TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

We will not be moved: In response to violence against the Press | Think Piece

in Media & Journalism by

From the shooting deaths of five press members at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland on Thursday, June 28, questions, shock and blame emerge.

In this time of uncertainty, I am unwavering and sure that the press must persist in telling our stories.

Ironically, the press was established in the United States to curb the violent way political disputes were handled. Today, the nation replays its sordid past, while press members are continuously being silenced, or their work being trivialized. Now, the reality is that we too can seriously be harmed.

It is in the DNA of journalists, and particularly, Black journalists, to be acutely aware that telling the truth, sometimes and oft-times, has disturbing consequences.

As a Black woman who founded a media company, I’ve known violence long before the unfortunate killings at the Gazette.

Interwoven into the responsibility of African American journalists is knowing the history of harassment and hostility towards the Black press and its members.

Just for reporting the unsettling details of a nation experiencing internal turmoil and centuries-old conflicts, we wear many battle scars and death masks.

As a result, Black journalists had to become fierce with our pens and stories. Or else, forever be invisible in carving out the direction of a country built on the backs and exploitation of our ancestors.

Leading up to the Civil War, the buildings of Black newspapers were destroyed because of their abolitionist leanings. Newspaper owners were beaten and killed for their calls of freedom for millions of enslaved people.

During the world wars, African American newspapers questioned the insidious racism in a country that asked Black men to fight abroad, yet killed them in racial terrors on US soil. Black publishers were targeted in McCarthy’s Red Scare, and were subsequently, put out of business.

Many papers were subjected to surveillance by government bureaus, often derailed and shuttered for news that challenged oppression, white supremacy, imperialism and institutionalized racism.

And after our long fight, currently, the Black press is considered subpar by mainstream media.

Today, I channel Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a premiere African-American journalist who reported on the plethora of lynchings of Black bodies by white mobs from the 1880s to the 1910s in the US.

Wells-Barnett’s work resulted in frequent death threats and surveillance. The paper she co-owned, The Memphis Free Speech, was burned to the ground. Ultimately, she had to leave Tennessee or be killed.

Her story, in the history of the Black press, is not an anomaly.

And today, for all press, we must be vigilant about holding a mirror to the three branches of government; and a reflector to ourselves.

For people who work in any capacity within media, those who seek to illuminate truth: We must, and will continue in covering and reporting stories that help our communities navigate our daily lives, and the world around us.

Now, our voices and stories are even more important.

But it is truthfully the people who read our work that will preserve, restore and hold us up.

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Kaia Niambi Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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