America the Controversial

I’ve been itching to write for a while, but looking for an interesting topic during Ramadan is a fruitless venture. Aside from the firecrackers and fireworks going off continuously, Benghazi has entered into the sleepy, semi-hibernating existence that is the hallmark of the Ramadan season.

But one country that never seems to stop is the good ol’ US of A. With its diverse population and a flame-stoking media, controversy abounds like there’s no tomorrow.

And it’s been a pretty eventful month thus far. It’s almost impossible these days to switch onto CNN or Fox News and not find the nation fuming over some incident (to be fair, Fox’s indignant overtones are practically it’s trademark).

Lately, the topic of discussion has been race. First there was Paula Deen, who’s wide-eyed confusion at the anger over her latent racism seems to indicate that  the South is indeed a different world altogether. One could say that growing up in that type of environment inevitably makes discrimination accepted as a social norm.

But that kind of defense is bullshit, for two reasons. One, America has gone a long way in terms of awareness over the ills of racism. To say you don’t understand the angry reaction over your ‘plantation style’ wedding, complete with white-jacket slaves, means you’ve either been isolated from society for the past 60+ years (Paula Deen certainly hasn’t) or else you just don’t care if it’s wrong. Two, racists know exactly what they’re doing.

Take this counter-example, a Cheerios commercial that’s been the spotlight for another controversy. The video apparently received an inordinate amount of vitriol, anger and disgust in the comments section (and for Youtube, that’s saying something) that they had to stop the comments altogether.

If you didn’t grow up in the center of a race firestorm, you probably wouldn’t see anything out of place. The controversy was over the fact that it featured an interracial couple. For those whom race plays a central role in life, it’s the first thing they noticed.

Now, interracial marriage is not very common. People inherently prefer to group with those similar to them, whether based on race, class status, religion, etc. It’s part of human nature. Deviating from the norm can produce some raised eyebrows, sure, but to express outright anger and shock is a reaction that comes from a different mindset, especially in this day of multiculturalism and globalization. When a person discriminates against someone solely based on skin colour, they are doing so consciously. Just as some notice others’ outfits or age at first glace, racists acutely pay attention to race.

Of course, I’m oversimplifying here. There are numerous factors in play, including history, culture and so on. I had read ‘The Help’ a couple months ago, which was about black maids in the South during the 1960’s and the struggles they faced. One thing that struck me was how recent the events were. Despite decades of civil rights movements, racism is still a big deal in America, a fact that comes a shock to many who are disillusioned with the country as a land of freedom of acceptance.

This brings me to the biggest hot button currently dominated the air waves, the Trayvon Martin case. It’s a tragic case not unlike those that happen daily in America, a boy wrongfully killed by a man who should not be in possession of a gun.

If Malcolm Gladwell had analyzed the story, he probably would have found the factors that made it ‘stick’ and turn it into national sensation. Racial violence is not uncommon in America, but this particular story resonated with the public. I’ve made mention before to the ‘martyr effect’ theory on this blog, how one figure represents the hundreds of nameless people subjected to the same injustice and becomes the banner around which they rally.

But the media played a huge role in how this story was perceived. They exploited the raw emotion and sensitivities of the nation, and turned the story into a race issue. Before the details had even emerged, racial buzzwords were being thrown around in different news mediums to attract an angry, but huge, audience.

That’s not to say the issue didn’t involve race, but not to the extent the media would like you to believe, in my opinion. The problem is, the people who have taken it to heart and hold it up as the shining example of whatever cause they advocate, are not easy to debate with. Any evidence contesting their belief is dismissed or ignored. This goes for both sides of the issue.

And so, can we say that the media is a big factor in stoking the fires of racism in the US? To me, at least, it’s certainly accountable. There are countless other causes and reasons for one of the most controversial issues in this troubled nation.

I don’t want to draw this post out any longer, but at least I’ve satiated the writing bugs for the time being.

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