Sunday, April 26, 2015

Transgender news: What mainstream coverage is missing

Was Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer a game changer for the transgender community? I’ve been asking myself that question since I’ve seen the headlines. I can’t definitely say yes or no. Although I didn’t watch the much anticipated interview I’ve been following the media coverage leading up to it as well as the post-coverage. What's a positive take away? People are talking about transgender issues.

Since 2013, Google has seen a spike in the interest over headlines that include the term transgender. While some may not like this new attention, it also doesn’t seem to be an issue going away easily either. The narrative is slowly changing, but a negative takeaway is that mainstream media coverage still has too many conversations filled with ridicule and disgust towards transgendered individuals. There remains a lack of empathy and education about transgender individuals.

As a society we need to stop ignoring the “pink elephant” in the room and pretending the voices of transgendered people don’t have a place in American society. They do.
Since Bruce Jenner came out as a transgendered person, the issue has received more media attention, however, I don’t believe his story should be the new face of the community and shame on the media for trying to turn it into one.

Like America, the transgender community is diverse and multifaceted. I recognize that what Bruce Jenner has done in sharing his story was difficult and appreciate his openness and candor for sharing his story, but on the flip side, Jenner is in a position of power and his wealth affords him privilege that many in his community don’t have. It’s clear his wealth and privilege doesn’t eradicate discrimination and bigotry, but he can shield himself from it to a certain extent. 

I applaud Sawyer’s effort to put a human face to this issue. She’s helped to pivot the narrative. So much of the media coverage still sees transgendered individuals as a circus act that is meant to amuse and entertain like bearded ladies and other human oddities. 

What we’re still ignoring is the stigma transgender people face and how their problems manifest in the form of suicide, substance abuse or in the mental health arena. Main stream media ignores these stories. We’re ignoring the pain and the persecution they face. I thank Bruce Jenner for sharing his story, but his story is just of one of many. If we are to improve the narrative on transgender issues we have to hold the media accountable and challenge them to seek out diversity in thought as it relates to transgender issues.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

#SocialShaming, We're All Guilty of It and that's the Problem

While we love to share and praise each other in social media the space has also proven to be an effective tool where "hateration" spreads like wild fire. "Public shaming" aka #socialshaming via social media is taking hold in a big way. Granted it's not really a new phenomenon. We have plenty of examples from history. One example that comes to mind is Nathanial Hawthorne's novel, "The Scarlett Letter." I even think the crucifixion of Jesus can be considered an example too. However, thanks to social and our 24-7  news cycle, public shaming on social media has the power to take an everyday person an make them an instant celebrity, potentially black list the person, make them a pariah, and in some cases ruin their professional life as well as their personal relationships.

All this takes place within 24 hours or less. Yikes.

A recent victim to an instantaneous rise and fall would be Trevor Noah, last week the South African comedian was getting tons of positive PR buzz after being announced as John Stewart's replacement for The Daily Show. However, not even 24 hours after his announcement there was a backlash beginning on Twitter due to tweets he posted back in 2009 that were perceived as anti-Semitic, sexist and discriminatory to over weight women. The fame quickly turned to blame and Trevor and the team at Comedy Central had to go on the defensive. Trevor became a trending topic and most of it was due to public back lash.

I read the tweets along with a few articles that discussed his public misstep. I could see why some people had a negative reaction to the tweets. But before I rushed to judge him I allowed myself to press "pause" and reflect on his tweets. First I thought he's a comedian and part of his job is to push the envelope. After all Joan Rivers had a lucrative career insulting people and also got plenty of leeway because she was comedian. However, I pressed paused again to see the other side and realized that Trevor's stepping into a role where he needs to carefully think about what he says and the implications of what he says as a public figure.

Am I guilty of public shaming on social? Yes. My most recent example was when the Oklahoma fraternity male students were caught on camera singing racial slurs. When the first name was released I tweeted an article with it. Why? I wanted to publicly shame him. I didn't give him the same press pause moment I did for Trevor Noah.

Last week, I listened to an NPR interview with Jon Ronson, author of "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" got me to press pause again and think about my own action and the implications social shaming is having in society. Ronson points out that we like to demonize people when we feel they do something wrong and social media makes it easy to put someone on blast. What we don't see in real time is how the person who is getting shamed is impacted. Ronson makes the case that although we may not care about the person being shamed, we should. Why? People make mistakes. They say and do stupid things that they regret. What's not part of the public shaming we see on social media is empathy. Rather than show the best of ourselves we show our worst when we use social media to publicly shame others.

Trevor's social debacle, Ronson's book and other articles about public shaming are a reminder that we all should think critically about what we write, say, and post on social media and the ramifications it can have in our personal and professional lives.

Should a tweet or post have the power to ruin one's personal and professional life? I say no, but when it comes to the world of social media it appears I'm in the minority.