Tell WRCL- Club 93.7 FM It's Unacceptable to Exploit the Residents of Flint
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Dear Administrative and Programmatic Staff of WRCL- Club 93.7 FM and Townsquare Media:
On March 14, 2017, WRCL-FM 93.7's DJ Artimis posted a blog on the company’s website which featured violent videos of residents in Evergreen Regency Townhouses. The post, entitled “5 Times Cooler Heads Did Not Prevail”, was a compilation of several YouTube videos in which residents were shown verbally and physically assaulting one another. Many people saw these videos and were appalled that a business in our community would not only take the time to conduct the kind of “research” necessary to find and compile these videos, but that you would promote this kind of violence and exploitation of a vulnerable population on your corporate site.
What we know is that the Evergreen Regency is Section 8 housing for economically disadvantaged families and is often referred to as “the projects.” We know the residents of the Evergreen Regency are people who, daily, must navigate the challenges and disparities that come from living in an economically-challenged and under-served community. When it comes to accessing the economic, social, and political resources necessary for mental/emotional/physical health and wellbeing, many in the Evergreen Regency face significant barriers. As concerned residents of Flint and the surrounding area, we find it deeply disturbing that 93.7 FM and its parent company, Townsquare Media looked at pain and trauma of the people in the Evergreen Regency as something to exploit for entertainment, spectacle, and profit. As a community, we seriously question the motives of corporate entities that view behaviors driven by individual and collective pain, trauma, poverty, and disparity as opportunities to exploit and capitalize on rather than as opportunities to restore and heal. We know corporations who generate heavy web traffic can increase their ad revenue. We know the “5 Times Cooler Heads Did Not Prevail” post was shared many times before it was removed. And while we can assume that many of the people in the Evergreen Regency could certainly benefit from compensation, we also think it’s safe to assume that none of the people in the videos profited from the attention, web traffic, and possible ad revenue 93.7FM was able to generate at their expense.
For far too long, mass media has played a disproportionate role in the dissemination and perpetuation of stereotypical depictions of marginalized people. Post-slavery depictions of black people as violent, aggressive, thugs, animals, and savages were necessary components in racist agendas designed to shape the public opinion and bolster support for the continued disenfranchisement of black people. D.W. Griffith’s wildly successful film, “Birth of Nation” released in 1915, was the first mass media depiction of black people, (black men, in particular) as violent, predatory, lascivious, savages. Since then, popular media has continued to take its cue from this playbook. Rather than depict black people in our totality, as human beings from diverse backgrounds and with myriad experiences and expressions, mass media continues to generate and promote the most violent, pathological, and traumatized depictions of who we are. By promoting this narrative and perpetuating these stereotypes, mass media plays a huge role in shaping how all people (including black people) see black people and contributing to the pervasive culture of anti-blackness that implicitly and explicitly paints black people as inferior and underserving of just treatment. Furthermore, by posting these videos, 93.7 contributed to the depiction of poor people as ignorant and irredeemable pariahs deserving of scorn, derision, and mockery rather than human beings worthy of compassion and support. The promotion of these videos on social media created a digital platform for the racist and classist public comments that ensued and 93.7 FM is complicit in augmenting the oppressive relationship between media and marginalized communities.
Though some would argue that 93.7FM and Townsquare Media didn’t “create” these videos and shouldn’t be held accountable for simply sharing content that was readily available, we would counter that scouring the internet to find poor, people of color fighting and posting it on a corporate website to build a brand and generate web traffic and revenue is unethical (at best) and dangerous (at worst). With 93.7 FM’s resources, influence, and reach, these violent and exploitive videos were shared thousands of times, magnifying the impact on those who were in them and those who viewed them.
While no one would claim that the people of the Evergreen Regency are without agency and accountability, those of us who live and work in and care about this community know that there are many people in the Evergreen Regency facing dire life circumstances and mental health issues with little to no resources available to aid them. By going into a poor community of color and promoting the devastating and harrowing circumstances that can occur in such traumatized and distressed communities, 93.7 FM continues a long and destructive tradition of perpetuating racist and classist stereotypes to promote the interests of people in power. By treating those with little power and resources as expendable objects to exploit rather than as human beings deserving of empathy, compassion, and fairness 93.7 FM positions itself as a toxin, rather than an ally, to this community.
And though we know violence can be a tragic reality of living in traumatized and under-served communities, we also know it is not exclusive to these communities. Yet, we have never seen and highly doubt that 93.7FM would post and promote videos of violence occurring in more affluent and/or white communities. Not because violent and deviant behavior doesn’t occur in these communities but because there are greater consequences for exploiting the challenges and pathologies in some communities than others.
