Number 591 December 21, 2015

This Week: Know Your ABCs

"Quote" of the Week: "The Very First Act of Conscious Liberation"
Media Propaganda Self-Defense, Concrete Tip #8: KNOW YOUR ABCs
Racial Frames in the Daily News



Thank you to all of you who commented on the last Nygaard Notes. I'm very happy you found it useful, and I appreciate you taking the time to let me know what you think.

This issue of the Notes has to do with Deep Propaganda and how it affects media coverage on race and racism. Let me know what you think about that, as well. I always love getting mail!

I'm all ears,



"Quote" of the Week: "The Very First Act of Conscious Liberation"

The man who may have influenced my deepest thinking more than anyone was named John Trudell. John Trudell left this world on December 8th. It's a huge loss.

Trudell, as much as anyone, influenced my decision to devote myself to working in the realm of consciousness and imagination. Reading, thinking, singing, talking, writing... Trudell constantly emphasized the importance of clear thinking, and of striving for a coherent analysis of the reality in which we live. "Think more. Believe less," he would say. He spoke of responsibility—again and again. He spoke of intelligence. He was amazing.

It's almost impossible to choose a specific quotation from John Trudell, since his talks and poems always were comprehensive, bigger than any excerpt could be. But, nonetheless, here are two separate "quotes" from John Trudell that may give a hint of the thinking behind Nygaard Notes, and behind the choice I've made to do the work I do. The first selection is from a talk he gave in San Francisco in 2001, called "What It Means To Be a Human Being":

"The first act, the first act of being free and liberation is the act of taking our intelligence back, taking our imagination back, our ability to think. That's the first act of liberation. That is the very first act of conscious liberation. The first steps towards respect for the Creator is understanding that we have that intelligence and doing the second act. It's our intelligence. And for our next generation, you know, we have a responsibility to direct as much intelligence into that as we can."

And here are some words from Trudell that came from I-don't-know-where:

"We have power... Our power isn't in a political system, or a religious system, or in an economic system, or in a military system; these are authoritarian systems... they have power... but it's not reality. The power of our intelligence, individually or collectively IS the power; this is the power that any industrial ruling class truly fears: clear coherent human beings."

For all of his importance in my life, I fear that many readers may be unfamiliar with the life and work of John Trudell. So I offer below a few very brief articles you may wish to check out:

"John Trudell Rose From Tragedy To Influence Generations." Found online.

Particularly moving is Joy Harjo's tribute to John Trudell.

Check out his 2001 talk on "What It Means To Be A Human Being" is online here

Or, just go to Indian Country Today and search for John Trudell.


Media Propaganda Self-Defense, Concrete Tip #8: KNOW YOUR ABCs

Last week, speaking about Concrete Tip for Media Propaganda Self-Defense #7, I said that whenever we go outside of ourselves to learn about the world it's very important to also look within ourselves to understand if we're really prepared to evaluate the information we're receiving.

This week's Tip is closely related Tip #7, which encourages us to interrogate ourselves when reading the news. Tip # 8 is:


Tip #8 is different from #7 in one significant way. As important as it is to interrogate ourselves while we are actually reading or watching the news, it may be even more important to make a conscious and ongoing effort to understand the whole set of ideas that have lodged themselves inside of our heads over a lifetime. It starts with understanding that there IS such a set of ideas in our heads.

I've referred to this set of ideas as the Propaganda ABCs. When I say "Know Your ABCs", I'm referring to the Attitudes, Beliefs, and Conceptions of how the world works that we all carry around with us. (For a more thorough treatment of this idea, go back and read NN #345, "The ABCs of Propaganda.")

We live in a culture that offers a set of ABCs that includes many elements that are very hurtful and inaccurate. Beliefs about good and evil, for example, and oversimplified conceptions about causation and human nature. If such ideas remain unchallenged in our minds and hearts, they will undoubtedly push us to believe the propaganda that is built on such ideas. So we need to do our homework, which is a lifelong project, and very challenging for many of us.

The core idea of Media Propaganda Self-Defense Concrete Tip #8, KNOW YOUR ABCs is this: We need to commit a significant amount of time and energy toward looking inside ourselves if we want to free ourselves from some of the powerful ideas that the Propaganda System has embedded in our minds and hearts. It's not easy. But if enough of us summon up the courage and energy to do it, we can begin to construct a media system that serves people instead of power.

One example of a pernicious set of ideas that have implanted themselves in virtually everyone's mind in these United States is the set of ideas that we call racism. The following article offers a simple illustration of how doing a little homework might change how the world is presented to us in the daily news flow.


Racial Frames in the Daily News

The scholar Joe Feagin, among others, speaks of a scientific concept known as a "frame" that is defined as a set of ideas that "gets imbedded in individual minds (brains), as well as in collective memories and histories, and helps people make sense out of everyday situations." Feagin speaks of a dominant frame that he calls "The White Racial Frame," which is the name of his excellent book on the subject. He notes that "over centuries of operation this dominant white framing has encompassed both a strong positive orientation to whites and whiteness (a pro-white subframe) and a strong negative orientation to racial 'others' who are exploited and oppressed (anti-others subframes)."

This may sound a bit academic, but let's look at a recent example of how this plays out in our day-to-day media.

