ISSN: 1550-7521

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Research Article Open Access

Discourse in the Segregated City: Racial Violence,Capital,and Milwaukee's Media


This paper examines the news reportage surrounding two race-related incidents that occurred in 2011 in Milwaukee, WI, one of America’s most segregated cities. The altercations involved Black youths violently encountering white attendees of a park in one case, and white attendees of the Wisconsin State Fair in the other. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stories failed to consider longstanding social and economic injustices that might give rise to such behavior, adopting instead a relatively colorblind position. This strategy fosters the illusion that the conditions between races are equal, despite the unequal, discriminatory effect capital and the state have had on African Americans. While online Journal Sentinel reportage contained a subdued racism, many online reader comments appearing below articles were openly white supremacist. Editorials, in accordance with the coverage, called for more responsible parents instead of a more thoughtful capitalism, i.e., one that would not export manufacturing jobs or deliberately phase out the need for Black labor. Drawing on scholars such as Stuart Hall et al., I explain from a Marxian standpoint why Milwaukee’s coverage and reader comments take the shape they do. I further argue that these circumscribed case studies can help us understand the ideology at work behind more prominent (and tragic) racial incidents, such as the 2014 summer protests in Ferguson, MO.

L. Dugan Nichols

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