Last week I had one of those moments of self-doubt, the kind I imagine crash over writers who don’t fit into the media mould (read: white, middle or upper class, and usually male) all too often. One of my friends helped to nudge me onto firmer ground by sending me a famous James Baldwin quote as words of encouragement:
“The bottom line is: you write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world.”
Baldwin (and my very wise friend who sent me Baldwin’s sage advice) was right; even when there’s a seeming consensus of opinion that’s tells you you’re wrong, you shouldn’t let yourself be silenced. Or, as Audre Lorde eloquently put it, “your silence will not protect you.”
It’s this message that Media Diversified are sending with a set awards they’ve launched in the past week, which they’ve called #TheTrashies our equivalent of Hollywood’s Razzies (in a happy coincidence, as part of #TheTrashies they tweeted this same Baldwin quote yesterday). Under this hashtag, people from across the world can nominate articles from the mainstream media that rely on and perpetuate racism and islamophobia, however subtle this may be. It’s an entirely democratic process; nominations close this Saturday (7th March) and a poll (which will be a list of the top entries) will be open next week.
The idea for the #TheTrashies was born out of Chimene Suleyman’s and Jude Wanga’s work; last week both writers neatly picked apart ‘that’ Grace Dent article, exposing the racism at the heart of her thinking. But racist stereotypes didn’t start and they certainly don’t end with Dent (in fact Emma Barnett at the Telegraph echoed eerily similar thoughts to Dent on the girls who left the UK to join ISIS. Then when criticised for her approach, attempted to defend herself by claiming what she said wasn’t, in fact, racist).
Scrolling through articles nominated for #TheTrashies yields a depressing but unsurprising number of examples where the mainstream media dehumanise, patronise and direct blame towards people of colour:
“Muslims must flush out killers in their midst”, blusters Daniel Finkelstein in The Times; over at The New York Times there’s no shortage of stereotypes about ‘Africa’ (because it’s a country, didn’t you know?); “Islamophobia is a reasonable reaction to jihadi violence and Islam’s aversion to criticism”, pontificates Australian journalist Ted Lapkin on the other side of the globe; while Islamophobic tropes are kitted into Nick Cohen’s piece, “How liberal Britain is betraying ex-Muslims”.
All of these articles are part of a tightly woven tapestry of media coverage that negatively stereotypes people of colour. #TheTrashies help to unpick this depressing, misinformed consensus.
#TheTrashies aren’t about personally attacking writers, they’re part of a wider social movement where people of colour are calling out the fundamental hypocrisy of the way society works. Institutional racism is a long way away from winding up in a hospital bed and the media is a key form of sustenance that keeps this beast alive. #TheTrashies unashamedly challenge this, while reminding everyone that the media is dominated by a white, and usually privileged (class, is, after all a factor at play here), few.
But, this movement isn’t just about disrupting accepted narratives. This Twitter hashtag, and Media Diversified more broadly, provide an important base of solidarity for people of colour. In moments of self-doubt, when the mainstream tells a story that’s impossible to identify with, this kind of support is – to borrow from Baldwin – indispensable.
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Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow.