In recent years, it has been increasingly claimed by the left that the American national media, in its coverage of murder mysteries, ignores the plight of missing black women because of prejudice. But in their condemnation of what they perceive to be a great racial injustice, leftists oftentimes forget not only about empathy’s selective nature, but also about the reasons why people oppose racial prejudice in the first place.
First, to be fair to leftists, it must be acknowledged that black women experience violent crimes at a higher rate than whites. Assuming that such national media coverage were indicative of nothing other than prejudice, disapproval of the disconnect between occurrence and coverage would necessarily imply that more common events should require news coverage instead of their more anomalous and shocking counterparts. But the media does not actually exist to portray every struggle with equal gusto, and it cannot be expected to have every story of suffering on its front page. Surely, media’s business is the dissemination of information, but that dissemination of information is also a business; and in such a business, the media must not only report the stories which serve its purposes, but also those which its audience is interested in hearing.
This, of course, leads leftists to complain that if the national media machine is not prejudiced, preferential coverage is indicative of the public’s lack of concern for blacks, that the American white majority cares more for white women. But the same could be said for any newsworthy story. When people witness the suffering or success of those bearing their likeness, they oftentimes experience a more powerful form of empathy because they assume other similarities to those reported about. It is almost as though, being different people, they share something in common, or as though their situations could be reversed. Empathy works similarly with class, trade, citizenship, religion, family, and neighborhood, and is oftentimes the reason why humans are more interested in certain circumstances than others.
In defense of such empathy, it would be absurd to require an American man who once lived in Nebraska to concern himself equally with earthquakes in Japan and tornado storms in the Midwest, simply because people are suffering in both areas. In another example, people oftentimes ally themselves with local sports teams, not because they know the players or because they have a financial stake in the team’s success, but because both the people and the team reside in the same city. Yet neither of these situations is immoral, though concerning men with the safety of some more than others, and the success of those who may have no direct rational connection to his current state. In short, these socially acceptable devotions of attention result from prejudice.
But supposing society were to decide that such thinking were immoral, and that all suffering and success should be felt equally, then the entire state of humanity could be no better off than before we had decided so. Not because men are of unequal value, or because true justice for all peoples should not be a concern of the righteous, though. Rather, it would be a failure because there exists no human being with either the emotional or mental capacity to concern himself with every single person in his community, let alone across the entire earth.
Men choose to empathize with some more than others because sheer numbers require that someone must be chosen, and it is natural to care for those with whom they have most in common, or with whom they live in close proximity, or with whom they interact most often. When people are further removed, as in the case of national awareness, it is necessary that the victim or champion bear as much likeness to the majority as possible, otherwise concern for that person’s well being is unlikely to permeate the common consciousness. And likewise, while a missing woman’s gender is different from somewhere around half the national population’s, her race and class provide enough similarity to capture the national majority’s attention.
And this leads to an important question: whether or not it is wrong to possess or declare a preference, or even a dislike, for any type of person because of their defining characteristics. While many leftists publicly express that such prejudice is immoral, their social justice programs declare otherwise, since someone must be chosen for their programs to have any effect, and the programs require certain types to be chosen over others in certain situations. And if someone does not conform to such a leftward pattern of discrimination, they may be punished with legal measures, forcing prejudice out of tendency and into requirement. Thus, the average leftist himself is neither free of prejudice nor interested in its elimination.
But placing hypocrisy aside, the leftist claim of media discrimination should lead thinkers to question whether the prejudice itself is what is being punished in such situations, or whether the prejudice must exist in connection with a specific behavior. Surely, every person has prejudices for every imaginable human category, or else we would not be capable of opinion and taste. If a man were held accountable for something he may have thought about someone, but did not necessarily act upon, then government would by doing so declare that it has a right to control what man thinks. But any reasonable person concerned with liberty understands that it is neither possible nor advantageous for man to believe himself infallible regarding his knowledge of other men’s minds, especially concerning oftentimes indeterminable prejudices. Rather, for purposes of liberty, a man must act to expose the works of his own heart, these actions alone enabling society to safely and righteously pursue justice.
Thus, prejudice being universal, but not necessarily resulting in injustice, prejudice cannot by itself be worthy of human condemnation (though such condemnation is acceptable when it comes from the Almighty). Rather, acts of true injustice resulting from such prejudice, in which man is not afforded the protection of his unalienable rights or is refused obligatory kindness simply due to his racial status alone, particularly when such is the expressed motive, is what the righteous man abhors. And it must be recognized that this moral abhorrence of injustice is the same source from which the missing woman complaints flow.
Ironically, this source of frustration is the also the reason why the complaint is invalid. For it is safe to say that in this circumstance, even if there is fault in the media’s reporting, it is of omission rather than commission. And it cannot be of omission, because the media has neither a duty to report nationally about any particular missing person, nor would doing so necessarily help the victim. What happens to one person in Ohio is rarely of consequence to anyone in Oregon.
Thus, having shown that someone must be chosen in any circumstance of empathy or media coverage, that empathy toward those bearing a person’s likeness is not only ubiquitous, but necessary, and recognizing that the value of using a story cannot be for purposes of saving the victim, it is plain that the American national media is no more guilty in this regard than any other person. The American public has many injustices with which to deal, and this cannot be one of them. Unless, of course, Americans believe the government’s duty to regulate the thoughts of every citizen.