The Telling of America

ATHENS — Wes Lowery is an emerging professional in the world of journalism, and one that’s accolades exceed many his age (26). Upon graduating from Ohio University in 2012, Lowery has worked for renowned publications like the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and The Washington Post where he’s covered stories centered on social justice issues in the U.S. He’s gained national recognition for his reports on the police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Lowery’s contributions as a reporter have garnered him immense success, most notably a Pulitzer Price for National Reporting in 2014 for his contributions leading the Posts’ “Fatal Force” project. In addition to his journalistic work, Lowery’s been credited as an author as well. His book “They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice,” illustrates the placement of the Black Lives Matter movement in U.S. history.

Lowery came to Ohio University on Wednesday for the 2017 Schuneman Symposium.  At the event, he discussed reporting on issues of race, injustice, and law enforcement in the age of fake news, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the difficulties overcoming racial tensions under President Trump’s administration.

Q: Do you feel the media tends to blur the lines of perception when confronting issues of race, injustice, and law enforcement?

WL: “I don’t know if we always do the best job. I think it’s our job in the media to hold powerful people and powerful institutions accountable. But I think that at times we can be too hesitant to question the authority and the powerful people. I think that, in part, if you look at any of these stories your perception of that story is very likely shaped by your own personal experiences with law enforcement, personal experiences with young men of color, whatever they are. What we don’t like to admit in the media is that we have built in biases, we have to tell ourselves to be objective. Once we can do that, it allows for us to interrogate them in a different way.”

Q: How should journalists who haven’t faced the tribulations that minorities experienced in the U.S. be trained to report on these issues in today’s media?

WL: “Experience is a big part of it. Being willing to be in the space is important. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, this idea of knowing what you don’t know. The job of a journalist is to be a student, it’s to constantly keep asking questions and to constantly keep being curious about what’s going on about the world we live in. I think that’s something that can be lost. You got to constantly be seeking information because that’s how you account for those things you don’t know.”

Q: In your book, “They Can’t Kill Us All,” you focus on telling the people’s story while incorporating your experiences in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you feel media outlets should deviate from statistics and display people’s real life experiences?

WL: “I think that it’s difficult; it cuts in both directions, right? In a majority white country where power is tethered to a concept of whiteness, we’ll always be working to convince a white majority of the validity of the experience of a black and brown minority. Because of that, an individual story can’t always do it. One of the reasons the numbers are important is because it gives you something the people can’t argue. When these police shootings started happening, everyone’s saying ‘awe, these never happen. They’re just one offs. What are you making such a stupid deal?’ The number is important because this number on this paper says it is true. “

Q: Where do you think the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement can go from here?

WL: “The movement in the last few years has been something that doesn’t necessarily begin with Trayvon Martin or with Michael Brown, but is rather something that traces back to the black liberation struggle and 1619 when the first slave ships arrived. It’s something that will go on forever. I think that sometimes we want a specific closure, we want everything to be tied up. I think that sometimes betrays us because it allows us to ignore the present reality that a system interwoven in are structure, our society, isn’t going to be undone in a snap of a finger. It’s a constant building process to tear down the system of white supremacy.”

Q: With the issues we’ve mentioned, how do you feel the country will evolve, specifically under Trump’s presidency?

WL: “I think the country’s going through massive changes, and will continue to go through massive changes. We live in a country with a unique difficulty [to] have honest conversations about our history and what we’ve done. You cannot address a problem you refuse to name. How are you supposed to fix them? We want to believe that this was such a different time, this was so long ago. It isn’t some different world. There’s a universal guilt and no one is blameless in this, and it requires the indictment of everyone and a whole system, a whole structure, and why would you do that if you don’t have to?  It’s easier to say ‘Well, I don’t see racism’ than to admit there’s this deep kind of thing we grab onto.”

Q: Where can we start to directly confront these issues?

WL: “We have these same tired conversations over and over again, and people have been using the same framing to rebut the concerns for generations. And that becomes just a big part of it. I don’t know how we solve that or how we fix that or what we do, but I think the education system is a huge part of it. When you interact with this it empowers you to have a better conversation about it later. I wish we lived in a world where more of us could talk more broadly and expansively about these issues because it would allow for us to have deeper conversations, and express ourselves better and start to understand each other a little better.”

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