News Outlets Must Drop Terms Like “Convict” and “Gangbanger”

All too often media outlets use language that eclipses the humanity of community members lost to violence.

Young man wearing a black shirt that reads 'Black Lives Matter' holding a megaphone at a protest.

By Emilce Quiroz

We live in unsettling times. As a nation, we have become so immune to stories of mass shootings, mass deportations, and horrific violence that we forget, or have become numb to the fact, that there are real human beings behind these stories. We forget that every single one of these people lived whole lives before we saw them as just another statistic in a newspaper headline.

This is not something new. We have not suddenly become overwhelmed. We have consistently allowed the media to dehumanize people of color – so much so – that we devalue ourselves, undervalue our pain, and do not see ourselves as the survivors that we are.

We have to do better at holding the media accountable when it uses language that dehumanizes communities of color. Every single major news outlet has been guilty of this. Some more than others.

We live at a time with a presidential administration that regularly uses dehumanizing language to address certain people, primarily people of color. We could vilify them for this but we would be wrong if we didn't also admit that this is a far too normal habit of our society.

Whenever someone with a history of crime gets shot or reoffends, the media is quick to label them a "gangbanger", an "ex-convict", or a "super predator." Yet, when a white man shoots up a school or a Walmart, the media starts to look at what motivated them to commit such blatant acts of violence. They look into their family history, or their history of drug abuse or mental illness, desperately searching for clues that might show them how it was that this person became broken. All we ask is for that same consideration to be applied to people of color.

Every time the media diminishes someone to a "gangbanger", or a "criminal", we diminish that person's humanity. We allow the media to cause a particular kind of irreparable harm whenever they apply those words to describe someone who's lost their life. No matter what the circumstances were surrounding a person's death, we must always be conscious not to diminish a mother's pain, a community's pain, and the value of human life.

Dehumanization begins and ends with language. We are all broken people with the potential to cause harm. But we also have all the potential to grow from our broken places and become healers. We can no longer allow the mainstream media to tell our stories without our voices in them. We must speak our truth, have them call us by our names, and see ourselves as fully human again.

If you want to see the real impact that dehumanizing language has on everyday people, listen to Lisa, a participant from our EVERAFTER project, tell her story here.