Reporting against stereotypes
I wasn’t entirely sure that Daniel Holtzclaw would be convicted. If you are not familiar, Holtzclaw is a former Oklahoma City police officer who was charged with raping 13 black women while on duty.
The women have been outspoken about what happened to them, testifying against Holtzclaw and even sharing their stories with BuzzFeed. But of course, the justice system in the United States has a long history of disbelieving women who say they were raped and of ignoring the sexual assault of women of color all together. So it wasn't a given that Holtzclaw would be convicted of anything, especially not by an all-white jury.
He was convicted, though, on 18 of 36 counts, the jury recommending a sentence of 263 years in prison. The reaction on Twitter was one of relief and celebration that, in this instance, black lives did matter.
I just finished reading James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how black women have been painted in American culture; Cone's idea that the stereotype of the oversexed black Jezebel emerged as a means of social control over black women in the Jim Crow South intrigues me. For a period of time in our history, black women were deemed essentially unrapeable due to the hypersexuality ascribed to them by white culture.
Maybe you knew that, but I did not, and so I've also been thinking about the role the media plays in either feeding into or negating stereotypes today.
At Global Sisters Report, the nature of our work means that we constantly have to be on guard against reinforcing stereotypes. Every day, we're writing about those living in poverty, those suffering abuse and those otherwise marginalized from mainstream culture — all people groups that are easily stereotyped — and all in addition to covering Catholic sisters who have a whole history of being stereotyped themselves. We have to think about the words that we use and the images that we share when we talk about all of these people, because how people are depicted matters.
In her GSR reporting debut, Soli Salgado tackles a story that could have be rife with stereotypes. It begins with single mother who has left an abusive relationship, and woven throughout are the stories of undocumented Mexican immigrants living in Birmingham, Alabama. I think Soli does a beautiful job of upholding each individual's dignity, even as they are telling her about some of the most trying times in their lives.
If you haven't read the article yet (or watched the accompanying videos by Nuri Vallbona) I highly suggest you do. It represents exactly what we are about at GSR, the peaceful, mindful journalism that we seek to share. That doesn't mean that we don't dig deep into painful issues, we do, but we always aim to do so in a way that isn’t demeaning or dismissive.
If this sounds like a sales pitch, I promise it isn't. I just feel proud to work for a publication that realizes the inherent dignity in all human beings and doesn’t rely on gross characterizations. So yeah. Merry Christmas to me!
(Just kidding. I’ll be here all next week.)
[Dawn Araujo-Hawkins is Global Sisters Report staff writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]