Shanelle Matthews is the Director of Communications for the Black Lives Matter movement. Matthews works tirelessly to set platforms in place to assure the voices and justice for Black lives reaches the hearts and homes of our society in order to orchestrate social change. She has witnessed the dismissal of marginalized voices in mainstream media’s sterile coverage of Black murders at the hands of police. Below Matthews shares her story, as she is currently supporting rapid response communications in Charlotte after the murder of Keith Scott by police.
Last night, I worked for several hours to find an organizer from Charlotte who is organizing in Charlotte to tell the country what is actually happening on a major national television program early this morning.
At 4:36 AM, the producer text me and the organizer and said: “you are no longer needed.” It turns out they placed a politician, the mayor of Charlotte. She recited talking points that benefited nobody – not the people of Charlotte (more than a third of which are Black), not the organizers fighting keep Black people safe against deadly police, and certainly not murdered Keith Lamont Scott and his grieving family and community. She said nothing profound, nothing to change the terms of the debate, and it was a terrible, horrible, no good waste of air time. And given we are being executed every day by police and vigilantes, time is something Black people do not have.
The producer has a job to do, but for us, the impacts of those decisions are far-reaching and contribute to a culture of racism and prejudicial treatment.
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After some years of j-school, journalism, communications work, and all my life as a queer, Black, woman organizer in America, here are five things I know about news making and people who make and watch the news:
1. People don’t want this truth!
Y’all, every damn day Black people are murdered by poorly trained, racially biased law enforcement officers who are paid with our tax dollars and imbued with the inalienable power to kill with impunity. The truth is police gangs are terrorizing Black communities and killing our families, and that is emotionally inconvenient and icky to hear because on the spectrum of humanity people range from awesome to evil AF and sociopathic, and that’s a reality we don’t want to or know how to grapple with. If up until now, you’ve refused to believe it, sometimes terrorist carry badges and murder the people they’re paid to protect. Instead of the truth, people want polished, nonaggressive, and emotional, but only if it benefits them, their ratings, and pockets.
2. Perception trumps reality.
When it comes to giving a fuck about what is actually happening in Charlotte, Tulsa, DC, Ferguson, Columbus, Cleveland, and everywhere Black people are prejudicially targeted and murdered by the state, reality matters far less than what people believe. They perceive or imagine something and then it becomes real – how novel.
3. No new information.
People want to be confirmed in what they already believe. Let everyone tell it and they’re dissonantly both “open” and “loyal.” But most people don’t want to be convinced of anything that is different than what they already know. Call it ego, stubborn, tenacious, whatever you want, but we (and our brains) work overtime to be unbending in our deeply held beliefs (which are not usually ours because we’ve been primed our entire lives by advertisers, politicians, faith leaders, and family to believe things, many of which we never question) in part because of survival (whether it actually keeps us safe or not) and in part because we are ashamed or afraid to change our minds. And changing people’s minds is hard, emotional labor. It requires a relatively specific method, a lot of time, empathy, a messenger that is valued and trusted and a vested, long-term interest in the things about which your changing their mind. It is slow, tedious, annoying time-intensive, and lonely work.
4. Tribalism is necessary for our survival, and it also keeps us stuck and oppressed.
Even if or when someone wants to change their mind about something, politically or otherwise, their material conditionals, geography, family, faith, indoctrination, and fear of isolation can keep them from making better, more ethical decisions. Those same instincts and conditions keep us safe, but some communities and tribes, like police unions, band together at the expense and in service of keeping others oppressed.
5. Even with all the information accessible to us, people will not reason themselves to the most moral and ethical conclusions.
That is because decisions are emotional, not logical. And none of us are capable of being truly objective — not judges, jurors, district attorneys, journalists, friends, family members or people who’ve seen Black people extrajudicially murdered by police on their newsfeeds over and over and over again and still believe we deserve to die. That’s because lots of us are assholes, and none of us are incapable of escaping implicit bias — the unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions.
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Every time a booker or producer or editor tells us “you’re no longer needed,” throwing us away and opting for the safe, polished, sterile politician or talking head to keep their viewers comfortable and complacent, their ratings high and holiday bonuses for their executives, it isn’t just inconvenient, it is a brazen impediment of justice. We’re not disposable and by gatekeeping our stories you are, in fact, contributing to our deaths. Let the people speak!
Shanelle Matthews currently serve as the Director of Communications for the Black Lives Matter Global Network. Black Lives Matter is an international network of more than 40 chapters working to rebuild the black liberation movement and affirm the lives of all black people – specifically black women, queer and trans people, people who are disabled, and those who are undocumented and formerly incarcerated.
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