6. Holding people responsible

Some argue that blurring the faces of the participants is akin to protecting racists, and that publicly shaming these participants is a justified form of deterrence for other potential racists.

The Globe and Mail’s Stewart said in an email, “The fact that this was a story in which the visuals were intrinsic, and that the controversy centered on a group of mostly white students1The authors of this study can’t confirm whether the participants were all students. All subsequent references to “students” should be taken as the speaker’s own opinion. dressed in the stereotypical garb of other cultures and ethnicities, is a compelling argument for showing faces.”  

Vicky Mochama, a Metro News national columnist, adds that it’s important for media outlets to show the face of everyday racism.

A lot of people think of racism as being institutional without any particular faces attached, but this case demonstrates how it operates in everyday life, she says.

“The insidiousness of racism lies in the way it erases its tracks,” Mochama wrote in a column following media coverage of the party. “Suddenly, things with racist overtones may have happened and yet no one is racist.”

Mochama argues that racist individuals need to be held accountable, rather than shielded from scrutiny.

“You cannot necessarily give [the participants] the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know that what they were up to was racist,” she says. “You can say that it’s their youth that allows them to… make racist jokes, but they still knew that what they were doing was racist.”

“I think [people] should be able make mistakes,” Mochama adds. “They can learn that they made a mistake by way of public accountability.”

Mochama also says that many media organizations are selective in whose identities they shield.

“Often we’re talking about the victims of racial hatred and not necessarily the people who perpetrated it. By blurring the faces of people who are perpetrating it, we are giving them cover that we don’t, as the media, give to their victims.”

BuzzFeed’s Strapagiel raised similar concerns with the costume party.

“Part of me feels like… if you’re young and you screwed up, you deserve a second chance. Maybe you shouldn’t have your face attached to this,” she says. “But… what kind of people get that second chance in the media?”

“There’s also this whole line of thinking around how the media protects people who perpetuate… racist ideas or racism, or bigotry in general. Those people we are protecting are usually white people. I started thinking about how does what we do contribute to that narrative.”

Next: 7. Public interest / journalistic purpose

References   [ + ]

1. The authors of this study can’t confirm whether the participants were all students. All subsequent references to “students” should be taken as the speaker’s own opinion.