As the Baltimore “riots” were reported on the 24/7 news channels, I immediately thought of the title of Henry Giroux’s latest collection of essays, The Violence of Organized Forgetting. According to Giroux, the media suffers from purposeful amnesia. Instead of context and analysis, we see the same looped video and hour after hour of “commentary”. Print media does a somewhat better job of providing some historical context. For example, Time magazine points out that the same neighborhoods in Baltimore where the riots are taking place today are pockmarked with destroyed or boarded up buildings from the 1968 riot after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Of course, few people today read Time or any other print media.
Rather than asking why black neighborhoods like those in Baltimore have been marginalized and ignored while two generations of young black Americans grow up without equal opportunities and equal justice, pundits on Fox and CNN debate the appropriate punishment for the “thugs” who steal and destroy property. As long as most Americans get their news from television news and social media, the purposeful amnesia and organized forgetting will continue.
As I think about the history of Baltimore and previously forgotten “riots”, including the 1968 riot over Dr. King’s assassination, I recall King’s comments made almost 50 years ago.
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice in progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
Those words resonate as much today as they did then. A riot is the language of the unheard. It seems to me, it is the obligation of the media to give voice to the unheard. The media response to Baltimore reminds us once again that injustice is not likely to be reported until somebody riots.
People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually reoccurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence- James Baldwin