Look at how differently a Mississippi newspaper covered stories about Black and White suspects

We've been hearing about racism much more frequently the past several weeks, but it's not because racism just appeared. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Racism is sewn into the fabric of America and it doesn't always look like overt racism. In fact, it doesn't even always look like the microaggressions that we feel or see on a daily basis. The language we use is filled with racism that we don't even realize or see. I like to call this "sneaky racism." It's sneaky because it is spoon fed to every American from birth through death, and if you aren't made aware so you can look for it, it will pass right by you, creating what's known as implicit bias.

Implicit bias is something that we have little control over. It's that snap judgment or quick tug in your belly that you equate to intuition or just feeling like you have a better understanding of a situation than you actually do. It's subconscious in nature and we often don't even know it's happening.

In American media, we are fed these biases through our television programs, movies, books, newspapers, and news networks. It's everywhere, and in order to truly get rid of racism and lower the rate of fatal police shootings of unarmed Black people, we need to seek out and eliminate sneaky racism. The type of implicit bias I'm referring to implies that Black and brown people are inherently dangerous.

Implicit bias is a vicious cycle that Americans are caught in and the first step to breaking the cycle is recognizing it when you see it. A great example is this image of a newspaper page from Mississippi, shared by Orlando Jezebel. The caption reads, "Does anyone else see it. Take all the time you need. #BLM."


Immediately I noticed the disparity between the two headlining stories. I'll break it down in case it's not immediately clear.

The photo of the white man is very small, and looks to be a school photo of some sort. His headline is tiny and he's in the side margin of the paper. The writer of that piece continually refers to the man as a "teen" throughout the article, which technically is correct as the suspect is 19, but in contrast, Black teens and children are often referred to as men and women in articles (even 12-year-old Tamir Rice was referred to as "the Black male" in an interview with the officer who shot him). This particular man is also accused of murder, but you almost wouldn't know that by the size of the story in comparison to the other headline sitting flush with this one sharing the same front page.

In the larger photo, we see a Black man who was accused of burglary. Throughout this article the man is referred to as a suspect. The article does not use a school photo, which I'm sure is somewhere publicly as most photos are nowadays; they chose to use an obvious mugshot with him donning an orange jumpsuit.

The way implicit bias is displayed in these articles is blatant if you know to look for it. It may not seem like it's a big deal, but language matters. By using the term "teen" when describing the white suspect, you are humanizing him and providing him more innocence than the Black suspect. Teens are impulsive and make mistakes. They're easily forgiven their flaws in the name of a second chance due to a teens inherent naivety.

When you use the term "suspect" it conjures the image of someone that is guilty, or likely guilty. It invokes a feeling of wrong doing with little benefit of the doubt. It's also peculiar that the story on the burglary took up more of the page than the murder. This is also a play on our psyche, making the Black suspect appear more dangerous than the white suspect. Our eyes will automatically be drawn to the larger photo and headline. A school photo versus a mugshot also aids in altering our emotion for the white suspect, though he was the one accused of murder.

These things are sneaky. I would wager that the editor likely didn't even notice the disparity. These biases are present in movies and television shows with Black and brown characters who are typically portrayed as maids, drug addicts, drug dealers, thugs, gang members, or someone who generally just needs help to navigate life because they're somehow doing it all wrong until their fairer skinned counterpart comes to save the day. This problem is starting to be somewhat counteracted with more Black and brown writers being hired to shape some of our favorite shows, but the implicit bias is pervasive, and even Black writers can be guilty of the same biases as white writers since we have all been eating from the same media spoon our entire lives.

As the world continues to wake up from its long slumber and actively works to become anti-racist, I have hope that we can work together to call attention to these biases in media and fix them.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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