The media across the world has a knack for framing narratives in a way that perpetuates the status quo. This is true whether the subject is the rich, the poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Americans, or Muslims.
I was yet again reminded of the power of the media to influence public opinion as I flipped through the Evening Standard and Metro (two dailies published in the United Kingdom) and read headlines about bombings and other acts of terrorism. From these, it was clear that the Western media treats Muslims in a particular way—the very same way the Jamaican media treats people who are poor, from marginalized communities or are homosexual.
As a result of their portrayal in the media, Muslims, lesbians and gays are often defined by their wrongdoing. Headlines often read “Muslim Terrorist” or “Muslim Extremist” just as Jamaicans are used to reading headlines such as “Gay Miscreant” or “Gays Wreak Havoc.”
During a recent visit to Washington DC, I spoke with a Muslim friend who is distressed by the fear and hysteria on people’s faces when they see people thought to be Muslim. The Boston Marathon bombing in April heightened this fear. Although she does not wear a hijab, my friend is still frightened by these incidents and the treatment that follows them. What is ironic is that the same media that generates anti-Muslim sentiment then goes ahead and criticizes the media in places like Jamaica for similarly biased treatment toward gays and lesbians.
The result is a contradiction in what is permissible in the media. Christians, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their faith. Heterosexuals, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their sexuality. The rich, whatever their crimes, are rarely identified by their socioeconomic status.
It is also a fact that people from the lowest income quintile struggle academically and that people of color are more likely to be unemployed. But that does not mean poor people and minorities lack interest in educating themselves.
We must begin to question our privileges and freedoms if we want to make our communities more hospitable. Be reminded that prejudice is interconnected and serves only one purpose: to maintain a status quo.
In a historic gathering in Salvador, Bahia, nearly 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Afro-Brazilian activists participated last month in the country’s first-ever National Black LGBT Conference (Primeiro Seminário Nacional de Negras e Negros LGBT).
Given the rare opportunity to be recognized as a unique group that suffers from discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and gender identities, attendees provided passionate accounts of their daily struggles for survival and acceptance. Embodying a collective sentiment of fear, exhaustion and frustration, black lesbian activist Joelma Cezário said, "I’m not afraid of losing my job. I’m afraid of being killed." Her feelings were echoed by countless others.
Tragically, Joelma’s story is not an anomaly: LGBT Afro-Brazilians are frequently subject to violent hate crimes, police abuse, educational and health disparities, and above all, invisibility. Their needs are often ignored by leading Afro-Brazilian and LGBT advocates, who overlook the presence of LGBT Afro-Brazilians in both groups.
Absent from the collective conscience, almost no data has been collected to understand the hardships of LGBT Afro-Brazilians, and no efforts have been made to help them overcome the challenges they face. Upon presenting their demands to government representatives at the national conference—such as calling for racial indicators to be included in anti-LGBT violence data collection and for racial equality programs to account for the Afro-LGBT population—they were pushed back-and-forth between LGBT and racial discrimination experts who avoided answering their questions and directed responsibility to each other.
Meanwhile, the mounting violence against the Black LGBT population in Brazil isn’t even being counted in official statistics. A recent report found that the number of homicides against Afro-Brazilians increased by 5.6 percent in the last decade, compared to a 24.8-percent reduction in homicides among Whites. These figures did not distinguish which victims were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, a government report issued earlier this year recorded nearly 300 anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2011, more than half of which were targeted against the estimated 10 percent of LGBT Brazilians who identify as transgender. The report failed to provide any information regarding the victims’ racial identity.
Despite an increasingly evident correlation, public institutions continue to fail to take action against the pervasive violence and discrimination that is specific to the Afro-LGBT population.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.