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Media’s Racialized Coverage Of The East Palestine Train Wreck Is Yet Another Toxic Disaster

Trump and Vance in East Palestine, OH
Image CreditFox News/YouTube

What makes the East Palestine example so interesting is that the media bemoan racialization while making everything about race.

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The hazardous chemical disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent acknowledges in a Feb. 21 column, is “a story about profit-driven rail companies underinvesting in safety, lobbyists weakening rail regulation, and the government’s failure to assure residents’ security from lingering toxins.” Seemingly unilaterally, the corporate media refuse to engage in good faith with concerns from the right about the crisis; The New York Times even described right-wing criticisms as though they were overly cynical. 

And even though the liberal pundit Sargent is willing to acknowledge the current presidential administration may bear part of the blame for this humanitarian and ecological crisis, he avers that “what’s objectionable is the right’s deliberate racializing of this story.” 

Even amid an apolitical tragedy, the corporate media make the right the bad guy. 

Tired Newsflash: Liberal Attacks Conservatives on Race

Sargent is referring to various comments by conservative pundits and Republican politicians who have tarred Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as being negligent and abandoning working-class white communities in favor of woke policies. Buttigieg earlier this month complained about construction projects in “neighborhood[s] of color,” where “everyone in the hard hats on that project, doing the good paying jobs, don’t look like they came from anywhere near the neighborhood” — or, in other words, too many white construction workers. Tucker Carlson, Sen. J.D. Vance, and Charlie Kirk, among others, unsurprisingly pounced on the secretary’s controversial comments.

Cue Sargent’s finger-wagging in his op-ed, provocatively titled, “The right fans a repulsive campaign to racialize the Ohio train disaster.” He argues that “what this illustrates is how the right uses race-baiting to deceive people into forgetting that Democrats are now the far more committed party when it comes to investing in such left-behind communities.” He censures those on the right who have “transformed” the East Palestine crisis “into a tale about racial malice, with White Americans as the victims.”

In one sense, Sergeant’s take is hardly surprising. Liberal pundit attacks conservatives for alleged race-baiting — yawn. But in another sense, Sargent has, presumably unintentionally, walked himself into a rhetorical corner from which it is difficult to escape.

Doesn’t the Left Racialize Everything?

Setting aside the entire issue of race as it relates to the terrible, ongoing crisis in eastern Ohio, Sargent’s premise — that racializing things is bad — would carry more resonance if the left didn’t do that with, well, everything. Try an experiment. Name something you’re interested in: professional baseball, motorcycles, sewing; it doesn’t matter what you choose. Now run a search for that word and “racist” or “racism.” Undoubtedly, a liberal publication or organization will be discussing the systemic racism that still haunts that hobby of yours. 

In 2021, the Times claimed that artificial intelligence is racist. In 2020, The Atlantic published a piece titled “The Hidden Bigotry of Crosswords.” The Washington Post has published articles claiming that even bird names retain the stench of bigoted patriarchal, colonialist norms and that the “white farming industry” (did you even know that was a thing?) disproportionately affects “black and brown folks.” 

Or look at headlines just from the last few weeks. From Rihanna’s obscene performance at the Super Bowl to parodies of millionaire celebrity Megan Markle, to police dogs, to Bad Bunny’s performance at the Grammys, just about everything, liberal corporate media tell us, has a racist angle, either because the event is racist, or those who refuse to celebrate the event are racist. “But of course[,] it’s about race — everything is. Our country was built on oppression, and race is everywhere,” claimed a 2016 opinion for the Harvard Crimson, the newspaper of one of our nation’s “elite” universities.

And, of course, we see the same thing from politicians. Ilhan Omar claims criticism of her and her policies is about race. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made the same complaint, both about criticisms of Omar and herself. Democrats recently accused the GOP of racism for voting against two D.C. Council laws that softened penalties for crimes such as murder and carjackings and gave noncitizens the right to vote in local elections. “They’re singling out the residents of the District of Columbia and expanding in the history of disenfranchisement that goes all the way back to the legacy of slavery,” declared the ever-indignant AOC.

Racializing Everything Is Bad for America

What, then, to make of Sargent’s complaint that conservatives are “racializing” the tragedy in East Palestine? Heck, just look at headlines of Sargent’s columns from the last few years: “Behind the latest GOP restrictions on race teaching: A hidden, toxic goal”; “This new study suggests Trump’s racism might actually hurt him”; “The Republican Party is now institutionally defending Donald Trump’s racism”; “Rapid cultural change on race — but Republicans and conservatives lag behind.” I just chose those titles randomly — there are dozens just like it from Sargent going back more than a decade.

My point here is not primarily to call out Sargent’s blatant hypocrisy (though there is that). And, as someone who dabbles in philosophy and logic, I’m familiar with the weakness of the tu quoque, which is where someone accused of some wrong simply accuses the other person of being guilty of the same thing (if it’s indeed bad, no one should do it). Rather, my point is that Sargent (and the left more broadly) racialize everything because their ideology and political platform has, in recent decades, become dependent on racial reductionism and identity politics. Admittedly, it has been quite effective, rallying the base and generating votes. 

Yet, what makes the East Palestine example so interesting is that Sargent goes to great pains to say racializing things is bad when, in truth, it’s very obvious to him most things are about race. But, I take Sargent’s point, and I agree with him wholeheartedly about one thing, as I’d imagine would most conservatives: Racializing everything in our nation’s public square has been decidedly bad for America. It unnecessarily (and irresponsibly) heightens the political temperature, aggravates animosity among fellow citizens, and engenders feelings of grievance and victimhood. It is contrary to the American spirit of brotherhood.

So, rather than simply complaining about Sargent’s double standard, I welcome this as an opportunity for all Americans to rethink the disastrous consequences of racializing everything. Yes, racism is real and still happens in America. But, as Sen. Tim Scott so consistently and persuasively argues, we are not defined or limited by it. Indeed, we are given ample opportunities to transcend the bitterness of racial grievance, instead identifying (and celebrating) our shared blessings as citizens of what remains the greatest nation on Earth. East Palestine requires our help and our prayers, not because of its politics or racial demographics, but because it is America.


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