Another issue we found deeply troubling was 93.7’s response to the backlash. Though we are not sure who is responsible for managing the company’s social media accounts, initial responses to concerns about the blog post were flippant, defensive, and dismissive. As the community repeatedly asked 93.7 FM’s staff to demonstrate integrity and accountability by removing the post and issuing an apology, 93.7:
1) Repeatedly chided listeners for failing to see the “humor” in the post.
2) Arrogantly dismissed valid anger and outcry with a caustic indifference and abrasiveness unbefitting a company who values professionalism, excellence, and customer service.
These initial responses tell us much about how 93.7 FM views and values its listeners. These curt, defensive, and apathetic responses also reflect an entrenched ignorance and unwillingness to authentically examine how power, privilege, and oppression dynamics play out between powerful, influential, corporate entities such as 93.7 FM/Town Square Media and economically disadvantaged communities of color such as the Evergreen Regency. After a continued and growing backlash, 93.7FM finally issued a tepid “apology” laden with excuses and concerns about bringing light to “a serious situation” that read as disingenuous.
Last month, many in our community met to discuss what we see as a persistently problematic relationship between 93.7 FM and the community of Flint. Though the blog post from Artimis gained much attention and generated enough ire from the community to be retracted, this type of exploitation of our community is far from an isolated event. At the meeting, many spoke about the frequency with which 93.7 FM evokes on-air language/rhetoric and engages in practices that reflect a disregard, disrespect, and general lack of genuine concern for the people of Flint, specifically, and marginalized communities, in general. Many of 93.7 FM’s attempts at community outreach are eclipsed by this tone-deaf, on-air, rhetoric. More and more frequently, community efforts by the station are perceived as being driven by profit and public relations than genuine investment in or concern about the people of Flint. We are no longer willing to tolerate this unequal and inimical relationship.
If 93.7 FM and Townsquare Media want to continue to be viable within the community of Flint, you must be willing to not only hear but to address the concerns of the people in this community who demand a mutually beneficial relationship between the people and the corporations who do business here. We will no longer support corporate entities who see Flint and the people who live here as spectacles to exploit and opportunities to take advantage of.
As concerned community members, we are asking 93.7 FM and its parent company, Townsquare Media to:
1) Release a GENUINE public apology: Artimis’ official apology stated that the station was removing the video “due to the negative response.” This kind of insincere opening to an “apology”, and the subsequent tone of deflection and unwarranted levity, leads us to believe that 93.7 FM’s leadership is more concerned with damage control and public relations than it is about truly atoning and taking accountability. Though the leadership at 93.7 FM and Townsquare Media may not be knowledgeable enough about the dynamics of race, class, power, and privilege to recognize it, the “5 Times Cooler Heads Did Not Prevail” post was racist and classist. The apology should reflect genuine atonement and either an understanding of or an expressed interest in learning why the promotion of these videos was harmful to the community.
2) Invest in and promote positive programming in Evergreen Regency Townhouses: As an act of restorative justice and a means of rectifying the situation, we ask that leadership from 93.7 FM meet with a committee consisting of the neighborhood leadership within the Evergreen Regency and representatives from several nonprofit entities who provide services in the Evergreen Regency to explore the ways in which 93.7 FM and its parent company, Townsquare Media, can either create and/or support existing programming in the Evergreen Regency. Currently, there are several agencies doing direct, grassroots, organizing in and providing much needed services and supports to the people living in Evergreen Regency. 93.7 FM can either provide financial and/or promotional supports to these organizations and/or devise its own customized programming. By focusing on and supporting solutions in a distressed community, 93.7 FM and Townsquare Media are being presented with the opportunity to re-position itself as an invested corporation who looks at those in need and asks, “how can we help?” rather than “how can we exploit?”
3) Issue a public statement of increased investment in and commitment to Flint: While it is true that 93.7 FM does provide some PSAs and coverage for positive, educational, and informational events in the city, many in the community agree that the station can and should do more. Additionally, on-air personalities should be put on notice that the slightly veiled racist, sexist, and classist rhetoric they frequently engage in on-air will no longer be tolerated and that continued practices that denigrate and demonstrate lack of concern for listeners will, through community organizing efforts of concerned citizens, result in decreased listenership.
We have faith that as a corporation who wants to continue to do business in our community, you will take these concerns seriously. Though 93.7 FM has not had what we consider a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship with the community of Flint, we believe it is still possible. Our hope is that you will not only read but truly hear these concerns and reach out to us to see how you can restore the public trust and begin to build the kind of relationship with the community that demonstrates a genuine interest in the health and well-being of those who live, work, and play here.
We are asking that you respond to this communication within 30 days (by May 10, 2017). We can be reached at ResponsibleMedia810@gmail.com
In the event we do not hear from any representatives from 93.7 FM or parent company, Townsquare Media, about the concerns expressed in this communication, we will assume that you are not interested in addressing said concerns and will move forward in organizing an appropriate community response.
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