Have you ever heard the catch phrases, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, “if you want to hide something from a black man put it in a book”, or my personal favorite, “you never fight anyone who buys their ink by the barrels.”
These phrases serve as testaments to the power of the written word. Newspapers, magazines, books and print ads provide us with a magnitude of news, entertainment, research, economics, politics and personal information. Most assume that the information provided us is accurate and honest. That is why when Jason Blair of The New York Times admitted to lying and falsifying information the media acted as though the foundation of journalistic integrity that the press was supposedly built on was rocked to its proverbial core. In reality, Mr. Blair is not the first journalist that has ever made up stories, created sources or downright lied. There have been many others before him such as Stephen Glass. The television news program “60 Minutes” reported that Mr. Glass made up people, places and events while working as a reporter for the New Republic newspaper. Fosster Winans of the Wall Street Journal was tried and convicted of insider trading after he made trades in advance of reports he made in his market column “Hard on the Street”
The reality is that we, as consumers of the written word, must become critical readers and thinkers. We cannot afford to sit back and read our newspapers and magazines and books with a passive mind. Why? It’s simple. Reporters, authors, journalists, and advertisers all have an interest in the information that we, the consumers, receive. They create the news with their purpose and agenda in mind. The unfortunate result of this bias is that all too often African-Americans do not fare well and are depicted in a negative light. We are predicted as predators of our own society. What is even more unfortunate, however, is that we accept those stories as reality and began to believe that we are the sole causes of much of the crime, disease, poverty, and urban plight that our country is experiencing.
The media manages to make us turn against ourselves and view ourselves with those same smoke-colored glasses.
In order to combat this cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies, we must become critical thinkers and realize that without our critical view of media information we are nothing more than pawns of propaganda and racial miscegenation. Some of the steps to critical thinking are:
1. Know the author – find out who wrote the article or story and what is the author’s purpose for writing it.
2. Research who is the sponsor of the author – many articles are written for specific companies and, therefore, the research contained in those articles will be sided towards the contributor. Tobacco companies are a prime example of media sponsors. They hire individuals or companies to conduct studies and then they print the results of those studies. Think about it, would you write a negative article about the company that pays you?
3. Find the target audience – if you can discern what type of people the author is trying to reach you can usually deduce what they are trying to get across, sell or persuade you to believe.
4. Look for illogical arguments or fallacies – often times an author will use an argument that has no relevance to the subject and is used merely to persuade. An example of this is when an advertiser attempts to sell you a product and uses a celebrity to endorse that product. Most people will think to themselves, “Well if this rap artist, or that soap opera star uses it, it must work.”
African-Americans are a powerful force in this country. If we begin to read and think critically about the information that we receive on a daily basis we will begin to recognize how our society attempts to control our economic spending, our thought processes, and our actions. We will begin to think more critically about how we are being targeted and will make more educated decisions when spending our hard earned money. We will begin to see how we are used in the political arena. We will begin to see how advertisers target our children in an attempt to convince their parents to spend money on frivolous items. And hopefully, we will begin to see that we truly do have the power. If we as a people begin to exercise our power as a collective whole, there are no limits to changes we can make in this country.