Diversity & Media

The “Subaltern” in South Carolina

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Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s piece, “Can the Subaltern Speak”, can easily be applied to news coverage of modern tragedies. For example, these ideas are relevant to the reporting of the massacre at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston on June 17, 2015. As Spivak says, the colonizer creates a narrative with knowledge collected from words rather than experiences. Though the clip of NBC News coverage about this shooting includes direct input and conversations with locals in Charleston who attended the church and/or knew the people who were effected by the shooting, the majority of the dialogue is given by white reporters and politicians, most of whom are not from Charleston. Moreover, like academics who hope to advance their career, and research, prospects by producing new knowledge extracted from colonized communities, the people participating in this news cast are also looking for some sort of reward from broadcasting these people’s suffering: the network is looking for ratings by covering this tragedy in-depth and offering viewers all of the details; the reporters are looking to continue, or improve, their career and relationship with the network; and the professionals and public servants featured are looking to boost their careers by responding appropriately and quickly to such tragedy. Though none of these commentators are experiencing this horrific event personally and they have no real way to relate themselves to the feelings of the victims, they continue to speculate about the situation and exploit the emotion of those feeling this loss directly. Spivak says that this sort of disconnection leads to the colonizer only representing one piece of an experience. I think this is definitely true in this reporting; the segment is mostly focused on the gory details of the attack and the background of the shooter. Though it doesn’t go unmentioned, the reality of this being completely provoked by racism is somewhat glossed over. This type of reporting allowed viewers to feel rewarded for caring about this tragedy, while focusing on the titillating details of the terrorist who committed the act. This allows every third party in this situation to control how they relate and participate in this crisis. For example, many Americans probably viewed this type of news coverage, but it probably did not motivate most of them to join a Black Lives Matter protest. They were able to restrict their engagement to that of an observer. This clip displays the important details that are missed when privileged people speak for “others”.

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