First, the background: On November 15th a young black man in Minneapolis, Jamar Clark, was shot to death by Minneapolis police. The shooting occurred on the city's North Side, the population of which is largely African-American. As yet another in a long, long series of such police killings, the incident set off a firestorm of protest and demands that those responsible be brought to justice. Those protests are ongoing. (Learn more on their Facebook page.)

Three weeks later, on December 9th, the Minneapolis Star Tribune—the local daily newspaper—ran an article on the front page headlined "Jamar Clark Arrested in July After Chase." The article, complete with police mug shot, began by saying "Jamar Clark, killed by Minneapolis police last month, led officers on a high-speed chase while driving a stolen car in July." Many questions come to mind here, such as...

Why is this on the front page? Why now? Why run a mug shot of a man killed by police less than a month earlier? What is the newspaper saying here? Are they saying that Mr. Clark was a "bad guy"? Are they saying that car theft, or speeding, somehow justifies being shot by police? I'm sure that's not what the reporter was trying to say. But why else would this story and image be placed on the front page? Or reported at all? Let's think, also, about readers of a daily newspaper in Minnesota: Is there any doubt that a significant number of these readers experience racial "others" primarily through the media? I grew up in rural Minnesota, and that was certainly the reality for me.

On the same day, in the same newspaper—but this time on an inside page of the "Metro" Section—an article ran under the headline "NAACP Calls for More North Side Investment." The article reported that people had gathered in a peaceful protest, in part to reiterate demands related to the killing of Jamar Clark. But the story also reported that the protesters are "looking for broader changes, including a deeper commitment from the city to jobs and economic development in north Minneapolis, and a federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department's treatment of people of color."

Given that Minnesota is among the worst states in the U.S. in terms of racial disparities on any number of social indicators (as I've reported many times in these pages), there would appear to be two newsworthy stories here: One is the story of the victims of racism gathering peacefully to demand that these issues be addressed, which is a moral issue of the highest urgency for the community as a whole. The other story is the story of the disparities themselves, the issues in service to which these North Side voices are being raised. If our media and political leadership is committed to addressing racism in our community, then every opportunity to place such issues on the front page should be taken.

A Missed Opportunity

Here we have two related stories. On the front page we have a story that reflects and reinforces the part of the white racial frame that includes "a strong negative orientation to racial 'others'". That is, the idea held by many white people that black people are dangerous criminals. Then, on the inside pages, we have a story of an aggrieved people seeking positive action on their grievances. This paints a different, non-criminal, picture of the African-American population of the city, in particular the North Side, and thus runs counter to the "strong negative orientation to racial 'others'" that is a part of the White Racial Frame.

I'm not a mindreader, and I don't even know which specific people at the Star Tribune were responsible for the placement, emphasis, and tone of the reporting of these two stories. But just as I was reading that edition of the Star Tribune, I happened to be reading page 205 of Joe Feagin's book "The White Racial Frame." And there I read the following words:

"When pressing for an anti-racist counter-frame, we should assess what are the important facts to communicate to people about U.S. racial matters and present them so that they are relevant to and contradictory of the dominant racist framing. Research suggests that even modest steps in this direction can have an impact. In lab settings, just getting white subjects with a strong racist frame to observe members of the racially targeted groups in unstereotyped settings has been shown to weaken some implicit and explicit racial biases. As one review of the laboratory literature has put it, viewing a 'black face with a church as a background, instead of a dilapidated street corner, considering familiar examples of admired blacks such as actor Denzel Washington and athlete Michael Jordan, and reading about Arab-Muslims' positive contributions to society all weaken people's implicit racial and ethnic biases.' Even modest changes in the presentation of relevant information can offer racially prejudiced people images countering their racist framing, and sometimes have modest positive effects on that framing."

So there's your missed opportunity: The placement, emphasis and tone of the two stories cited could have been presented in such a way as to counter the dominant racial frame. But they weren't, which leads one to believe that there are not sufficient numbers of reporters and editors at the Star Tribune who believe that a part of their job is to contribute to countering the dominant racist ideology in the city and state that the newspaper serves. We can also imagine that not enough readers (customers) of the newspaper are demanding that their local paper take such an anti-racist stance. If enough readers of, and the workers at, the Star Tribune did see that daily news coverage affects the racial climate in the state, then perhaps the story that presents black people in a positive light would have gone on the front page, and perhaps the harmful and irrelevant mug-shot story would not even be considered newsworthy.

Just to be clear, I'm not accusing the Star Tribune of anything here. I'm simply noticing that there appears to have been a clear opportunity on December 9th to report that day's news in a way that might have helped to counter the dominant racial framing that includes "a strong negative orientation to racial 'others'". The Star Tribune missed the opportunity, but I'm sure that virtually every major newspaper looking at the same two stories would have made a similar judgement. When you hear people say, "The media is too white," that's a part of what they're talking about. And for every editor who has failed to do their homework in this regard, there are thousands of white people like me, people who take it in without even noticing. Our ABCs are influenced by things like this.

We all have work to do to reverse the racist conditioning that most of us carry in our heads—the White Racial Frame. Actions that reinforce that racist framing are common and familiar, and they come in a thousand forms, including the unconscious editorial decisions related here. If we want to begin to reverse the centuries of conditioning that has created the social reality that we call "race" and all the suffering that goes with it, then we have to work on our consciousness. Our doctrinal institutions (like media) can supply helpful tools in that process. But only if we demand that they do.