Monday, November 5, 2018

"People Who Are Most Likely to Appear in These Kinds of Stories Are the Least Likely to Have a Say in How Those Stories Are Told": Lessons for Catholic Media Reporting on LGBTQ Community

A diptych for you today — news commentary dancing two-by-two which, in my view deserves to be highlighted, and which illuminates, I think, themes I've discussed here in the recent past:

The people who are most likely to appear in these kinds of stories [i.e., ones written by white journalists about black and Latinx communities] are the least likely to have a say in how those stories are told…. 
The implications of the media's representation problem could not be more clear. As race emerged as a central theme of the 2016 elections, crucial decisions about coverage were being made in institutions employing few of the people Donald Trump maligned. Euphemisms appeared when unblinking assessments of racism and religious bigotry were warranted. A persistent theme of "economic anxiety" was cited to explain away an animosity that was clearly connected to much darker objections. As a corollary to this, the work of journalists like Adam Serwer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Jamelle Bouie, which pointed to the centrality of racism as a motivating factor for Trump voters, came under attack. (Subsequent studies have validated their contentions.)

So much of what is at stake is the definition of "us", "ours" and "we". ...You don't have to be oppressed or come from a history of oppression to stand with the oppressed; you just have to have a definition of "we" that includes people of various points of origin and language and religious belief and sexual orientation and gender identity.

In case it's not clear, I think there are important lessons to be learned from commentary such as this about how Catholic journalists and Catholic groups ministering to LGBTQ people should be approaching the LGBTQ community (see here and here).  

In case it's not perfectly obvious, I'm suggesting that the way in which the mainstream media have long shut out the voices of members of minority communities while reporting about those communities perfectly parallels how the Catholic media continue treating members of the queer community. And, no, I don't see myself co-opting a conversation about racial matters by insisting that there are parallels between that conversation and conversations about matters of sexual orientation. One can, after all, be concerned both about inclusion of racial minorities and about inclusion of sexual minorities.

In case I need to clarify, Jelani Cobb's statement that "[e]uphemisms appeared [in journalistic political analysis in 2016] when unblinking assessments of racism and religious bigotry were warranted" seems to me to be a point Catholic journalists need desperately to hear, as they comment on the current wave of homophobic hate roaring through the U.S. Catholic church — while they refuse even to use the word "hate" to describe what's happening.

What's happening to others and not to themselves. What's not happening to them because they themselves do not belong to the community whose members are the object of the current of hate.

Hate they do not want to recognize or talk about because they themselves do not have to deal with it in the direct way that those being hated have to do. Hate that hand-picked token representatives of the queer community who happen to live in sheltered enclaves also do not wish to speak openly about — because they are sheltered in various ways from the worst of the hate, and because they continue to want to depict the Catholic community as incapable of raw hatred.

Wide, meaningful, active listening would seek to draw more voices into the Catholic conversation as these realities are discussed — more voices of the community experiencing homophobic Catholic hate at present. And more voices that are not tokenist voices of elite cadres of the community experiencing this wave of hate — elite cadres sheltered by their social and ecclesial location from the worst of the hate.

But in my experience dealing with the U.S. Catholic media, it's much easier to talk about listening than to do it. Synod or no synod.

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