By Robert A. Vella
Yesterday, PBS broadcasted a town hall meeting on race relations in the aftermath of Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina last June (see: WATCH: America After Charleston hosted by Gwen Ifill). Although America desperately needs more honest public discussion on matters of race and other cultural differences which are increasingly plaguing the nation, this one completely failed to provide any answers whatsoever. In fact, the meeting was one of the most depressing and hopeless exchanges I’ve ever witnessed through the news media.
First of all, advocates for the growing presence of white nationalism/supremacy in America today were nowhere to be found in the town hall meeting. How can an honest discussion on race take place when one side doesn’t participate? In their absence, the meeting was restricted to the airing of legitimate black grievances along with a smattering of white guilt from prominent individuals and local residents. One white man, in particular, stood out when he expressed his sincere desire to unlearn the racism he had been taught as a child. But mostly, the sentiments shared simply reflected the pain and weariness of a longstanding division.
Secondly, the host – Gwendolyn L. “Gwen” Ifill – committed the most egregious of journalistic sins (in my opinion) by engaging in rhetorical false equivalences when responding to black grievances such as the imposition of strict voter id laws by the state’s Republican majority. In her reply to a charge that these laws were intended to suppress the black vote, Ifill countered that the laws’ supporters disagree. Obviously, Ifill fell into the morass of mainstream media irresponsibility by reporting prevailing political opinions rather than the substantive merits of an issue. For the record, the weight of empirical and circumstantial evidence strongly validate assertions that the wave of Republican-sponsored voter id laws – and related actions – since 2010 are both suppressing minority voter turnout and were specifically designed to do so. Furthermore, several GOP politicians have been caught on videotape publicly admitting that intent.
Ifill was correct about one thing, though – that America’s problem with race isn’t going away anytime soon. As long as the public debate is restricted in the above-described manner, her prophesy is sure to become reality.