On blaxploitation, sensationalist headlines as clickbait
Ferguson. Staten Island. Chicago. Since August 2014, America’s relationship with black people has been contentious, to say the least. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner sparked a cataclysmic awakening of the mind for the entire nation. Everyone was alerted to the fact that more than “a couple” black people are dying unjustly as a result of police action. As President Obama said in his speech after the Ferguson grand jury decision was announced, “... Communities of color aren't just making these problems up.” But were black people dying at such an alarming rate at the hands of police officers all along, and no one noticed? Or has there been an uptick of in such deaths?
As expected, headlines reading “black man fatally shot by white cop,” surface more than once a week. And at the start of the phenomenon it made sense. Such headlines and news reports made it clear that the abundance of claims concerning law enforcement officers targeting black individuals were not myths. This is happening, and media organizations are capitalizing on it, fostering the perfect environment for a revival of Blaxploitation.
As a portmanteau of black and exploitation, Blaxploitation is essentially media created specifically for the purpose of appealing to black people. The term was originally applied to a film genre that emerged in the 1970s. In this sense movies and films under this genre were designed to target black audiences. They used funk, soul or jazz music to please “urban black audiences.” The Coalition Against Blaxploitation was formed though a conglomeration of predominantly black organizations coming together with the express goal of putting an end to the genre. Their actions came to fruition. Additionally, from the movement emerged a group of black film directors such as Spike Lee and John Singleton, who were able to portray black people in an accurate light. Media usage of blaxploitation makes sense, audiences are targeted based on their demographics everyday. Even so, media organizations need to move past using race as clickbait and only employ such identifiers when explicitly necessary.
In 2012 headlines that are racially explicit would have been considered sensationalist without a doubt. But considering the social climate that currently exists within the nation, headline blaxploitation may be necessary, there is no wrong or right. It’s difficult to tell if the elimination of such sensationalism would yield a more accurate depiction of events. If the race of the victim and the shooter are not explicitly mentioned in the headline then there will be backlash. Whatever media publication that releases the article, they will be accused of burying the story, avoiding the real issue or unfairly putting race on the backburner. Yet if race is mentioned, a publication will be similarly scrutinized for exploiting the present plight of black people in America.
Regardless of how they are worded, headlines feed on what the masses interpret the situation as and vice versa. However the interpretation of these instances are so disparate it’s impossible and inappropriate to attempt to appease each audience. On the one side, with each case comes the mentality that, “this is the one.” That this case, with inconclusive video, or this case with dozens of witnesses or this case with undeniable evidence will be the one to get the police officer that’s in the wrong convicted for their actions. Another interpretation however is that each of these individuals likely did something wrong and inconclusively contributed to their own demise. But this argument, the one that alleges that the police for a justified reason shot an individual or that they caused their own death is so incredibly nonsensical, it's absurd. Regardless of whether or not an individual committed a crime does not mean they deserved to die. Thousands on thousands of individuals are apprehended for wrongdoing without being fatally shot, proving that less violent outcomes are an attainable reality. Still more audiences see these shootings as unfortunate but feel as though race does not need to be explicitly mentioned.
Despite the necessity for brevity and clarity in headlines, race should not be used to increase clickbait. Yes, it’s impossible to ignore race when so many of the same instances occur disproportionally and have a negative effect one racial group. However continuing to exploit a marginalized group of individuals after an injustice has occurred is unequivocally flagrant.
Yvanna Saint-Fort is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in journalism and media studies and political science. She is the Opinions Editor at The Daily Targum.