The cover story of the March 25th edition of the Dahlonega Nugget features the now infamous University of North Georgia catalog cover (more details here) that has made national news for reflecting racist and sexist stereotypes and isolating women and minority students.
The article seems to reflect a clear bias in favor of the photograph, or at least goes out of its way to excuse it. The only people directly quoted in the article are school administrator Kate Maine and journalism student Hunter Leger. Maine condemns the photograph but insists it was a stock photo, implying at least part of the blame lies elsewhere. Leger, explains that other students took issue with the school’s use of the photograph, but dismisses those who found it problematic trying to “[pacify] the crowd that would seek to deem anything they’re uncomfortable with as racist.”
It should be noted that Leger, the only UNG student quoted in the article, and the article’s writer are both white men. The fact that this happened on an issue directly relating to people of color and women only reinforces our argument that white supremacy and patriarchy are deeply woven into the fabric of our culture. Academic institutions and the media consistently place more value on the voices of white men than those of marginalized groups. The writer failed to mention why certain people found the catalog cover racist and sexist, instead referring to urban media sources like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New York Magazine, or second-hand accounts from Maine and Leger.
The fact that the Nugget didn’t interview any black or non-male students for the article is not merely lazy, it reflects a troubling attitude that pervades our modern media. In an era when black men and women are murdered by police and news outlets scramble to dig up criminal records or inflammatory Facebook photographs of the victims, we can’t rely on the media to provide objective coverage or give voice to these victims.
Even if UNG and the Nugget learn from this experience, the changes will most likely be superficial. Many schools and newspapers know how to properly handle the language and imagery around race and gender, but the structural problems that form the foundation of white supremacy and patriarchy in our society remain. Even when the voices and experiences of marginalized groups are included, they’re lost or ignored in a culture that has been conditioned to give them less value.
The unfortunate truth is, the photograph an entirely accurate depiction of social relations in modern America. Even when we’ve learned how to not sound racist or sexist, racism and sexism still thrive. We must continue to fight not only oppressive words and images, but the structural conditions that oppress and exclude people of color and women and place more value on the opinions of white men than those of any other group.