Ike Bailey ’95: ‘George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and One Journalist’s Painfully Honest Self-Examination on Racism’

Ike Bailey

Protests in response to George Floyd’s death roil the country; at the same time, the coronavirus pandemic continues to disproportionately affect black communities. Journalists working to cover these events face a longstanding question—how can they effectively navigate the complexities of race? Journalist Ike Bailey ’95 starts with the acknowledgement of his own complex relationship with race and cautions that no one in the United States is immune to white supremacy.

Bailey, James K. Batten Professor of Communication Studies and a Harvard Nieman Fellow, examines the influence of white supremacy on his life as an African-American southerner, and ultimately on his work as a journalist in a piece for Nieman Reports titled “George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and One Journalist’s Painfully Honest Self-Examination on Racism.”

Bailey cautions against the overuse of terms such as “white supremacy” and “racist:”

“Journalists must avoid an inadvertent flattening of racial truth,” he writes. “If such labels can be applied to a man like me and a man like [David] Duke, have they lost all meaning? Such a high bar also often ensures a deeper delving into the issue’s complexity.

“But we mustn’t be so timid that we ignore or inadvertently bury uncomfortable truths.”

Bailey implores journalists to educate themselves so as to provide more sophisticated coverage of race.

We go wrong on the issue of race—particularly white supremacy— when we treat it as a kind of third rail of journalism instead of dealing with it as we do all other difficult-to-understand topics: Commit to learning everything about it we can,” he writes.

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  • June 5, 2020