Nappy Hair, Rap and Virginia Tech

In a seven day span that has seen a talk show host who built his career as a shock jock have his career ended (for the moment) and national Black figures finally talking about accountability for misogynistic rap “artists,” the horrific attack at Virginia Tech has pointed out the next real need for media improvement.

I’m not trying to compare any of the above in terms of impact. Of course my heart goes out to the victims, their families, and the entire staff and student body at Virginia Tech. It’s healthy for the nation to join in their sorrow, to have a connection with their anguish, and to have the opportunity to help them feel a little less alone at a time like this.

What the media — all the media — have done is to create the kind of second-hand PTSD effect that we had with the 9/11 attacks: rerunning the traumatic sounds and sights on television, radio and the web. Splashing the picture of the lunatic responsible for the carnage, and focusing on the little details of a life he ended, dragging innocent victims along with him.

This coverage, the drilling in on the evil, the violence, the technical execution of this act, has the effect of diminishing the focus on the survivors and victim families in the name of ‘ear share’ or ‘eyeballs.’ Revelling in the pornography of this demented person’s violence advances no causes, heals no wounds and provides no solace or closure. It inflames, incites formless anger and rage, or the kind of sadness that only helplessness can bring.

I can shield my children from the news at home or in the car, but the ever-pervasive media reaches beyond my hands clutching at their eyes and ears. I want to spare them from this far more than I wanted to spare my young children at the time from Clinton’s ‘little black dress’ and explanations of sex positions at too young an age.

As a nation we have to stop. Stop our unholy fascination for violence and its depiction in audio or video formats. Stop our obsession with guns (and this as a pro-carry supporter — they’re tools, not fetish objects).

We must also start. Start paying attention to the “loners,” the “losers,” the children or adults that have come adrift in the midst of our lives. It takes a village to have a village, not just to raise children. In Jewish Shtetls a century ago, every village idiot had a place to turn to for food, for a warm place to sleep. It wasn’t personal adoption, it was communal responsibility. Because all our children, all our co-workers are at risk from people allowed to break free from the social contract or from reality as we live it.

Which would you rather see: children being hauled out of dormitories covered in blood, or a glimpse of a breast? Which is more horrific? Which more deserving of ‘community values’ sanction?

What to do?

  • Call your local media outlets. Sure, they’re (statistically) probably owned by ClearChannel or Cox or some mega-corporation, but they have to document and report to the mother ship about listener/viewer feedback.
  • Send e-mails to the web site.
  • Complain to the FCC.
  • E-mail your state representative and senators.
  • Fax your federal representative and senators.
  • Bring the issue up at city council meetings, school board meetings and in your place of worship.

Every state has a child abuse hotline. If you see someone under fifteen acting strangely, get some details, at least the name of the child, their school and the name of a teacher. Then call the hotline. It’s anonymous, and it might save the life of someone you know or love.

Adults behaving oddly, stalking, making threats, should always be taken seriously. There are laws in place to protect people from “terroristic threats,” and protective orders, while not always effective, can be a good deterrent. The best deterrent is to stand up for your neighbor, your co-workers, and even strangers. Police officers would rather handle a dozen false alarms than one homicide. Every time.

I wish peace and comfort for the Virginia Tech victims and their families. And a measure of peace for the rest of us, so that we can comfort, not relive by proxy their experiences.