When Is the “Racist” Designation Truly Applicable?

Since the U.S. 2016 presidential election, journalists and news organizations have been forced to confront shifting racial, social and political climates, and re-evaluate practices and norms. Such was the case when the Associated Press decided to revisit and ultimately change their guidelines about calling things racist. However, news coverage of racism is complex, especially because the conceptualization of racism in society is discordant, and the parameters of racism are heavily debated. News coverage can contribute to this debatability, specifically when it presents issues of racism with certain linguistic and topical features. In a content analysis of social media posts from six of the Facebook pages maintained by national broadcast and newspaper organizations, the present study by John & Elizabeth Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equality Danielle Kilgo explores contextual and linguistic representations of racism, and how social media users on Facebook engage with news posted by these organizations. Results suggest representations in news coverage signal a public debate about what is and is not racism. Coverage heavily emphasized prominent figures, while social media audiences amplified Trump’s presence in social networks.

Read the study When Is the “Racist” Designation Truly Applicable? News Media’s Contribution to the Debatability of Racism.