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Prof: ‘Power of whiteness’ means S. Carolina killer won’t be called ‘terrorist’

Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, says that the murderer of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina won’t be referred to as a “terrorist” because of … white privilege.

“U.S. media practice a different policy when covering crimes involving African Americans and Muslims. As suspects, they are quickly characterized as terrorists and thugs, motivated by evil intent instead of external injustices,” she argues.

From The Washington Post:

But listen to major media outlets and you won’t hear the word “terrorism” used in coverage of Tuesday’s shooting. You won’t hear the white male shooter, identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, described as “a possible terrorist.” And if coverage of recent shootings by white suspects is any indication, he never will be. Instead, the go-to explanation for his actions will be mental illness. He will be humanized and called sick, a victim of mistreatment or inadequate mental health resources. Activist Deray McKesson noted this morning that, while discussing Roof’s motivations, an MSNBC anchor said “we don’t know his mental condition.” That is the power of whiteness in America.

While white suspects are lone wolfs — Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston already emphasized this shooting was an act of just “one hateful person” — violence by black and Muslim people is systemic, demanding response and action from all who share their race or religion. Even black victims are vilified. Their lives are combed for any infraction or hint of justification for the murders or attacks that befall them: Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie. Michael Brown stole cigars. Eric Garner sold loosie cigarettes. When a black teenager who committed no crime was tackled and held down by a police officer at a pool party in McKinney, Tex., Fox News host Megyn Kelly described her as “No saint either.”

Butler adds that “[i]t will be difficult to hold to this corrosive, racist media narrative” in the continuing coverage of the story. She also wonders if the killer was “influenced by right-wing media’s endless portrayals of black Americans as lazy and violent.”

I’m not sure from where Ms. Butler gets her news, but the media is hardly “right-wing.” And I’ve heard Roof referred to as a “terrorist,” and his actions as “terrorism,” numerous times in the past two days.

Does Butler not recall how George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, was, in what seemed a media first, immediately labeled a “white Hispanic?” Does she not know that the Michael Brown narrative of “Hands up, don’t shoot” is still used despite being proven false?

Regarding Eric Garner, does Ms. Butler not recall any commentary on how absolutely ludicrous it was to have the NYPD take such action against the man for selling individual cigarettes?

Read the full article.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.