As a proud graduate and supporter of Kentucky State University, it was more than demoralizing to see The State Journal’s publication of a racially insensitive cartoon that invoked the name of my alma mater.
A year after the protests surrounding the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner and the historic systemic discrimination against the Black community and other marginalized minorities, it’s clear the message did not reach its intended audiences. A year since the words “I Can’t Breathe” were said across the nation as these injustices were protested and a media outlet, in the year 2021, harmfully employed a similar phrase to be used against the commonwealth’s only HBCU.
In times of controversy and change, the spotlight of the media is no surprise. What is unjust and uncalled for is deploying racially insensitive messages to inflict further damage on an institution with a 135-year legacy of providing access to education to a community historically denied that right. Weaponizing the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” and turning it against the community from which it originated is unacceptable, damaging and egregious.
While I am not surprised by the media attention surrounding the transition and change at Kentucky State, I believe an understanding of systemic racism and its effects are overdue for the State Journal staff.
Systems are built into the fabric of this country to marginalize Black people and other minorities. I encourage the State Journal staff, whose racial makeup does not reflect the diversity of Franklin County, to move forward with greater awareness of the power of its words and imagery.
It does not take a Ph.D. to recognize the racially insensitive language used in the cartoon in the weekend edition, July 23-25. Consider learning more about actively combating racially insensitive behavior by reading “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. Racism and insensitivity aren’t just overt gestures made by men in white hoods; it’s hiding in plain sight in everyday systems.
The State Journal’s actions are unacceptable and harmful. Moving forward in covering this issue and Kentucky State University in the future, I call on The State Journal to look inward and to educate its employees on the use of racially insensitive language and the role media can play in either promoting or dispelling racial myths.
It is my hope, in the year 2021, an institution such as The State Journal can have basic awareness of words and images that are harmful to marginalized communities.
Richard H. Graves, of Indianapolis, is president of the Kentucky State University National Alumni Association.