In his Detroit Free Press response today to my Dec. 30 column here, Brian Dickerson wonders loudly whether some black people — most notably me — are just being paranoid or unfairly biased in concluding that race plays a role in how black murder victims are covered.
This from his piece:
But what interests me is the reflexive conclusion, which I have heard echoed by many black friends and readers, that Samuel's race was the likeliest explanation for the news media's delinquent attention to her death.
Commentators seeking to explain why white police officers shoot unarmed black men point increasingly to a phenomenon known as "confirmation bias." In plain English, confirmation bias is the unconscious tendency to interpret or remember information in a way that confirms what we already believe, and helps us to ignore new data.
Confirmation bias may explain why some white officers reflexively suspect that a black teenager they meet on the street is up to no good, and why other whites are more likely to give those officers the benefit of the doubt when the facts of such an encounter are in dispute.
But it may also account for some black Detroiters' equally reflexive conclusion that the disparate treatment of a black homicide victim is primarily a function of race.
Hmm. Well, just as Brian is interested in “some black Detroiters’ equally reflexive conclusion” about racism and media treatment, I’m fascinated by some white folks' reflexive dismissal of black people’s conclusions and concerns.
What does “confirmation bias” have to do with it?
What accounts for some black Detroiters’ conclusions is our experiences with white supremacy and our long, ignominious history of being looked over, demonized or otherwise dehumanized by mainstream media coverage.
What accounts for this conclusion are simple things like the results you get when you go to, say, Click On Detroit, enter the names “Christina Samuel” and “Paige Stalker” separately into the search engine and look at the number of story links that come up: one for Christina; 22 for Paige.
What accounts for this conclusion is a 13-paragraph news post by Fox2 on Dec. 31 about another shooting on the eastside. After recounting what happens, the story — which came out after Andrea Isom reported atthat station about Christina Samuel’s killing — goes on to say:
This is the second fatal shooting to occur the eastside in recent weeks. Paige Stalker, 16, was killed when she and three other teens were hot at Charlevoix and Phillip in Detroit Dec. 22.
Somehow, again, this young woman is rendered invisible.
What accounts for some of our conclusions is the curious disparity in reward money being offered by the same anti-crime nonprofit (which is completely separate from the money raised by Stalker’s family and friends).
Brian's a good columnist, and he and I can disagree about the particulars of media coverage of the two cases. But I think it’s very wrong to compare black people’s well-founded mistrust of mainstream media to the warped racist thinking that compels killer cops to shoot down unarmed men, women and children of color.
Black people who note our demonization and diminution in media don’t suffer from “confirmation bias.” We suffer from racial bias — and we know it quite well when we see it.
We don’t need to make shit up.