Sam Fulwood headlined the second installment of this fall’s Progressivism on Tap series last night. Fulwood, a Center for American Progress Senior Fellow and former race relations reporter for the Los Angeles Times, gave a candid assessment of progress and challenges facing race relations in the United States. There is often a divide between public discussions of race, which are dominated by a lazy media, and private conversations that take place largely among people who agree with one another, and Fulwood commented that this event stood out as a “rare conversation on race” in its commitment to a deeper discussion among a diverse audience.
Fulwood argued throughout the discussion that the mainstream media has simplified and ultimately hampered a thoughtful and deeper discussion of the complexities of race in America. He pointed, for example, to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright media feeding frenzy during the Obama campaign. He said that this should have been a one-day story, but instead it was “interpreted ad nauseam” by television media networks that cover controversial news stories in an attempt to hold onto declining viewership.
Traditional media often also fail to probe the complexities of race relations. Fulwood pointed for example to the now-infamous arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. by Sergeant James Crowley. He said that based on his personal knowledge of Professor Gates and his status in the Cambridge, MA community, there was probably a much more interesting story about the event than the “oppressed black man is mistreated by a white cop” narrative, but no one bothered to dig deeper.
The media and broader public need greater precision when it comes to talking about race. Professor Gates should not be considered “oppressed,” according to Fulwood, because he is likely the “second most powerful black man in America.” But it is possible for Gates to be a victim of racial profiling.
Now that the United States has voted in its first African-American president, it is a pivotal moment for America to critically assess the status of race relations in America. But, as Fulwood notes, taking advantage of this opportunity requires an intentional commitment on the part of the media and the public to examine race with accuracy and depth rather than careless broad strokes.