In recent years, there has been an exponential rise in polarising narratives spread in the American public spheres. America is a country that is fundamentally racially diverged, and it is undeniable that people from minority social groups are treated as second class citizens in their own country. Likewise, the effects of Jim Crow laws still linger. It is important to discuss this issue, because as the saying goes, when America sneezes, the world catches a cold.
The media has played an integral part in maintaining the racial division that has been central to American life for centuries. Several news outlets have played a role in widening said division, but none have been more effective than CNN and Fox News Channel.
Fox News Channel and CNN have an antagonistic relationship with each other. Fox news is a conservative news television channel whereas CNN is a liberal news television channel. These news channels cater to people on the opposite sides of the political spectrum, and they regularly antagonise each other.
News channels shape the public discourse. They are duty bound to provide unbiased information so that their audience can create their own political viewpoints. Conservatives and liberals are more often than not intolerant towards each other’s criticism, as is evident in how CNN and Fox report on their content. Even if they report on the same issues, they will be covered in vastly different ways.
By consequence, radical groups that were previously operating in the shadows are now emboldened to publicly display their political alliances, which is illustrated by the rise of radical groups such as Antifa, a left wing radical group, and Proud Boys, a far-right neo-fascist group. Both groups go against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, which promotes inclusivity of all societies and peaceful settlements of conflict.
The United States’ biggest export is its pop culture. The political instability that is plaguing America is exacerbated by media outlets and spreading to other countries across the world. There has been a rise of polarising politics across various parts of the world, from Europe to South America.
In order to change the status quo, there has been a rise of groups who are fighting against racial inequality. The most prominent social justice group is the #BlackLivesMatter organisation, which was founded in 2013 and identifies itself as a decentralized political and social movement that seeks to highlight racism, discrimination, and inequality experienced by Black people. It has chapters across the world, and its 2020 protests sparked an international movement. Countries such as South Africa, and England took part in the Black Lives Matter protests in order to protest the racial inequalities in their respective countries.
These protests brought public attention to racial injustices that had previously been swept under the rug. Subsequently, racial issues are now being deliberated in the public sphere, and marginalized groups are being given a space to publicly voice out their grievances.
As a result of the current political climate, White people who were not aware of the social injustices facing Black people are now becoming more aware, wrestling with their own White privilege. This phenomenon has led to the woke movement’s arrival in mainstream media. Merriam-Webster defines woke as being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”.
The realisation of one's White privilege causes many people to attempt to exonerate themselves as a result of the guilt they experience from the actions of their forefathers, which comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. White people make up the majority of key decision makers in both TV and Hollywood.
The lack of diversity in the boardrooms means that narratives are created and shaped by people who have no lived experiences with the sensitive issues that they are discussing.
However, being sympathetic, empathetic and compassionate is not the same as experiencing injustices. People from marginalized groups should be given public platforms to tell their own stories. When stories focusing on injustices are told by people who have not experienced them, it comes off as tone deaf, ignorant and offensive.
Dismantling racial inequality is a collective effort. People from all racial groups should come together to discuss racial issues in a respectful manner. White people have either refrained from engaging in racial issues in order to not be branded a racist, or pretend as if the atrocities committed by their forefather did not take place. Both these actions have had disastrous effects.
The dreaded and often problematic cancel culture has everyone in a choke hold. Everyone is scared of voicing their viewpoints in a bid to get more clarity on issues that are foreign to them. The media should create spaces where people are able to unlearn their own myopic viewpoints that they grew up with.
Woke culture coupled with cancel culture can be a toxic combination. People who overly zealously and rigidly abide by these ideologies tend to be intolerant of criticism. In their bid to over correct their past mistakes, said people have created a hostile environment whereby people who oppose, question or challenge their narrative are labelled as racist.
Such phenonema are visible in the highly tone deaf TV series And Just Like That, a reboot of the beloved and equally problematic Sex and the City. The original Sex and the City series, was heavily criticized for lacking diversity, and when marginalized people were included in the shows reboot, they were used as props — as if they were overcompensating for their whiteness (which is more condescending than helpful). No matter how well-meaning the show might be, how it is received matters.
Those who are too woke tend to live in ivory towers, acting as though they are the gatekeepers of what is or is not offensive, prejudice or racist, as illustrated by Cynthia Nixon, who worked on And Just Like That. Whenever she was challenged about the show being tone deaf, instead of listening and taking it in as constructive feedback, she acted defensively and came off as arrogant. Listening to people and learning from your own mistakes is key to growth, and no one should be above reproach.
Doing or saying something racist does not mean that you cannot redeem yourself. This is a learning curve for everyone, and mistakes will happen along the way. There should be corrective measures put into place to ensure that people are able to learn from their mistakes. Similar to studying for exams, it is better to understand what is being taught as opposed to cramming and regurgitating what is in the textbook verbatim, without acquiring the knowledge to uplift yourself.