Media no help in bridging America's racial divide

January 06, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

DO THE MEDIA contribute to racial polarization? That question was put to a panel recently sponsored by the Black/Jewish Forum. As a panelist, I had trouble answering the question, because it assumes thereprove that relations between the races have always been adversarial. Having given that caveat, I then told the audience that while the question of whether the media contribute to racial polarization is debatable, it's clear we don't help bridge the gap between races either.

"To my everlasting shame, I have to admit one of the culprits is the paper I write for," I confessed. I cited as evidence the number of times our paper has mentioned Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan: some 575 since 1992 alone, and still counting.

On the other hand, we've done stories mentioning Wallace Mohammed a pathetic 11 times during the same period. You've never heard of Wallace Mohammed? No reason you should have, since he's virtually ignored by the media right, left and center. But who Wallace Mohammed is might best be explained by comparing him to Louis Farrakhan.

Farrakhan's Nation of Islam numbers an estimated 20,000. Mohammed leads some 2.5 million Muslims committed to orthodox Islam. Farrakhan lives in a mansion and drives a Mercedes. Mohammed has humbler digs and is content to drive a Buick. Blasted as anti-white and an anti-Semite, Farrakhan is on record that Jews practice a "gutter" or "dirty" religion. (Which term he actually used depends on whether you believe him or his media critics.)

Mohammed regards Jews as "people of the book" and has made peace with the Anti-Defamation League. In 20 years, he has steered what was formerly the Nation of Islam from a black nationalist, separatist course to one of moderation. His sect has accredited high schools in Atlanta, Washington, New York and Philadelphia that have sent graduates to colleges and universities throughout the country, including Harvard, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Duke and Howard.

No, you probably haven't heard of Wallace Mohammed, even though two days after Farrakhan's Million Man March Mohammed's press secretary issued a release giving much of the above information. It also quoted Mohammed as saying "I can't serve anymore a government for black people, I must serve a government for all people." The voice of reason and racial unity was drowned out by the voice of racial divisiveness and fanaticism, and the media helped make it happen.

But don't think the so-called liberal print media are doing this alone. Talk radio, hijacked by conservatives and as much a part of the media as newspapers are, excoriates Farrakhan regularly but does not mention Mohammed as a positive alternative, probably because there are no ratings to be gained.

After O. J. Simpson was found not guilty, it was talk radio hosts who continued to rail against the verdict, paint the jury as racist and proclaim O. J. guilty long after the rest of us had gotten on with our lives. Locally, they reacted similarly when a predominantly black jury acquitted black defendant Davon Neverdon of murdering Korean Joel Lee. Black juries would never convict a black defendant of murdering someone nonblack, the bilious talk radio brigade proclaimed.

They tossed reason out the window, conveniently forgetting that it was a predominantly black jury that convicted black defendant Dontay Carter of murdering a white man, Vitalis Pilius. Instead they chose to paint all blacks with the "black racism" brush.

Mind you, I am not one of those blacks who contends there is no such thing as black racism. Some blacks do engage in racism, and believe me they are quite good at it. Black racism, especially directed against Asians, is a constant theme among conservatives. Those clinging to it need to go into black neighborhoods where Asians have stores and see the friendly interaction between both races to realize that black racism directed against Asians may not be as widespread as conservatives charge.

If there is, indeed, widespread black racism directed against Asians it would seem to be impossible for Asian businesses to survive in black communities. At the very least, we don't do to Asian businesses what whites did to ours in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th -- burn them out and string up the owners. That Asians thrive economically in black communities shows the spuriousness of -- once again -- holding all blacks accountable for the actions of a few, and should raise the question of whether conservatives have an anti-black racism agenda or simply an anti-black one.

Do the media contribute to racial polarization? The evidence shows that, intentionally or unintentionally, we do what we can.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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