Passive Media is Actively Racist

Passive Media is Actively Racist

by ccarla

On October 17 Global News published an article titled “Massive fire destroys lobster pound in southern Nova Scotia”. While the passive voice used in this headline suggests that the cause of the fire is unknown, the article later states that the burnt-down lobster pound is “the same one that was swarmed, vandalized and ransacked by a large crowd of non-Indigenous commercial fishers” earlier that week. This information, along with Canada’s long history of violence against Indigenous people, makes it pretty clear that racism is the motivating factor behind these attacks. However, the word racism isn’t used once throughout the article.

With the exception of a singular use of “angry mob” in a caption under a video, the perpetrators, who we can safely assume are white, are labelled “non-indigenous fishermen”. Of course, it’s possible that there may be a person of colour among them, but they’re probably a token minority, “one of the good ones” granted conditional access into the old boys’ club. By refusing to identify the “angry mob” or “non-indigenous fishermen” as white and failing to mention racism, this article gives white Canadians plausible deniability. It transforms the issue of racism into a fight over resources despite the fact that the “non-indigenous fishermen” outnumber the Mi’kmaw fishermen by a ridiculous amount.

This conflict isn’t about resources; it’s about white fishermen feeling so entitled to those resources that they are willing to harass and threaten another group of people for acting within their rights. Very few news sources address this. Most article headlines use passive language that focuses on the victimization of the Mi’kmaw people rather than the violence of the white perpetrators. Examples include “Indigenous people in Nova Scotia exercised their right to catch lobster. Now they’re under attack”, "‘Terrorizing our people’: N.S. Mi’kmaw fishers have property vandalized, lobsters destroyed”, and  “RCMP investigating incidents in relation to Mi’kmaq fishery dispute”. The language used in these headlines minimizes the culpability of white society by refusing to identify the white fishermen and erases the generations of racism that settlers have inflicted on Indigenous people.

Although these articles hint at racism, their headlines continue the trend of mainstream media framing the experiences of Indigenous people through a white lens. This is significant because, in our culture of internet scrolling, most people only read the headline and skim through the rest of the article. The headline of an article prompts the reader to look for specific information, and these headlines conform to a narrative of Indigenous victimization rather than settler victimizing. This lets most readers easily avoid having to recognize the reality that racism does exist and that they are complicit in a system that entitles white people to react with violence when confronted with having to respect another group’s autonomy. 


The JI Newsletter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. If using material from the newsletter, please credit the author and provide a link to the relevant newsletter in your attribution. Any content produced using material from the JI newsletter must be licensed under the same terms.