 miles away.
The disproportionate punishment against Black students at Elgin School District U46 is a good example that has happened often in school districts which include measurable Arab American students. But while Elgin’s problems are reported and debated and become the focus of concern of government officials, that’s not the case with similar and even worse instances of disproportionate punishment meted out against Arab students.
In the early 1990s, the same issue surfaced, but the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper which has excluded and marginalized the concerns and interests of Arab Americans, refused to cover the story.
Keep in mind that not every reporter engages in racism, but the newspaper’s unofficial policy was to ignore positive coverage of Arab Americans and only report on negative Arab American activities. The Chicago Tribune does a good job covering other less controversial issues, but the Arab community is in a special category of marginalization by the Chicago Tribune and the truly racist Chicago Sun-Times, which lead coverage by the broadcast news media.
The incident in 1993 occurred in District 230 in the Southwest Suburbs, a school district that includes one of the largest concentrations of Arab Americans in Chicagoland. No school district has more Arab American students than District 230, which has three high schools, Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew.
At that time and throughout the 1990s, the population of the three schools totaled more than 6,000. There were about 600 students who were Arab (Christian and Muslim) at the time, although over the years that population has increased.
The Arab students represented only 10 percent of the student body. Yet, more than 90 percent of the expulsions of students from the three schools, mostly from Stagg, were Arab.
In is story this week, the Chicago Tribune and other Chicagoland media are wondering how Elgin School district U46 explains how Black students make up only 6 percent of the student body yet receive more than 51 percent of the disciplinary action and punishment?
In District 230, they did not ask that question even though the statistics were even more glaring.
Can you imagine what the Chicago Tribune headline would have been if the Black students made up only 6 percent of the Elgin School District U46, but more than 90 percent of discipline and expulsions?
Is it racism? Not necessarily. But if you don’t investigate or examine the circumstances, how can you just brush it off and say it is caused by the students or by the school administration?
That’s the crime. And the mainstream news media is complicit int hat crime. The news media should be punished for their racist marginalization of the Arab American population, and also for restricting and even excluding Arab voices from being published in their newspaper.
The Chicago Tribune prevents Arab Americans from engaging in the public debate. Many of the reporters and editors marginalize Arab voices, excluding them from the Op-Ed pages. By not being a part of the news media, the mainstream public is led to believe that we don’t exist and our concerns, therefore, do not exist either. The racism isn’t just at the newspapers but also at local radio and TV stations which have no Arab American reporters or editors who can offer insight into the Arab community and ensure that the Arab community is included inc overage. Those few Arabs who do work in the mainstream news media are either prevented from reporting on their community or discouraged from reporting on their community. Several Arab journalists have been punished for pushing against this racism. That, too, is not covered by the news media that writes about other ethnic and religious groups that are marginalized or victims of discriminatory media coverage.
It should also be noted that today, High School District 230 has changed dramatically. The Arab student body at the three high schools, Sandburg, Stagg and Andrew has increased to more than 20 percent, and the school works hard to engage al of the students equally and fairly. District 230 should be praised today for reversing the racism that dominated the District 230 school board in the past.
But the same problem remains with the Arab community. Marginalized and demonized by the mainstream news media, and thereby the society in which they live, Arab Americans act the way victims do, afraid, paranoid and suspicious of everything. This causes anger that has no medium of expression in the mainstream news media (no Arab journalists, no Arab radio talk show hosts and no Arab TV reporters who address mainstream issues but not issues of direct concern to Arab Americans). This causes the Arab community to focus on foreign related issues.
In a way, Arabs are a part of the problem by not seeing the problem and but not addressing it more forcefully.
Arab Americans need to refocus their energies from “fighting for Palestine” or their individual nations, to fighting for rights in the country where they live. The firs line of battle has to be with the racist, biased American mainstream news media.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and former Chicago City Hall political reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)