Tag Archives: Rhetoric

Requiring more of journalists may help destigmatize mental illness

JournalistIn early March the Associated Press released new standards for reporters and editors regarding metal illness. To comply, we’re asked to only include mental health details if they’re relevant to the story and come as a specific diagnosis from an attributed source.

Over one in four adults have a diagnosable mental illness in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Illness. Within that large portion of our population each individual experiences their condition differently.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness issued a statement calling the new standards, “a seismic shift in the terrain of popular culture.”

In the statement, Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations, says, “For years, NAMI has worked to have the news media abandon inaccurate, careless, or stigmatizing language or practices in reporting on mental illness.”

A lot of that stigmatizing language emerged in the debate around weapons access after the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Colorado. I’m thinking specifically of rock n’ roller Ted Nugent’s commentary published in The Washington Times: “Nut control, not gun control: Failure to deal with mental illness leads to massacres.”

The AP standards do not pertain to statements from individuals and organizations, but it will hold a large group of information producers and disseminators – the news media – responsible for their language.

The guide clarifies: “Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible.”

It cautions journalists away from making assumptions or interpretations about subject’s mental health and from drawing connections between crimes and mental health concerns.

“Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness,” state the guidelines.

Terms such as “deranged” or “crazy” are classified as “derogatory” in the guide, and writers are cautioned against referring to folks as “victims of” or “suffering from” their disorders.

You can read the guide here, and I recommend that you do. It discourages the sensationalizing of mental illness that often arises around violent crime, and encourages reporters to be deliberate when referencing folks’ mental health. The way that we characterize issues in the media impacts the tone of national conversations and the individuals they characterize.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Defining “Human Rights”

Over the last year I’ve been honing a specialty for my pursuits in the field of journalism, and on several occasions I told people that I wanted my beat to focus on human rights and social justice. But I feel like I’m only just starting to understand what human rights even means.

In my work for a course on “Women’s International Human Rights,” I have to keep a glossary of terms. “Human Rights” stands as the first term on my list, and I realized after a few class meetings that it’s a complex concept with a rich history.

The United Nations are largely responsible for the establishment of codified human rights, and that process began after the genocide of World War II. The UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but it still didn’t have any teeth for reinforcement, and its language betrayed some gender bias.

In an intense criticism of the Declaration, Catherine MacKinnon asks, “Are Women Human?” citing the language in Article 1 of the document: “All human beings…should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Men would not feel included if that document suggested all humans treat each other as sisters, suggests MacKinnon.

Furthermore, Article 23 reads, “Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity,” yet women today still do not receive equal pay and many struggle to support their own families to a dignified existence.

The establishment of codified human rights did by no means put men and women on equal footing, but it proved to be an important step in universalizing the idea that all humans deserve life, and dignity, and other immutable rights.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights….Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Articles 1 and 2)

Other rights set out in the initial UN Declaration go beyond the US Bill of Rights and the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to the right of a fair trial and freedom from torture, the Universal Declaration states we all share the right to have a family, health, education, cultural life, leisure time, and more.

But the Universal Declaration does not do into depth about how to protect minority or underrepresented groups who experience systemic oppression. So more committees formed in the UN to monitor abuses against these groups and to support them. These groups include the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), among others.

All these details about international human rights are new to me. But I’m thrilled to learn about which countries have adopted various UN treaties and how that reflects on state protection of particular human rights. With each new discovery of the fascinating history of human rights documentation, I learn about more human rights violations. And these rights are violated in the United States as much as the next country. In this blog I’ll be sharing my discoveries and criticisms around human rights issues as I delve in deeper this semester and beyond.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Happy International Women’s Day!

I wonder as I write the title to this post, if life today can be considered a happy time for women. As women’s health sits center stage with the religious freedom controversy, for better or worse, it has a lot of people fired up.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, headlined on last night’s The Daily Show with an inspiring, no-nonsense attitude and an arsenal of statistics. She showed uncompromising confidence in Planned Parenthood, and the support they provide to the entire nation (supporting American women = supporting our nation). She acknowledged that one in five American women receives services from Planned Parenthood in her lifetime. She also pointed out that 90% of care from Planned Parenthood is preventative. I highly recommend the interview to curious or skeptical readers.

A few days ago, Jessica Winter provided a wry, critical look at how legislators, employers, judges, and commentators throw their weight around to the detriment of women’s civil liberties. The article confronts the status quo through a serial list of offences against women. She implies that in this world where talking heads resound and court cases set precedents, a slight to one woman is a slight to all women. I can’t think of a better message for International Women’s Day.

Photo from NPR, via The Daily Beast

But women are talking about more than just health care. Newsweek hosts the third annual Women in the World Summit, with an impressive line up of speakers. Since Tina Brown took over as editor, they have done a great job covering women’s issues. A few days ago they published a retrospective pieceabout how female journalists rose to prominence with NPR when other media outlets were not so open to women. These women took the slim opportunities available to them and made a name for themselves. The story describes the “Fallopian Jungle” where these “Founding Mothers” worked.

The internets flow today with a surplus of stories by, for, and about women. I can’t possibly reference all the stories I’m interested in, but I hope they extend beyond International Women’s Day. Here’s to today’s conversation!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Black Women in American Culture and History: Mary Church Terrell

In 1906 Mary Church Terrell pointed out that Washington DC, the center of American liberty, failed to live up to its reputation as “The Colored Man’s Paradise.” During her speech to the United Women’s Club in DC, Terrell tore apart the slogan. She proved it a misnomer with anecdotes of segregation and discrimination against African-Americans.

At the time, DC was a difficult place for traveling African Americans to find room and board. It was difficult for African Americans to find a place on a tram, in a church, or at the theater. In her speech, Terrell described the loss of job experienced by many of her very qualified friends and acquaintances:

“A colored woman, as fair as a lily and as beautiful as a Madonna, who was the head saleswoman in a large department store in New York, had been discharged, after she had held this position for years, when the proprietor accidentally discovered that a fatal drop of African blood was percolating somewhere thru her veins.”

One hundred and six years after Terrell told that story, we can appreciate that “a drop of African blood,” is no longer “fatal.” Washington DC, though never a paradise for any man, does host the first African American first family. And this month, we look back at the achievements of and the difficulties surmounted by African Americans. This year in particular African American History Month celebrates the theme, “Black Women in American Culture and History.”

Terrell lived from 1863 to 1954 and was well educated, well traveled, and wealthy. Her parents were slaves before her father became a millionaire.  She spoke professionally on behalf of women and African Americans, and against lynching and disenfranchisement.

She ended her 1906 speech, “What it means to be colored in the Capital of the United States,” with a lament that treatment of African Americans in DC (and elsewhere) leads to “helplessness and hopelessness” and a loss of “incentive and effort” that even sympathetic white people couldn’t appreciate. But the irony she saw in the capital shone through her last remark:

“And surely nowhere in the world do oppression and persecution based solely on the color of the skin appear more hateful and hideous than in the capital of the United States, because the chasm between the principles upon which this Government was founded, in which it still professes to believe, and those which are daily practiced under the protection of the flag, yawns so wide and deep.”

Along similar lines, an exhibit on “The Paradox of Liberty” will explore Thomas Jefferson and his conflicting positions on liberty and slavery. Check it out online or in DC. The exhibit is presented by the forthcoming Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and Monticello.

Source: Man Cannot Speak for Her, Volume II, Compiled by Karlyn Kohrs Campbell

Tagged , , , , ,