White Girls

Bob Herbert had a good column yesterday critical of journalists propensity to think that a life is valued based on the color of skin, gender and beauty.  If the victim is a pretty white girl,the media will Chandra Levy-ize it. 

And let’s be clear about why young black male and female victims get much less coverage:  The prevailing attitude is that black deaths are the fault of black culture.  Funny that when a white guy goes on a rampage and kills his entire family (and note that it usually is a white guy), you don’t hear people blaming “white culture.”  Bob Herbert says it’s been going on a long time.

I remember as a young deputy city editor at The Daily News attending my first “sked meeting,” a large gathering of editors held every afternoon to consider which stories would go into the next morning’s paper and how they would be played.

I was sitting at the far end of a conference table from the editor who was conducting the meeting. The News had very seldom had a black person at those gatherings. Mine was the only black face in the room.

One of the stories being pitched was about a baby that had been killed on Long Island. The editor running the meeting was completely relaxed. He was sprawled in his chair and was holding a handful of papers. His legs were crossed.

“What color is that baby?” he asked.

A tremendous silence fell over the room. Everyone understood what he meant. If the baby was white, the chances were much better that the story was worth big play. It might be something to get excited about.

Annoyed at not getting a response, the editor repeated himself. Then his eyes caught mine staring down from the other end of the table.

…[T]he press is still very color conscious in the way it goes about covering murder. Editors may not be asking, “What color is that victim?” But, on some level, they’re still thinking it.

Which is why we’ve heard so little about an awful story out of Chicago. Some three dozen public school students have been murdered since the school year began, most of them shot to death. These children and teenagers have been killed in a wide variety of settings and situations — while riding a city bus, playing in parks, sitting in the back seats of cars, in gang disputes, in robberies, in the crossfire of sidewalk shootouts.

It’s an immense and continuing tragedy. But these were nearly all African-American or Latino kids, so the coverage has been scant.

Herbert might have added that even if the victim is a young, pretty, educated black girl, her death would not command the attention Chandra Levy or a whole host of white female victims received.  There is no explanation for it other than pure, blatant racism.