Friday, March 7, 2008

No, You Cannot Quote Me

It happened again yesterday.

The hard stares, the angry whispers, the outright hostility. Once again, I felt the distrust and it didn't feel good.

Let me break it down

When I'm not trying to save the world one blog post at a time, I work as a journalist. The kind that writes, not the kind that smiles on cue.

As part of my duties, I go to crime scenes. Lots and lots of crime scenes. And those scenes typically involve men and women who look like me.

Only they don't really.

Most of the time, they're in standard "urban" wear while I'm in something business casual or dressy. They may be wearing slippers while I'm rocking hard bottoms. They clump together speaking in distinctive accents while I work the periphery trying to use the King's English.

We're alike, but we're different.

When these people see me, they don't see one of them. My notepad and ballpoint pen classify me as an other. Even if I relax my diction and throw in a little slang most folks' demeanor will only relax so much.

I don't blame them. Besides the fact that talking to a reporter at a crime scene is a good way to make reservations for your own crime scene, I understand why most of these folks don't trust people who do the job I do.

We parachute into their neighborhoods when somebody dies, poke around asking questions and then disappear as soon as we have what we need. We don't try to understand their lives, their cultures and the pressures they face. Many of us don't tell their stories, we just tell a story. Reporters, and I even include myself to a degree, don't really care about life in the communities where gunshots "ain't nothing." These people with skin like mine are not stupid, they can spot the bigger hustle.

At a recent crime scene, I could hear the family members of a victim angrily discussing which media sources they were going to deal with and which one's they would ignore. Apparently, when their relative, a black woman, went missing only a few media sources could be bothered with running her picture and description. The rest passed. So these family members were ready to retaliate by denying those media sources any interviews and treating them with disdain.

I was on the list of good media sources. Not because of any actions of my part, but just because somebody at my company had spoken to these people and gotten their story out to the public. It was luck really, because I have ignored missing person reports just as often as I have written about them.

But, these people's anger touched me. Truthfully, I'm always affected by the anger I feel at crime scenes. Being branded as a traitor or interloper is never a positive experience. At times it makes me want to lash out at these grieving people for making me feel the way I feel.

But, I don't.

I feel these people's frustrations. I understand their disgust at a stranger asking them to talk about somebody they love who is dead in the street. It's callous, it's unfeeling, it's damn near disrespectful. What right do I have to use their pain to advance my career?

None

But, it's my job.

I've thought about that job a lot more recently as I've watched this election. This whole process confirmed for me just how much power I thought people like me possessed. The question is how can I tap into that power, not just by blogging, but in the mainstream sources that reach the most people.

I'm thinking on it.

7 comments:

vicdamonejr said...

RBL,

My dude, we journalists will rarely be able to tell a story the way we want in the medium we work in ... You have to sit on a pedestal of sorts to be able to do that.

Or... sell a screenplay or pilot script. But I think we live in a world that's is past the "fad" of the black plight.

When you think of something, let me know.

BTW, I see you're a UGK fan. My favorite UGK tracks are "Take It Off and "Can't Stop This Pimpin" ... just thought I'd throw that at you.

Christina Springer said...

Perhaps, you could see it this way. You are being paid to observe and bear witness.

From the etymlogy dictionary: observe
"c.1386, "to hold to" (a manner of life or course of conduct), from O.Fr. observer, from L. observare "watch over, look to, attend to, guard,"
from ob "over" + servare "to watch, keep safe," from PIE base *ser- "to protect."

That's a pretty sacred gift to share with the people whose lives you briefly touch. That's a pretty spiritually heavy load to carry. Your job is "to watch over, keep safe, and protect through your testimony."

Thanks for being willing to do it. It isn't what you do, it's how you do it.

For what it is worth.

WNG said...

Man I wish I had some words of wisdom that could break this thing wide open for you. All I know is that we need people like you to keep 'thinking on it'.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

u sound like a super hero LOL

Big Man said...

Damone


Take It Off is a nice track. I'm partial to Number One on Riding Dirty, can't remember the name cause my copy was bootleg. Also "Murder" on that same disk. Bun-B's "The Story" is also a tight track.


Thanks to everybody for the kind words. I don't think I"m special, and Lord knows I don't always live up to my potential.

I wrote this because when I was at that crime scene recently I realized that sometimes the attitudes of black people can hurt us in getting a true picture of our world out to the masses. I don't blame us, we are justified in our views of the media, but I wonder how we will change public perception of us when we constantly battle the one group that has the power to shape opinions.

It's an interesting problem in my mind. Blogs help some, but, as my brother pointed out to me recently, they typically only reach like-minded folk.

Big Man said...

Torrance


Far from a super hero. I'm neither super or a hero, just a regular cat wondering how the world works.

Don't get it twisted, I'm not super journalist, I'm a lot like many of my peers. But, I think I notice things and feel things some of them do not.

Danielle said...

BM - So many of us are broken mentally and spiritually. You have a hard job to do. There are no easy platitudes to toss out, no pithy words.

You are a smart man and I am sure that you will find a way to reconcile this conflict within yourself.

Raving Black Lunatic