April 29, 2010

Ham-Handed Headline

There is no indication this morning that any editor at the News-Leader understands the transgression of using the racist and derogatory term “colored” to refer to black youths. As I pointed out yesterday, at the very least it offends the conventions of the AP Stylebook and the SPJ Code of Ethics.

But to refer to the term as “in flux” also offends history. The term “colored” was the very mark of American apartheid in the South prior to the Civil Rights Movement.

Today, let’s examine the ham-handed headline on the column: “Americans don’t owe slave descendants any apologies.”

Journalists like to think of themselves as expert, or at least skilled, in the use of the English language. This attitude draws snickers from people who actually do know something it.

What this headline does is create a dichotomy between “Americans” and “slave descendants” who are at the very least grammatically separated and, thus, separated culturally by implication. In other words, slave descendants are not real Americans.

Now I can just about guarantee you that the headline writer did not intend that meaning.

But…

Given the racist use of “colored” in the column and the paper’s complete lack of understanding of that transgression, this headline is a further slap in the face of the tiny black population in this second whitest city in America.

7 Responses

  1. Alan 

    Thank You! I knew that this particular column repulsed me more than the usual ‘Everyone should be forced to fly the flag, so we can know who isn’t a Real American’ drivel from Mr. Snider; I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
    I, too, find it troubling that the News-Leader chooses to implicitly back these amateur pundits, without providing any of the editorial oversight that the pundits need. Their rants are much better suited to a blog or a letter to the editor than opinion journalism.

  2. jeremiah sherrill 

    I find myself in a position that I wish I was not, but I must defend the News-Leaders right to publish the article.

    Though I believe Joe Snider is a repugnant slime ball, I can not wish that he be censored any more than I would wish for myself to be censored. We must always remember that no matter how unpopular an idea is, we must fight for everyone’s right to have their own. The first amendment must always be upheld and I believe that calling for a newspaper to censor someone who is only exercising their American given right to freedom of speech and press, to be a scary slope of which I don’t want to find myself standing on.

    We can think very little of these people, and we can speak out against them, but please always remember we can do those things because of the bill of rights, a document that we must always strive to keep from the precipice of oblivion. Once it is gone, there is no going back.

  3. acline 

    J– It is impossible for a newspaper to censor someone. The First Amendment protects you against government censorship. It does not apply to anything else. The News-Leader is free to publish or not publish anything it chooses. This is not about rights. It’s about ethics.

  4. jeremiah sherrill 

    I realize that, and I agree that referring to blacks as colored is very unethical, however, what we are talking about, are people who do not like what they read and who do not agree with a columnist, calling on a newspaper to fire employees for making a judgment call. They did not violate the law, they did not physically harm anyone, and though words do hurt, there are a lot of things in this world that happen all of the time that are far more egregious than a punk using a outdated and hurtful word.

    You are right, the government is who we are protected from, but then again who or what is the government? I realize that you wholeheartedly believe that calling for the termination of these people is the right thing to do, but to me it smacks of censorship and regardless how we view government intervention, the people acting as a body to punish those they feel wronged them without due process for a non illegal act is in my opinion whether governmental or not, a violation of the freedom of speech and of the press.

    I don’t expect most to agree with my sentiment, but I do think that something like this deserves polite discourse before being elevated to such an extreme level.

  5. acline 

    J- This has been going on a long time. This “colored” thing is just the last straw.

  6. jeremiah sherrill 

    I will admit I don’t know the history of the issues which bother you and am only viewing this subject from a perspective generated by reading only one article, so I will take a break from expressing my opinion. If you have other examples you wish to share, I would love to see those.

  7. acline 

    J- Just search for News-Leader on Rhetorica.